Erik Haites

The Kyoto Mechanisms and Global Climate Change

The Kyoto Mechanisms and Global Climate Change: Coordination Issues and Domestic Policies

Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
September 2000

By:
Erik Haites, Margaree Consultants Inc.
Malik Amin Aslam, ENVORK Research And Development Organisation

Press Release

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Executive Summary

The Kyoto Protocol sets greenhouse gas emissions limits for 2008-2012 for 38 developed coun-tries. Developing countries have no emissions limits. The Protocol also creates three "mechanisms" that enable countries to reduce the cost of meeting their emissions limits. The nations of the world are now negotiating the detailed rules for implementing the Protocol, including the three Kyoto Mechanisms.

A number of countries have made specific proposals to restrict the use of the Mechanisms to achieve environmental or equity objectives. Other countries are arguing for an unrestrictive approach to improve economic efficiency. In addition, the lack of integration among the three Mechanisms may inadvertently restrict or bias their use. Finally, the extent to which countries may avail themselves of the Mechanisms depends both on the rules for the Mechanisms and on the domestic policies adopted by the developed countries to meet their commitments.

This report evaluates proposed rules for implementing the Kyoto Mechanisms in terms of their implications for equity, environmental integrity, and economic efficiency, and discusses coordination of domestic policies with the Kyoto Mechanisms. The authors conclude that:

The Kyoto Mechanisms have the potential to dramatically reduce the costs of meeting the Kyoto commitments. The Kyoto Protocol allows nations to fulfill part of their emissions reduction obligations by purchasing emissions reductions from other nations. Because greenhouse gases (GHG) lead to global effects, it does not matter, from an environmental perspective, where GHG reductions occur. However, because countries and businesses face widely differing control costs, it matters greatly from an economic perspective where GHG reductions occur. Hundreds of analyses using a wide array of economic models agree that the costs of controlling GHG emissions are significantly lower if emissions trading is permitted than if each nation has to meet its emission reduction responsibilities domestically. The broader the trade possibilities, the lower the costs of control.

The rules should allow substitution among the different Mechanisms. Some countries have proposed limiting substitution (fungibility) among the three Mechanisms. Others argue that the Protocol does not allow full fungibility. To limit such substitution, the rules governing use of the Mechanisms would have to be very restrictive. Even then countries could develop means to circumvent the restrictions. It would be better to simply allow substitution among the Mechanisms.

The rules for International Emissions Trading should allow "legal entities" (emitters, emissions brokers, etc.) to participate. Legal entities should be allowed to participate in emissions trading, just as they are allowed to participate in Joint Implementation, the Clean Development Mechanism, and international trading of other goods and services. If governments rather than legal entities trade, the potential efficiency gains of trading cannot be realized because governments do not know the compliance costs faced by the emitters. If the international rules don't allow legal entities to participate, individual governments could circumvent those rules, if they wish, by establishing internationally tradable "obligations to transfer." Rather than encourage the development of complex legal devices, countries should simply agree to allow legal entities to participate in emissions trading.

Lack of harmonization among the three Mechanisms may inadvertently restrict their use. There will be differences in design among the Mechanisms because their purposes vary. For example, only one of the three Mechanisms is designed to promote sustainable development in developing countries. However, an important objective of each of the Mechanisms is to allow legal entities and nations to use the most cost-effective means available to comply with their domestic and international obligations. Differences in rules among Mechanisms that are unrelated to differences in their purposes reduce economic efficiency and should be minimized to the extent possible.

Significant penalties for non-compliance and effective enforcement of those penalties are crucial to the environmental integrity of emissions trading. If the penalties for non-compliance with national emissions limitation commitments are relatively weak, emissions trading enables a country to benefit financially through non-compliance. Such behavior reduces the value of the allowances held by governments and legal entities. Liability proposals seek to limit the extent of such non-compliance by limiting sales to allowances expected to be surplus to the seller's compliance needs. Liability proposals differ in their environmental effectiveness, their economic efficiency, and their impact on the timing of transactions. Negotiators should adopt rules that are maximally effective in encouraging compliance with minimal increase in cost or environmental risk.

The Mechanisms are most amenable to use by countries that adopt domestic cap and trade systems. Countries will need to implement domestic policies to control emissions by different sources if they are to meet their emissions limitation obligations. The cost of compliance with domestic policies can be minimized by giving sources access to the Kyoto Mechanisms to the extent allowed by the international rules. Use of the Mechanisms is easiest to structure for participants in a domestic cap and trade system. However, the Mechanisms could be used, albeit with some difficulty, by countries that adopt emissions taxes or that specify the means of compliance through some types of regulations or negotiated agreements.

Erik Haites
Malik Amin Aslam
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