A key outcome of the Seventeenth Conference of the Parties (COP-17) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), held in Durban, South Africa, late in 2011 — the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action — represents an important milestone in the history of climate negotiations. This is because it departs from the long-standing and problematic dichotomous division of the world's countries into those with serious emissions-reduction responsibilities and the others — with no such responsibilities whatsoever. That distinction, now apparently abandoned, has prevented meaningful progress for decades. The Durban Platform — by replacing the Berlin Mandate's (1995) division of the world into a set of countries with ambitious responsibilities and another set of countries with no responsibilities — has opened an important window. National delegations from around the world now have a challenging task before them: to identify a new international climate policy architecture that is consistent with the process, pathway, and principles laid out in the Durban Platform, while still being consistent with the UNFCCC. The challenge is to find a way to include all key countries in a structure that brings about meaningful emission reduction on an appropriate timetable at acceptable cost, while recognizing the different circumstances of countries in a way that is more subtle, more sophisticated, and — most important — more effective than the dichotomous distinction of years past.
The 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) launched a process to confront risks posed by global climate change. It has led to a dichotomy between countries with serious emission-reduction responsibilities and others with no responsibilities whatsoever. This has prevented progress, but recent talks suggest the prospect for a better way forward and an openness to outside-the-box thinking. Scholars and practitioners have a new opportunity to contribute innovative proposals for a future international climate policy architecture.
Because of the global commons nature of climate change, international cooperation among nations will likely be necessary for meaningful action at the global level. At the same time, it will inevitably be up to the actions of sovereign nations to put in place policies that bring about meaningful reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases. Due to the ubiquity and diversity of emissions of greenhouse gases in most economies, as well as the variation in abatement costs among individual sources, conventional environmental policy approaches, such as uniform technology and performance standards, are unlikely to be sufficient to the task. Therefore, attention has increasingly turned to market-based instruments in the form of carbon-pricing mechanisms. We examine the opportunities and challenges associated with the major options for carbon pricing—carbon taxes, cap-and-trade, emission reduction credits, clean energy standards, and fossil fuel subsidy reductions—and provide a review of the experiences, drawn primarily from developed countries, in implementing these instruments. Our summary of relevant theory and survey of experience from industrialized nations may be helpful to those who wish to examine the potential applicability of carbon pricing in the context of developing countries.
Emissions of greenhouse gases linked with global climate change are affected by diverse aspects of economic activity, including individual consumption, business investment, and government spending. An effective climate policy will have to modify the decision calculus for these activities in the direction of more efficient generation and use of energy, lower carbon-intensity of energy, and a more carbon-lean economy. The only technically feasible and cost-effective approach to achieving this goal on a meaningful scale is carbon pricing: that is, market-based climate policies that place a shadow-price on carbon dioxide emissions. We examine alternative designs of three such instruments: carbon taxes, cap and trade, and clean energy standards. We note that the U.S. political response to possible market-based approaches to climate policy has been, and will continue to be, largely a function of issues and structural factors that transcend the scope of environmental and climate policy.
We critically review the Kyoto Protocol and thirteen alternative policy architectures for addressing the threat of global climate change. We employ six criteria to evaluate the policy proposals: environmental outcome, dynamic efficiency, cost-effectiveness, equity, flexibility in the presence of new information, and incentives for participation and compliance. The Kyoto Protocol does not fare well on a number of criteria, but none of the alternative proposals fare well along all six dimensions. We identify several major themes among the alternative proposals: Kyoto is “too little, too fast”; developing countries (DCs) should play a more substantial role and receive incentives to participate; implementation should focus on market-based approaches, especially those with price mechanisms; and participation and compliance incentives are inadequately addressed by most proposals. Our investigation reveals tensions among several of the evaluative criteria, such as between environmental outcome and efficiency, and between cost-effectiveness and incentives for participation and compliance.