THE LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS AND POLITICAL SCIENCE has been at the forefront of analyzing the costs of climate change. Together with the University of Leeds in England, the school has started a Center for Climate Change Economics and Policy to examine issues in more detail. Co-director Andrew Gouldson assesses the likelihood of an international climate agreement and what local communities can do to adapt to change.

What is your vision for the center?

There is a need to move beyond thinking about climate science and climate policy at the global level and to scale it down to focusing on national, regional and local responses, whether that’s in terms of mitigation or adaptation. And there are all sorts of research and policy challenges associated with that. For example, some of the water companies in the U.K. have been asking climate scientists what their investments should be for the next 50 years. Some of the climate models say it could be drier, and therefore the companies would need to put in drought-resistant water supply systems and reservoirs. Others say it’s likely to be much stormier, in which case they would need to invest in more robust water systems. So the science doesn’t tell these companies exactly what they need to do, and we need to find ways of understanding what they need from climate science.

How do you think the global recession will affect our ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change?

In the short term, an economic slowdown clearly will reduce demand for energy and emissions of greenhouse gases, but it also means that suddenly investments in renewables are more risky. Medium to long term, it’s possible that the recession will really slow things down on the mitigation front.

That said, new policies are coming through that are creating markets for renewables. The U.K.’s 80 percent reduction commitment, for example, means that we’re locked in now to a huge expansion in renewables in the next 10 to 12 years.

On the adaptation side, so much is dependent on the U.N. negotiations that are taking place at the end of this year in Copenhagen and the adaptation fund that might be created there. But adaptation is still very much a second player. The levels of investment, but also the state of thinking on policy interventions, are not quite as advanced as they could be.

How are international climate talks shaping up?

The next phase, for some countries at least, is going to be about designing the policies that deliver on their existing obligations. I think people are a little bit disappointed with what happened at the Poznan, Poland, meeting in December and are thinking that there will be quite an amount of brinkmanship before Copenhagen this December.

Are ambitious national policies unlikely to produce results?

In the next 10 to 15 years, not necessarily, because there are lots of mitigation options that are relatively affordable and technologically viable. I think the question is what happens in the phase after that. Is there a political appetite to do some really quite painful things that would involve some powerful people or parties losing out? There’s a need now, in the next few years, to build some sort of broad consensus on the need to shift toward a low-carbon economy.