Improving the Integration of Legal Knowledge and Scholars in Climate Scenario Assessments

Photo credit: Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving

Led by Dr. Haomiao Du, researcher from the faculty of Law, Economics and Governance and in collaboration with climate modellers from Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development and the Dutch Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), this Seed project aims to investigate the necessity and feasibility of integrating legal knowledge and scholars into climate scenario assessments.

Background: Scenario analysis is an important tool in climate change assessments to understand the long-term consequences of today’s decisions and explore uncertainties associated with potential future development pathways. Response strategies to climate change based on scenarios and pathways can only be well analysed via an interdisciplinary approach, including both natural and social sciences. However, given the complexity of the real world, combining the two fields of knowledge in assessing climate scenarios and pathways is still challenging.

Among social science disciplines, the role of law in climate scenario assessments is particularly underexplored. The integration of political and regulatory elements into integrated assessment modelling (IAM) and energy modelling is mainly limited to quantitative policy targets. Law can have various implications for long-term development pathways: the features of a legal-institutional system could impact the rate and extent of transformation of the societal system towards sustainability; the assessment of the adaptiveness of a legal system and the implementation and enforcement of regulatory instruments can provide a ‘reality check’ for certain socioeconomic pathways. In addition, when integrating normative principles, such as equity and justice, in development pathways, it is necessary to check whether the norms safeguarding societal transformation have been embedded in a legal system, particularly in the Global South.

In turn, legal and governance scholars also need to be equipped with more scientific knowledge. Very often, legal scholarship focuses on principles and current practices, lacking a forward-looking perspective. Although recently, the carbon budget approach has become a useful tool for defining the sharing of burdens of emissions reduction, such an approach could be more properly applied by legislators, policymakers and judges; if they can, for instance, better understand different assumptions behind the same carbon budget.

Hence, promoting the mutual understanding between climate scientists and legal scholars can bring two-fold benefits: climate scientists help the latter to develop scientific evidence-based rules and policies for tackling climate change; the latter helps the former improve the credibility and completeness of assessments.

Research objectives:

1. How can climate scientists, especially modellers, better integrate the regulatory and institutional boundary conditions into the interdisciplinary research into climate change assessments?

2. How should legislators, policy makers and judges properly understand the implications of climate scenario assessments and modelling for evidence-based climate laws, policies, and judgments?

3. What is a true inclusion of legal/policy scholars into such interdisciplinary research? Where is the boundary of feasible and effective collaboration?

Project Updates:

Since the commencement of this project in October 2022, 14 semi-structured, in-depth individual interviews and 2 focus-group discussions (five participants each) have been organised for the purpose of collecting experts’ opinions on the three research objectives above.

On 31 May 2023, an Interdisciplinary Workshop on Promoting the Mutual Understanding between Legal and Governance Scholars and Climate Scientists in Climate Scenario Assessments was organised in Utrecht. 

The workshop report can be found here.