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Fisher-Vanden, Karen. 1997. "International Policy Instrument Prominence in the Climate Change Debate: A Case Study of the United States." Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (BCSIA) Discussion Paper E-97-06. Cambridge, MA: Environment and Natural Resources Program, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; also International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis Interim Report IR-97-033/August.

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This paper explores the factors influencing the types of policy instruments seriously considered and actively promoted by US policymakers over time in the climate change debate. A variant on Kingdon's model is used to describe how these factors and actor groups affect the pool of instruments considered--not only influencing which instruments go into the pool but also which ones bubble to the top and which ones sink to the bottom in prominence. In the model presented in this paper the following three process streams coupled with influence of time and historical experience determine the prominence of individual policy instruments in the pool: (1) a "politics/economics" stream which contains contextual factors (such as national mood and macroeconomic conditions) that constrain the type of policy instruments policymakers can consider; (2) a "policy options" stream which generates and promotes particular policy instruments; and (3) an "issues" stream which contains the policy goals faced by policymakers at the time. Actor groups can affect any of these streams and can act as "policy entrepreneurs" by advocating the use or disuse of certain instruments.

With regard to formal (i.e., report-like) assessments, this paper finds that although formal assessments have seemingly had little direct impact on US policy responses in the past, it is not the case that they have had no indirect impact or will not have a larger direct impact in the future. This lack of direct impact could be explained by (a) the primary use of alternative channels of information (e.g., advisors, briefings, memos) by policymakers; (b) the lack of attention given in assessments to the contextual factors constraining policy instrument choice; (c) the discrepancies between the goals assumed by assessors (e.g., a specific environmental goal) and the actual goals faced by policymakers; and (d) the assessment's intended audience.


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