The outcome of the December 2011 United Nations climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa, provides an important new opportunity to move toward an international climate policy architecture that is capable of delivering broad international participation and significant global CO2 emissions reductions at reasonable cost. We evaluate one important component of potential climate polig architecture for the post-Durban era: links among independent tradable permit systems for greenhouse gases, because linkage reduces the cost of achieving given targets, there is tremendous pressure to link existing and planned cap-and-trade systems, and in fact, a number of links already or will soon exist. We draw on recent political and economic experience with linkage to evaluate potential roles that linkage may play in post-Durban international climate policy, both in a near-term, de facto architecture of indirect links between regional, national, and sub-national cap-and-trade systems, and in a longer-term, more comprehensive bottom-up architecture of direct links. Although linkage will certainly help to reduce long-term abatement costs, it may also serve as an effective mechanism for building institutional and political structure to support a future climate agreement. [PUBLICATION ABSTRACT]
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.
The introduction of the U.S. SO2 allowance-trading program to address the threat of acid rain as part of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 is a landmark event in the history of environmental regulation. The program was a great success by almost all measures. This paper, which draws upon a research workshop and a policy roundtable held at Harvard in May 2011, investigates critically the design, enactment, implementation, performance, and implications of this path-breaking application of economic thinking to environmental regulation. Ironically, cap-and-trade seems especially well suited to addressing the problem of climate change, in that emitted greenhouse gases are evenly distributed throughout the world’s atmosphere. Recent hostility toward cap-and-trade in debates about U.S. climate legislation may reflect the broader political environment of the climate debate more than the substantive merits of market-based regulation.
This article describes three essential elements of an effective post-2012 international climate policy architecture: a framework to ensure that key industrialized and developing nations are involved in differentiated but meaningful ways, an emphasis on an extended time path for emissions targets, and the inclusion of flexible market-based policy instruments to keep costs down and facilitate international equity. This overall architecture is consistent with fundamental aspects of the science, economics, and politics of global climate change; addresses specific shortcomings of the Kyoto Protocol; and builds on the foundation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
One of the major outcomes of the Durban Climate Conference in 2011 was the 'Durban Platform for Enhanced Action' - a non-binding agreement to forge a new treaty by 2015 that will bring all countries under the same legal regime by 2020. This article will explain why the 'Durban Platform for Enhanced Action' has opened an important window in climate talks.
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.
Abstract An implication of the Coase theorem is that under certain conditions, the market equilibrium in a cap-and-trade system will be cost-effective and independent of the initial allocation of tradable rights. That is, the overall cost of achieving a given aggregate emission reduction will be minimized, and the final allocation of permits will be independent of the initial allocation. We call this the independence property. This property is important because it means that the government can establish the overall pollution reduction goal for a cap-and-trade system by setting the cap and leaving it up to the legislature to construct a constituency in support of the program by allocating the allowances to various interests without affecting either the environmental performance of the system or its aggregate social costs. We examine the conditions under which the independence property is likely to hold—both in theory and in practice.
We examine the concept of firms sacrificing profits in the social interest within the environmental realm, with particular focus on the case of the United States by addressing four key questions. May they do so within the scope of their fiduciary responsibilities to their shareholders? Can they do so on a sustainable basis, or will the forces of a competitive marketplace render such efforts and their impacts transient at best? Do firms, in fact, frequently or at least sometimes behave this way, reducing their earnings by voluntarily engaging in environmental stewardship? Should firms carry out such profit-sacrificing activities (i.e. is this an efficient use of social resources)? We address these questions through the lens of economics, including insights from legal and business scholarship.