The types of intervention for climate and public health global action

I present a concrete framework for tying scientific advice to political feasibility. The framework highlights the costs and benefits of interventions for effective and efficient climate action and public health initiatives.
Published in Sustainability
The types of intervention for climate and public health global action

Scientific evidence is a necessary but not sufficient condition to decarbonization and improvements in global public health, among other environmental and social challenges. We cannot forget, during Earth Day, that political and economic constraints limit the range of possible actions.  Sometimes, scientific communication shows little regard for political feasibility[1]. Moreover, aspirational agreements, like the Paris climate deal, bring few explicit guidelines[2].

Previous frameworks that incorporate political feasibility favor a stepwise approach[3] and highlight the importance of coordination[4] for climate action. They can be complemented by making explicit the costs and benefits of each broad type of intervention. A complete framework for climate-related action should have five dimensions: the mechanism of intervention, the scope of impact, the degree of replaceability between these two, the operational details of the intervention, and the mapping of direct and indirect effects. Scientists need such a dynamic framework to improve on political recommendations. For instance, recommendations following Chinese soy tariffs on American exports such as grow locally, improve environmental protection schemes, diversify supplier and change consumer behavior are lacking in detail, cost assessment and rigor. The same can be said about the global drive to secure medical supplies amidst the current Covid-19 crisis and the proposals for fundamentally changing the broad economic system because of the global pandemic. Table 1 establishes the direct costs and benefits for static mechanisms of intervention.

 Table 1 –Mechanisms for climate and global health action.










Efficient economically;

Self-reinforcing mechanism.

Outside lag;

Customized to local, industry and global threats.

Efficient economically; Self-reinforcing mechanism.


Coordination costly; Outside lag.

Inside lag; Inefficient economically.

Coordination costly; Outside lag.


Each mechanism refers to the enforcement of behavioral change: self-governing supply-chains, government-enforced regulation and changes in consumer behavior. Mechanisms can have local, industry or global effects. Inside lag refers to the time it takes for a decision to be reached; outside lag is the time it takes for actions to influence environmental and social outcomes[5]. The relative paralysis of many governments in the fact of the Covid-19 pandemic illustrates how the reliance on regulation alone cannot provide the necessary incentives for local and global action. Some paradigmatic examples of global mechanisms are the Kyoto Protocol, the Montreal Protocol, and the divestment movement. The Kyoto Protocol created a market for carbon permits; it works (albeit imperfectly) by companies internalizing the costs related to environmental degradation[6]. The Montreal Protocol established clear regulations to limit production of chlorine- and bromine-containing ozone-depleting substances (ODSs)[7]. The divestment movement from fossil fuels act through changes in consumer (and investors) behavior[8].

The success of the Paris climate deal hinges on the specific designs for improving environmental outcomes. Details matter. As it stands, it is unclear how countries will move towards reaching its ambitious goals.

The different mechanisms for climate and global health action compete for political and research attention[9], and societies’ resources[10]. Dynamic frameworks would include the cost assessment of each intervention (although cost/benefit analysis should not be the only criteria for policy implementation[11]) and feedback mechanisms between types of intervention (would a supply-chain initiative capture environmental regulators?[12]). No-brainer policies, such as fossil fuel subsidies reduction[13] and investments in public health, may not be so easy to implement and their impact may be limited[14]. Effects on unemployment, income inequality and other sources of well-being may bring political backlash[15]. No feasible climate action depends on only one type of intervention, but it is useful to consider the main source of change (Figure 1). This step towards a general framework can be adapted to industry-specific analyses, such as in the role of industry and government in alternative fuel vehicles[16].   

Figure 1 – Types of intervention for decarbonization.

Effective climate-action requires changes in the behavior of companies, consumers, and governments. Political feasibility is tied to the costs and benefits of interventions that might be substitutes or complements for effective and efficient climate action. A concrete framework, even in its static version, is an important step for scientists to communicate feasible policy recommendations.


[1] Fuchs, R., Alexander, P., Brown, C., Cossar, F., Henry, R. C., & Rounsevell, M. (2019). Why the US–China trade war spells disaster for the Amazon. Nature, 567(7749), 451-454

[2] Tollefson, J. (2016). Paris climate deal: what comes next. Nature News.

[3] Meckling, J., Sterner, T., & Wagner, G. (2017). Policy sequencing toward decarbonization. Nature Energy, 2(12), 918.

[4] Keohane, R. O., & Victor, D. G. (2016). Cooperation and discord in global climate policy. Nature Climate Change, 6(6), 570.

[5] Zeidan, R. (2018). Economics of Global Business. MIT Press.

[6] Gielen, D., Boshell, F., & Saygin, D. (2016). Climate and energy challenges for materials science. Nature materials, 15(2), 117.

[7] Chipperfield, M. P., Dhomse, S. S., Feng, W., McKenzie, R. L., Velders, G. J., & Pyle, J. A. (2015). Quantifying the ozone and ultraviolet benefits already achieved by the Montreal Protocol. Nature communications, 6, 7233.

[8] Ayling, J., & Gunningham, N. (2017). Non-state governance and climate policy: the fossil fuel divestment movement. Climate Policy, 17(2), 131-149.

[9] Bai, X., Dawson, R. J., Ürge-Vorsatz, D., Delgado, G. C., Barau, A. S., Dhakal, S., ... & Schultz, S. (2018). Six research priorities for cities and climate change. Nature, 555(7694), 23-25.

[10] Nepstad, D. C., Boyd, W., Stickler, C. M., Bezerra, T., & Azevedo, A. A. (2013). Responding to climate change and the global land crisis: REDD+, market transformation and low-emissions rural development. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 368(1619), 20120167.

[11] Mechler, R. (2016). Reviewing estimates of the economic efficiency of disaster risk management: opportunities and limitations of using risk-based cost–benefit analysis. Natural Hazards, 81(3), 2121-2147.

[12] Markusson, N., & Haszeldine, S. (2010). ‘Capture ready’regulation of fossil fuel power plants–Betting the UK’s carbon emissions on promises of future technology. Energy Policy, 38(11), 6695-6702.

[13] Rockström, J., Gaffney, O., Rogelj, J., Meinshausen, M., Nakicenovic, N., & Schellnhuber, H. J. (2017). A roadmap for rapid decarbonization. Science, 355(6331), 1269-1271.

[14] Jewell, J., McCollum, D., Emmerling, J., Bertram, C., Gernaat, D. E., Krey, V., ... & Saadi, N. (2018). Limited emission reductions from fuel subsidy removal except in energy-exporting regions. Nature, 554(7691), 229.

[15] Jakob, M., Steckel, J. C., Klasen, S., Lay, J., Grunewald, N., Martínez-Zarzoso, I., ... & Edenhofer, O. (2014). Feasible mitigation actions in developing countries. Nature Climate Change, 4(11), 961.

[16] Melton, N., Axsen, J., & Sperling, D. (2016). Moving beyond alternative fuel hype to decarbonize transportation. Nature Energy, 1(3), 16013.

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Go to the profile of Mark McCaffrey
about 4 years ago

The framework seems solid and of course good to link public health to climate and other global change dynamics, but adding scale as a sixth factor would make it even more robust; interventions vary- some work well at a local level, some more at a community or urban scale (especially when, as we've seen with COVID19 response, that's where the action is),some at nation/state, some at continental or international scales. One size doesn't fit all, and focusing on the community to urban scale (10,000 to 1 million) may prove to be the sweet spot where local and global converge:

Go to the profile of Rodrigo Zeidan
about 4 years ago

Thank you. I do use such a division to motivate my teaching. The static framework here can and indeed should be expanded. I am glad you enjoyed reading it.