Strategic appraisal of environmental risks: a contrast between the UK’s Stern Review on The Economics of Climate Change and its Committee on Radioactive Waste Management

Produced as part of the Developing climate science and economics CCCEP research programme theme


We compare two strategic policy reviews undertaken for the UK Government on environmental issues: radioactive waste management and climate change.

These reviews took very different forms, both in terms of analytic approach and deliberation strategy.

The Stern Review on The Economics of Climate Change was largely an exercise in expert modelling and building, within a cost-benefit framework; an argument for immediate reductions in carbon emissions.

The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, on the other hand, followed a much more explicitly deliberative and participative process, using a Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis model to bring together scientific evidence and stakeholder and public values.

We ask whether the choice of approach flowed from the underpinning science and the scale of the problem, or the history and policy context of the reviews.

We conclude that the differences in approach above all reflect differences in history and policy context, although these are partly due to the scale of the problem.

Since we do not find the underpinning science explains the differences in approach, we go on to ask whether the differences are justified.

While both reviews are in our view “fit for purpose”, we consider that they would both have been stronger had they been less different: Stern’s grappling with ethical issues would have been strengthened by a greater degree of public and stakeholder engagement, and CoRWM’s handling of issues of uncertainty would have been strengthened by the explicitly probabilistic framework of Stern.

Simon Dietz and Alec Morton