Carleton University was commissioned by the Network for Business Sustainability to perform a systematic review of the body of research on building effective environmental policy.  The project was led by SPPA Professors Graeme Auld, Alexandra Mallett, and Robert Slater, with the research assistance of students Bozica Burlica and Francis Nolan-Poupart.  The systematic review was undertaken with three objectives:

1. To understand the direct effects of policy instruments that target environmental problems and how these policies interact.

2. To understand how and whether characteristics of environmental problems influence the effectiveness of policy instruments.

3. To understand the possible trade-offs between cost-effectiveness, solving the environmental problems and government accountability.

The review was targeted to environmental policies addressing low-carbon technologies or water management in the context of climate change.  The research began with the establishment of a conceptual framework, which clarified the contextual factors, design issues, types of policy evaluations, and accountability implications of environmental policy in order to help identify aspects of policy interventions and their effects.

Using the conceptual framework, searches of academic peer-reviewed literature and other technical sources were conducted with the objective of identifying ex post, empirical evaluations of environmental policies and/or programs addressing low-carbon technologies or water management.  Our literature searches covered 892 sources, of which the 204 most relevant and rigorous and were reviewed.

These studies were examined for conclusions about the impact-, efficiency- and process-related outcomes of different policy interventions, as well as consequences for accountability.  Several interesting patterns were discerned during the analysis.  First, it was found that policy-makers were at risk of making several potential trade-offs in designing and implementing environmental policy.  Second, we found that environmental policies’ evaluation results co-varied with certain design characteristics.  Third, many studies stressed the need to understand how bundles of policies could work together synergistically.

Having analyzed the empirical data, we moved on to consider their implications, developing a policy framework and decision tree to help government policy-makers, business leaders and non-governmental organizations understand the key factors to weigh when choosing among different instruments for specific objectives.

The final NBS study, entitled “When do climate policies work? A Systematic Review of Experiences from Low-Carbon Technology Promotion and Water Management”, was published online in November of 2011.  The results of the research were presented at the International Studies Association 2012 Annual Convention in San Diego, and the 2012 Climate Policy Innovation Workshop in Amsterdam and Cambridge, UK.  Currently, Professors Auld, Mallett and Slater are working to deepen the analysis of several discrete components of the original research in order to seek publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Written by Francis Nolan-Poupart, MA Graduate in Public Administration

To view the full report, click here.