It has now been 12 months since Donald J. Trump was elected President of the United States, a man who as a candidate for the job called the scientific evidence for climate change “a hoax,” vowed to deregulate the American economy from what he considered to be onerous oversight, and bring back jobs that he claimed were lost as a result of the effort to combat the rise in global atmospheric temperatures. So, now is a good time to examine the president’s words and deeds regarding climate change – a sort of first-year job performance review or report card. What has he been able to accomplish? Has he laid a foundation for a successful agenda? And what are the most significant challenges to his energy and climate policy objectives?
For more than a century, the U.S. federal government has subsidized the production of fossil fuels through the tax code. These tax expenditures – amounting to de facto government spending – lower the cost of investment and increase the revenues from fossil fuel production. However, research shows that the subsidies do very little to increase U.S. fossil fuel production, because the impact of subsidy use on investment decisions depends on other factors such as technological improvements in oil and gas drilling, shifts in energy demand in the global energy market, production decisions by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, and unsettling political events in the Middle East. Without achieving much, if any, useful economic impact, fossil fuel subsidies are transferring about $4 billion annually from the pockets of taxpayers into those of fossil fuel producers.
A carbon tax provides certainty about the price of emissions, but it does so in a context characterized by uncertainty about its environmental benefits, economic costs, and international relations implications. Given current knowledge, suppose that the government sets a carbon tax schedule. In the future, a higher (lower) carbon tax could be justified by the resolution of uncertainty along the following ways: climate change turns out to be worse (better) than current projections; the economic costs of a carbon tax are lower (higher) than expected; other major economies implement more (less) ambitious carbon mitigation programs. This paper describes the design of a predictable process for updating the carbon tax in light of new information. Under this “structured discretion” approach, every five years the president would recommend an adjustment to the carbon tax based on analyses by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Treasury, and the Department of State on the environmental, economic, and diplomatic dimensions of climate policy. Similar to the expedited, streamlined consideration of regulations under the Congressional Review Act and trade deals under trade promotion authority, Congress would vote up or down on the presidential recommendation for a carbon tax adjustment, without the prospect of filibuster or amendment. This process could be synchronized with the timing of updating of nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement in a manner to leverage greater emissions mitigation ambition by other countries in future pledging rounds. The communication of guiding information and the latest data and analysis could serve as “forward guidance” for carbon tax adjustments, akin to the Federal Reserve Board’s communication strategy.
Through an evaluation of the 2009 Recovery Act’s State Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program, this paper examines consumers’ response to energy efficiency rebates. The analysis shows that 70 percent of consumers claiming a rebate were inframarginal and an additional 15 percent–20 percent of consumers simply delayed their purchases by a few weeks. Consumers responded to rebates by upgrading to higher quality, but less energy-efficient models. Overall the impact of the program on long-term energy demand is likely to be small. Measures of government expenditure per unit of energy saved are an order of magnitude higher than estimates for other energy efficiency programs.
Domestic carbon pricing policies may impose adverse competitiveness risks on energy-intensive firms competing with foreign firms that may bear a lower carbon price. The risks of competitiveness effects include adverse economic and environmental outcomes, which can undermine political support for carbon pricing. Competitiveness policies, such as border tax adjustments, output-based tax credits, and related policies, also carry potential risks: unfavorable distributional outcomes, less cost-effective, and harming international trade and climate negotiations. This paper reviews the theoretical and empirical research on competitiveness risks and the risks posed by competitiveness policies, and presents two alternative frameworks for evaluating competitiveness policy options.
The Paris Agreement culminates a six-year transition toward an international climate policy architecture based on parties submitting national pledges every five years. An important policy task will be to assess and compare these contributions. We use four integrated assessment models to produce metrics of Paris Agreement pledges, and show differentiated effort across countries: wealthier countries pledge to undertake greater emission reductions with higher costs. The pledges fall in the lower end of the distributions of the social cost of carbon (SCC) and the cost-minimizing path to limiting warming to 2⁰C, suggesting insufficient global ambition in light of leaders’ climate goals. Countries’ marginal abatement costs vary by two orders of magnitude, illustrating that large efficiency gains are available through joint mitigation efforts and/or carbon price coordination. Marginal costs rise almost proportionally with income, but full policy costs reveal more complex regional patterns due to terms of trade effects.
The availability of practical mechansims for comparing domestic efforts aimed at mitigating global climate change are important for the stability, equity, and efficiency of international climate agreements. We examine a variety of metrics that could be used to compare countries’ climate change mitigation efforts and illustrate their potential application to large developed and developing countries. Because there is no single comprehensive, measurable metric that could be applied to all countries, we suggest using a set of indicators to characterize and compare mitigation effort, akin to using a set of economic statistics to indicate the health of the macroeconomy. Given the iterative pledge and review approach that is emerging in the current climate change negotiations, participation, commitment, and compliance could be enhanced if this set of indicators is able to show that all parties are doing their “fair share,” both prospectively and retrospectively. The latter, in particular, highlights the need for a well-functioning policy surveillance regime.
A natural outcome of the emerging pledge and review approach to international climate change policy is the interest in comparing mitigation efforts among countries. Domestic publics and stakeholders will have an interest in knowing if peer countries are undertaking (or planning to undertake) comparable efforts in mitigating their greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, if the aggregate efforts are considered inadequate in addressing the risks posed by climate change, then this will likely prompt a broader interest in identifying those countries where greater efforts are arguably warranted based on comparison with their peers. Both assessments require metrics of efforts and comparisons among countries. We propose a framework for such an exercise, drawing from a set of principles for designing and implementing informative metrics. We present a template for organizing metrics on mitigation efforts, for both ex ante and ex post review. We also provide preliminary assessments of efforts along emissions, price, and cost metrics for post-2020 climate policy contributions by China, the European Union, Russia, and the United States. We close with a discussion of the role of academics and civil society in promoting transparency and facilitating the evaluation and comparison of efforts.
By nearly any perspective, insufficient effort has been undertaken to address the risks posed by global climate change. This failure to mobilize sufficient effort to combat climate change reflects the difficult political economy that characterizes the problem. To grossly simplify the problem, the challenge is that future, unborn generations will enjoy the benefits of climate policy while the current generation, and in particular those reaping substantial returns from a status quo that fails to address climate change, will bear the costs. In this paper, I describe the returns to narrowlydefined business capital and a broad concept of capital – physical capital, human capital, environmental capital, social capital, etc. – to illustrate differences in investment incentives and hence political economy considerations for those engaged in climate policy debates. While the standard economist’s prescription to price the externality could align private and societal investment incentives and ensure that future generations have the opportunities to enjoy a standard of living at least as good as the current generation, it must confront the political economy that the costs of changing prices are borne primarily by the current generation and concentrated among incumbent firms and the benefits are enjoyed disproportionately by future generations and emerging insurgent firms that aim to bring new technologies to market and capture the incumbents’ market share. Tailoring the design of climate policy to mollify the incumbents in opposition and to leverage the potential of the insurgents to build broad political support will be necessary to mobilize successful political action to combat climate change.
The pollution haven hypothesis suggests that unilateral domestic climate change mitigation policy would impose significant economic costs on carbon-intensive industries, resulting in declining output and increasing net imports. In order to evaluate this hypothesis, we undertake a two-step empirical analysis. First, we use historic energy prices as a proxy for climate change mitigation policy. We estimate how production and net imports change in response to energy prices using a 35-year panel of approximately 450 U.S. manufacturing industries. Second, we take these estimated relationships and use them to simulate the impacts of changes in energy prices resulting from a domestic climate change mitigation policy that effectively imposes a $15 per ton carbon price. We find that energy-intensive manufacturing industries are more likely to experience decreases in production and increases in net imports than less-intensive industries. Our best estimate is that competitiveness effects – measured by the increase in net imports – are as large as 0.8 percent for the most energy-intensive industries and represent no more than about one-sixth of the estimated decrease in production under a $15 per ton carbon price.
Inadequate policy surveillance has undermined the effectiveness of multilateral climate agreements. To illustrate an alternative approach to transparency, I evaluate policy surveillance under the 2009 G-20 fossil fuel subsidies agreement. The Leaders of the Group of 20 nations tasked their energy and finance ministers to identify and phase-out fossil fuel subsidies. The G-20 leaders agreed to submit their subsidy reform strategies to peer review and to independent expert review conducted by international organizations. This process of developed and developing countries pledging to pursue the same policy objective, designing and publicizing implementation plans, and subjecting plans and performance to review by international organizations differs considerably from the historic approach under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. This paper draws lessons from the fossil fuel subsidies agreement for climate policy surveillance.
An extensive literature shows that information-creating mechanisms enhance the transparency of and can support participation and compliance in international agreements. This paper draws from game theory, international relations, and legal scholarship to make the case for how transparency through policy surveillance can facilitate more effective international climate change policy architecture. I draw lessons from policy surveillance in multilateral economic, environmental, and national security contexts to inform a critical evaluation of the historic practice of monitoring and reporting under the global climate regime. This assessment focuses on how surveillance produces evidence to inform policy design, enables comparisons of mitigation effort, and illustrates the adequacy of the global effort in climate agreements. I also describe how the institution of policy surveillance can facilitate a variety of climate policy architectures. This evaluation of policy surveillance suggests that transparency is necessary for global climate policy architecture.