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Understanding the Science-Policy Gap: Proposing a Formal Delegation Principal - Agent Model

IWRA World Water Congress 2017 - Cancun Mexico
A. Bridging science and policy
Author(s): Bassel Daher
Austin Mitchell

Bassel Daher
Texas A
Austin Mitchell
Texas A

Keyword(s): Science-Policy Gap, Delegation, Formal Modeling, Climate policy, Water policy
Article: Oral:


In response to the COP 21 Paris Agreement, policy shifts and interventions are going to take different shapes in different countries. It will vary depending on the types of regimes, level of development, availability of resources, and the nature of the involved stakeholders, among other things. This study introduces a Principal-Agent spatial model of delegation which examines the circumstances under which the science-policy gap closes, is improved upon, or left unresolved, while responding to the Climate Change agreement commitments.

As policy makers, the Principal (P) works towards setting the needed legislation. They are likely to seek support from Agents (A) who are experts on climate change mitigation and adaptation. Both players are driven by different value systems which are characterized by varying weights representing the players’ relative interests to place policy in favor of business prosperity, resource sustainability, and social welfare. The developed model considers those weights as representative of the players’ views towards the importance of shifting policy towards the benefit of each of the three elements. It maps those weights on a single policy dimension which places business prosperity at one end of the continuum, and resource sustainability and public welfare at the other end of the continuum.

The aim of the model, and main purpose of the study is to examine the extent to which this list of “value system parameters” and exogenous parameters (characterized by crises/ shocks), play a role in leading to convergence/divergence between policy makers and scientists. The developed spatial delegation model will help understand circumstances under which the gap widens or closes between a policy maker and a scientist, under various types of shocks. It will investigate the impact of technologic advancement and natural crises scenarios on the level of convergence between both players regarding appropriate policy actions, in response to the agreement.

We find that legislators will provide their bureaucracies with authority to act on climate change when the legislators have a stronger preference for sustainability and welfare than current laws dictate. But delegation may also occur in the event that the legislator views delegation will improve business interests compared to current law and policy, and the bureaucrat views the status quo as sufficiently bad for sustainability and welfare. Technological shocks which improve resource sustainability could eliminate the conditions under which delegation occurs, thereby improving on the science-policy gap without legislative intervention. Humanitarian shocks which convince legislators of the severity of the climate change problem enable improvements on the science-policy gap without changing legislator preferences on the business versus sustainability and welfare continuum. We discuss these findings in the context of climate change disbelief in the United States Congress, the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the growth of renewable energy in Germany, and the Australian drought during the 2000’s.

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