Public Policy


Workshop Papers

Venue Title
NeurIPS 2023 Machine learning for gap-filling in greenhouse gas emissions databases (Papers Track)
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Abstract: Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions datasets are often incomplete due to inconsistent reporting and poor transparency. Filling the gaps in these datasets allows for more accurate targeting of strategies to accelerate the reduction of GHG emissions. This study evaluates the potential of machine learning methods to automate the completion of GHG datasets. We use 3 datasets of increasing complexity with 18 different gap-filling methods and provide a guide to which methods are useful in which circumstances. If few dataset features are available, or the gap consists only of a missing time step in a record, then simple interpolation is often the most accurate method and complex models should be avoided. However, if more features are available and the gap involves non-reporting emitters, then machine learning methods can be more accurate than simple extrapolation. Furthermore, the secondary output of feature importance from complex models allows for data collection prioritisation to accelerate the improvement of datasets. Graph based methods are particularly scalable due to the ease of updating predictions given new data and incorporating multimodal data sources. This study can serve as a guide to the community upon which to base ever more integrated frameworks for automated detailed GHG emissions estimations, and implementation guidance is available at

Authors: Luke Cullen (University of Cambridge); Andrea Marinoni (UiT the Arctic University of Norway); Jonathan M Cullen (University of Cambridge)

NeurIPS 2023 Can Reinforcement Learning support policy makers? A preliminary study with Integrated Assessment Models (Papers Track)
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Abstract: Governments around the world aspire to ground decision-making on evidence. Many of the foundations of policy making — e.g. sensing patterns that relate to societal needs, developing evidence-based programs, forecasting potential outcomes of policy changes, and monitoring effectiveness of policy programs — have the potential to benefit from the use of large-scale datasets or simulations together with intelligent algorithms. These could, if designed and deployed in a way that is well grounded on scientific evidence, enable a more comprehensive, faster, and rigorous approach to policy making. Integrated Assessment Models (IAM) is a broad umbrella covering scientific models that attempt to link main features of society and economy with the biosphere into one modelling framework. At present, these systems are probed by by policy makers and advisory groups in a hypothesis-driven manner. In this paper, we empirically demonstrate that modern Reinforcement Learning can be used to probe IAMs and explore the space of solutions in a more principled manner. While the implication of our results are modest since the environment is simplistic, we believe that this is a stepping stone towards more ambitious use cases, which could allow for effective exploration of policies and understanding of their consequences and limitations.

Authors: Theodore LM Wolf (Carbon Re); Nantas Nardelli (CarbonRe); John Shawe-Taylor (University College London); Maria Perez-Ortiz (University College London)

NeurIPS 2023 ClimateX: Do LLMs Accurately Assess Human Expert Confidence in Climate Statements? (Papers Track)
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Abstract: Evaluating the accuracy of outputs generated by Large Language Models (LLMs) is especially important in the climate science and policy domain. We introduce the Expert Confidence in Climate Statements (ClimateX) dataset, a novel, curated, expert-labeled dataset consisting of 8094 climate statements collected from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, labeled with their associated confidence levels. Using this dataset, we show that recent LLMs can classify human expert confidence in climate-related statements, especially in a few-shot learning setting, but with limited (up to 47%) accuracy. Overall, models exhibit consistent and significant over-confidence on low and medium confidence statements. We highlight implications of our results for climate communication, LLMs evaluation strategies, and the use of LLMs in information retrieval systems.

Authors: Romain Lacombe (Stanford University); Kerrie Wu (Stanford University); Eddie Dilworth (Stanford University)

NeurIPS 2023 Monitoring Sustainable Global Development Along Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (Proposals Track)
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Abstract: Sustainable global development is one of the most prevalent challenges facing the world today, hinging on the equilibrium between socioeconomic growth and environmental sustainability. We propose approaches to monitor and quantify sustainable development along the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs), including mathematically derived scoring algorithms, and machine learning methods. These integrate socioeconomic and environmental datasets, to produce an interpretable metric for SSP alignment. An initial study demonstrates promising results, laying the groundwork for the application of different methods to the monitoring of sustainable global development.

Authors: Michelle Wan (University of Cambridge); Jeff Clark (University of Bristol); Edward Small (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology); Elena Fillola (University of Bristol); Raul Santos Rodriguez (University of Bristol)

NeurIPS 2023 Understanding Climate Legislation Decisions with Machine Learning (Proposals Track)
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Abstract: Effective action is crucial in order to avert climate disaster. Key in enacting change is the swift adoption of climate positive legislation which advocates for climate change mitigation and adaptation. This is because government legislation can result in far-reaching impact, due to the relationships between climate policy, technology, and market forces. To advocate for legislation, current strategies aim to identify potential levers and obstacles, presenting an opportunity for the application of recent advances in machine learning language models. Here we propose a machine learning pipeline to analyse climate legislation, aiming to investigate the feasibility of natural language processing for the classification of climate legislation texts, to predict policy voting outcomes. By providing a model of the decision making process, the proposed pipeline can enhance transparency and aid policy advocates and decision makers in understanding legislative decisions, thereby providing a tool to monitor and understand legislative decisions towards climate positive impact.

Authors: Jeff Clark (University of Bristol); Michelle Wan (University of Cambridge); Raul Santos Rodriguez (University of Bristol)

ICLR 2023 Mining Effective Strategies for Climate Change Communication (Papers Track)
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Abstract: With the goal of understanding effective strategies to communicate about climate change, we build interpretable models to rank tweets related to climate change with respect to the engagement they generate. Our models are based on the Bradley-Terry model of pairwise comparison outcomes and use a combination of the tweets’ topic and metadata features to do the ranking. To remove confounding factors related to author popularity and minimise noise, they are trained on pairs of tweets that are from the same author and around the same time period and have a sufficiently large difference in engagement. The models achieve good accuracy on a held-out set of pairs. We show that we can interpret the parameters of the trained model to identify the topic and metadata features that contribute to high engagement. Among other observations, we see that topics related to climate projections, human cost and deaths tend to have low engagement while those related to mitigation and adaptation strategies have high engagement. We hope the insights gained from this study will help craft effective climate communication to promote engagement, thereby lending strength to efforts to tackle climate change.

Authors: Aswin Suresh (EPFL); Lazar Milikic (EPFL); Francis Murray (EPFL); Yurui Zhu (EPFL); Matthias Grossglauser (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL))

ICLR 2023 Robustly modeling the nonlinear impact of climate change on agriculture by combining econometrics and machine learning (Proposals Track)
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Abstract: Climate change is expected to have a dramatic impact on agricultural production; however, due to natural complexity, the exact avenues and relative strengths by which this will happen are still unknown. The development of accurate forecasting models is thus of great importance to enable policy makers to design effective interventions. To date, most machine learning methods aimed at tackling this problem lack a consideration of causal structure, thereby making them unreliable for the types of counterfactual analysis necessary when making policy decisions. Econometrics has developed robust techniques for estimating cause-effect relations in time-series, specifically through the use of cointegration analysis and Granger causality. However, these methods are frequently limited in flexibility, especially in the estimation of nonlinear relationships. In this work, we propose to integrate the non-linear function approximators with the robust causal estimation methods to ultimately develop an accurate agricultural forecasting model capable of robust counterfactual analysis. This method would be a valuable new asset for government and industrial stakeholders to understand how climate change impacts agricultural production.

Authors: Benedetta Francesconi (Independent Researcher); Ying-Jung C Deweese (Descartes Labs / Georgia Insititute of Technology)

NeurIPS 2022 Forecasting European Ozone Air Pollution With Transformers (Papers Track)
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Abstract: Surface ozone is an air pollutant that contributes to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths annually. Accurate short-term ozone forecasts may allow improved policy to reduce the risk to health, such as air quality warnings. However, forecasting ozone is a difficult problem, as surface ozone concentrations are controlled by a number of physical and chemical processes which act on varying timescales. Accounting for these temporal dependencies appropriately is likely to provide more accurate ozone forecasts. We therefore deploy a state-of-the-art transformer-based model, the Temporal Fusion Transformer, trained on observational station data from three European countries. In four-day test forecasts of daily maximum 8-hour ozone, the novel approach is highly skilful (MAE = 4.6 ppb, R2 = 0.82), and generalises well to two European countries unseen during training (MAE = 4.9 ppb, R2 = 0.79). The model outperforms standard machine learning models on our data, and compares favourably to the published performance of other deep learning architectures tested on different data. We illustrate that the model pays attention to physical variables known to control ozone concentrations, and that the attention mechanism allows the model to use relevant days of past ozone concentrations to make accurate forecasts.

Authors: Seb Hickman (University of Cambridge); Paul Griffiths (University of Cambridge); Alex Archibald (University of Cambridge); Peer Nowack (Imperial College London); Elie Alhajjar (USMA)

NeurIPS 2022 Estimating Chicago’s tree cover and canopy height using multi-spectral satellite imagery (Papers Track)
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Abstract: Information on urban tree canopies is fundamental to mitigating climate change as well as improving quality of life. Urban tree planting initiatives face a lack of up-to-date data about the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the tree canopy in cities. We present a pipeline that utilizes LiDAR data as ground-truth and then trains a multi-task machine learning model to generate reliable estimates of tree cover and canopy height in urban areas using multi-source multi-spectral satellite imagery for the case study of Chicago.

Authors: John Francis (University College London)

NeurIPS 2022 Climate Policy Tracker: Pipeline for automated analysis of public climate policies (Papers Track)
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Abstract: The number of standardized policy documents regarding climate policy and their publication frequency is significantly increasing. The documents are long and tedious for manual analysis, especially for policy experts, lawmakers, and citizens who lack access or domain expertise to utilize data analytics tools. Potential consequences of such a situation include reduced citizen governance and involvement in climate policies and an overall surge in analytics costs, rendering less accessibility for the public. In this work, we use a Latent Dirichlet Allocation-based pipeline for the automatic summarization and analysis of 10-years of national energy and climate plans (NECPs) for the period from 2021 to 2030, established by 27 Member States of the European Union. We focus on analyzing policy framing, the language used to describe specific issues, to detect essential nuances in the way governments frame their climate policies and achieve climate goals. The methods leverage topic modeling and clustering for the comparative analysis of policy documents across different countries. It allows for easier integration in potential user-friendly applications for the development of theories and processes of climate policy. This would further lead to better citizen governance and engagement over climate policies and public policy research.

Authors: Artur Żółkowski (Warsaw University of Technology); Mateusz Krzyziński (Warsaw University of Technology); Piotr Wilczyński (Warsaw University of Technology); Stanisław Giziński (University of Warsaw); Emilia Wiśnios (University of Warsaw); Bartosz Pieliński (University of Warsaw); Julian Sienkiewicz (Warsaw University of Technology); Przemysław Biecek (Warsaw University of Technology)

NeurIPS 2022 Topic correlation networks inferred from open-ended survey responses reveal signatures of ideology behind carbon tax opinion (Papers Track)
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Abstract: Ideology can often render policy design ineffective by overriding what, at face value, are rational incentives. A timely example is carbon pricing, whose public support is strongly influenced by ideology. As a system of ideas, ideology expresses itself in the way people explain themselves and the world. As an object of study, ideology is then amenable to a generative modelling approach within the text-as-data paradigm. Here, we analyze the structure of ideology underlying carbon tax opinion using topic models. An idea, termed a topic, is operationalized as the fixed set of proportions with which words are used when talking about it. We characterize ideology through the relational structure between topics. To access this latent structure, we use the highly expressive Structural Topic Model to infer topics and the weights with which individual opinions mix topics. We fit the model to a large dataset of open-ended survey responses of Canadians elaborating on their support of or opposition to the tax. We propose and evaluate statistical measures of ideology in our data, such as dimensionality and heterogeneity. Finally, we discuss the implications of the results for transition policy in particular, and of our approach to analyzing ideology for computational social science in general.

Authors: Maximilian Puelma Touzel (Mila)

NeurIPS 2022 Analyzing the global energy discourse with machine learning (Proposals Track)
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Abstract: To transform our economy towards net-zero emissions, industrial development of clean energy technologies (CETs) to replace fossil energy technologies (FETs) is crucial. Although the media has great power in influencing consumer behavior and decision making in business and politics, its role in the energy transformation is still underexplored. In this paper, we analyze the global energy discourse via machine learning. For this, we collect a large-scale dataset with ~5 million news articles from seven of the world’s major CO2 emitting countries, covering eight CETs and four FETs. Using machine learning, we then analyze the content of news articles on a highly granular level and along several dimensions, namely relevance (for the energy discourse), context (e.g., costs, regulation, investment), and connotations (e.g., high/increasing vs. low/decreasing costs). By linking empirical discourse patterns to investment and deployment data of CETs and FETs, this study advances the current understanding about the role of the media in the energy transformation. Thereby, it enables businesses, investors, and policy makers to respond more effectively to sensitive topics in the media discourse and leverage windows of opportunity for scaling CETs.

Authors: Malte Toetzke (ETH Zurich); Benedict Probst (ETH Zurich); Yasin Tatar (ETH Zurich); Stefan Feuerriegel (LMU Munich); Volker Hoffmann (ETH Zurich)

NeurIPS 2022 ForestBench: Equitable Benchmarks for Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification of Nature-Based Solutions with Machine Learning (Proposals Track)
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Abstract: Restoring ecosystems and reducing deforestation are necessary tools to mitigate the anthropogenic climate crisis. Current measurements of forest carbon stock can be inaccurate, in particular for underrepresented and small-scale forests in the Global South, hindering transparency and accountability in the Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) of these ecosystems. There is thus need for high quality datasets to properly validate ML-based solutions. To this end, we present ForestBench, which aims to collect and curate geographically-balanced gold-standard datasets of small-scale forest plots in the Global South, by collecting ground-level measurements and visual drone imagery of individual trees. These equitable validation datasets for ML-based MRV of nature-based solutions shall enable assessing the progress of ML models for estimating above-ground biomass, ground cover, and tree species diversity.

Authors: Lucas Czech (Carnegie Institution for Science); Björn Lütjens (MIT); David Dao (ETH Zurich)

NeurIPS 2022 Personalizing Sustainable Agriculture with Causal Machine Learning (Proposals Track) Best Paper: Proposals
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Abstract: To fight climate change and accommodate the increasing population, global crop production has to be strengthened. To achieve the "sustainable intensification" of agriculture, transforming it from carbon emitter to carbon sink is a priority, and understanding the environmental impact of agricultural management practices is a fundamental prerequisite to that. At the same time, the global agricultural landscape is deeply heterogeneous, with differences in climate, soil, and land use inducing variations in how agricultural systems respond to farmer actions. The "personalization" of sustainable agriculture with the provision of locally adapted management advice is thus a necessary condition for the efficient uplift of green metrics, and an integral development in imminent policies. Here, we formulate personalized sustainable agriculture as a Conditional Average Treatment Effect estimation task and use Causal Machine Learning for tackling it. Leveraging climate data, land use information and employing Double Machine Learning, we estimate the heterogeneous effect of sustainable practices on the field-level Soil Organic Carbon content in Lithuania. We thus provide a data-driven perspective for targeting sustainable practices and effectively expanding the global carbon sink.

Authors: Georgios Giannarakis (National Observatory of Athens); Vasileios Sitokonstantinou (National Observatory of Athens); Roxanne Suzette Lorilla (National Observatory of Athens); Charalampos Kontoes (National Observatory of Athens)

AAAI FSS 2022 Modeling Global Climate Negotiations, Agreements, and Long-Term Cooperation in RICE-N
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Abstract: Comprehensive global cooperation is essential to limit global temperature increases while continuing economic development, e.g., reducing severe inequality or achieving long-term economic growth. Achieving long-term cooperation on climate change mitigation with n strategic agents poses a complex game-theoretic problem. For example, agents may negotiate and reach climate agreements, but there is no central authority to enforce adherence to those agreements. Hence, it is critical to design negotiation and agreement frameworks that foster cooperation, allow all agents to meet their individual policy objectives, and incentivize long-term adherence. This is an interdisciplinary challenge that calls for collaboration between researchers in machine learning, economics, climate science, law, policy, ethics, and other fields. In particular, we argue that machine learning is a critical tool to address the complexity of this domain. To facilitate this research, here we introduce RICE-N, a multi-region integrated assessment model that simulates the global climate and economy, and which can be used to design and evaluate the strategic outcomes for different negotiation and agreement frameworks. We also describe how to use multi-agent reinforcement learning to train rational agents using RICE-N. This framework underpins AI for Global Climate Cooperation, a working group collaboration and competition on climate negotiation and agreement design. Here, we invite the scientific community to design and evaluate their solutions using RICE-N, machine learning, economic intuition, and other domain knowledge. More information can be found on

Authors: Tianyu Zhang (Université de Montréal, MILA), Andrew Williams (Université de Montréal, MILA), Soham Phade (Salesforce Research), Sunil Srinivasa (Salesforce Research), Yang Zhang (MILA), Prateek Gupta (MILA, University of Oxford, The Alan Turing Institute), Yoshua Bengio (Université de Montréal, MILA, CIFAR) and Stephan Zheng (Salesforce Research)