Harris Public Policy Assistant Professor Amir Jina believes there is no more important policy issue today than climate change.
“Decisions are being made today, in India, China, and even the United States, that are going to be, effectively, from our point of view on this planet, irreversible,” Jina says, noting that this decade is going to be vital to put into place the kinds of policies necessary to help turn back some of the worst possible impacts. “This is a really crucial time to have a lot of young, energetic people getting engaged with the issue and focusing on the policy aspects in an interdisciplinary way.”
To help achieve just that, Jina taught a new interdisciplinary course, International Climate Policy, to thirty-three Harris students during the winter quarter. The class focused on the interaction between climate change and society, as Jina pulled from his own experiences over the past decade in climate science, climate economics, and climate policy. Combining these different viewpoints into the curriculum Jina says is imperative.
“It’s important that the class is interdisciplinary because climate is an interdisciplinary issue,” Jina says. “There are many reasons why we have not been able to reach a robust climate policy in many countries and internationally and that is partially because many different schools of thought have an important role to play in shaping those policies. And unless you are able to speak the language of each of them, we are just going to be talking past each other.”
Jina acknowledged that if his students go on to work in climate policy, they must have a basic lay of the land in climate science and economics and appreciate the sticking points within both that have kept international players from coming to a consensus. As such, the course began with an introduction to climate science as relevant to policymakers. The students then dug into the potential impacts of climate change, including the impacts to various sectors of the economy, before starting to think about policies and policy tools.
For the final project, students worked in groups to come up with and agree on a policy proposal. In this, the students brought their own experiences in policy, science and economics and learned from each other.
Jina says, “I want the students to come away with some ability to be able to say, if they are talking to a climate scientist, what is the viewpoint they’re coming from? Why do they have the views they do about what should be done about climate policy? When they talk to an economist, they are going to hear about carbon taxes for example. Why do they hear about that and how does that fit into the overall policy mix and why do the other groups think differently? So broadly speaking, I want to make sure that all of those things that were difficulties in communication in my last 10 years of being embedded in this issue are things that cease to be as much of an issue going forward.”
Anna-Elisa Smith, a second year Master of Public Policy student focused on energy and the environment and an EPIC 2019-2020 DRW Fellow, pointed out how Jina’s class was distinct from others.
“With other energy and environment classes I have taken, mostly the people in the room are the same as me, where they want to work in energy and environment and they’ve been climate activists or they’ve already done a good amount of work in this area,” Smith says. “But in this class, we have students who are just checking out the topic for the first time and come with unique perspectives that I have been able to learn from. As well as, I have been able to learn from other students’ work experience and what they might be experiencing in the country they are from.”
Learning about climate change from all angles has helped inform the students about effective communication strategies that Jina hopes will be beneficial outside the classroom.
“What I hope is that it gives them some empathy as policymakers to start thinking about why it’s hard to come up with agreements internationally and domestically,” Jina says. “What are the viewpoints of different stakeholders? Who is going to be harmed by a climate mitigation policy in terms of businesses, in terms of local communities? Trying to be able to think from those viewpoints, I hope that’s what sticks with the students as they leave this class.”