Advancing public and private policymakers’ understanding of the complex interactions between climate change and the economy is critical to taking the most cost-effective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Read More
By: Eileen Claussen and Jim Rogers
March 31, 2009
This article originally appeared in the National Journal's Energy & Environment Experts Blog.
Let’s get one thing straight: Though not perfect, we like the way President Obama and his team are addressing the potential catastrophe of climate change.
The Administration unequivocally accepts the underlying science. They realize that the cost of not acting will be far greater than the cost of taking responsible action – and that the longer we wait, the greater the costs will be for American consumers. Their emissions goals are ambitious but achievable, as is the timetable to meet them. And we agree that cap and trade is the right way to go. It’s based on common sense capitalism: it puts a price on carbon and rewards facilities that can reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases at the lowest cost, even as it provides incentives for others to find more economic ways to reduce their own emissions.
Where we temporarily part ways is when it comes to the Administration’s proposal calling for a full auction of emission allowances. How these allowances are distributed doesn’t change the overall environmental goal set by the cap. We believe it is critical that a number of them be used to reduce price impacts on households and businesses – in the early years of the program. Just this week Chairmen Waxman and Markey released a discussion draft of energy and climate legislation that leaves open how we can best address this critically important issue.
In all states, electricity is distributed by local companies regulated by public service commissions whose fundamental purpose is to protect consumers and keep electricity rates low. We recommend protecting households and businesses that purchase electricity from utilities by providing allowances to the regulated distribution companies during a transition period.
There is little question that an auction, in which allowances to emit specified amounts of carbon are sold to the highest bidders, will result in a price spike for electricity in some regions. That price spike will hit households and businesses the hardest, and for some, it will be very tough to manage.
We believe we need a climate change plan that protects against price spikes in electricity bills. Our plan would effectively curb carbon, limit the risk of price volatility, target relief to those who need it most, and take advantage of the distribution companies’ and public service commissions’ ability to deliver energy efficiency.
During the transition period from granting allowances to a full auction, there would be no windfall for utility companies or their investors. The legislation itself and actions by public service commissions would guarantee it. On the flipside, there would not be huge price increases for electricity in coal-fueled states and a much smoother transition to a cleaner economy. If this approach is not taken, the whole argument for climate change legislation could be moot – senators and representatives from those states might effectively kill legislation mandating cap and trade.
Overall, we think a cap-and-trade system that shifts from granting allowances to a full auction over time will provide the most reasonable transition to the low-carbon and thriving economy we all desire. To help ensure a smooth transition, granting allowances and auction revenues should be used to help cushion workers, households, and vulnerable industries from volatile prices. It should also support the development of critical low-carbon technologies like carbon capture and storage, and assist in efforts to better adapt to the climate change we are already beginning to experience.
With a price on carbon, energy companies will more rapidly invest in clean technologies, as long as they can be certain that future regulations neither bankrupt them nor mandate that they bet on specific untried technologies. It will also help them look deeper into renewable sources of energy, be they solar, wind, hydropower, or even agricultural waste. They will rethink nuclear power which, despite its scary image, is actually a safe, clean way to generate electricity.
We know that some of those technologies still need the kinks worked out, and that others remain prohibitively expensive. But this is where the government could use some of the revenues that it gets from auctioning allowances to other emitters now, and to utilities and competitively challenged manufacturers down the road.
We’re not ostriches, and we’re not Pollyannas. We know there is a cost to addressing climate change, and that this cost will filter down to big business, to small business, and to households. Utilities that buy carbon allowances or shift to lower-carbon generating options will have to increase their rates, but energy efficiency can lower customer bills even in the face of rate increases. And there will be far less economic upheaval if higher prices come gradually, which our transition program would ensure.
Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.
March 16-17, 2009
The U.S. government is considering a range of near-term actions to address the risks of climate change. The Obama administration and key members of Congress intend to make climate legislation a top priority this year. The earliest action, however, may come from federal agencies being pressured by the courts and states to consider limiting CO2 emissions under existing legislative authority. A key element of federal rulemaking is assessing the costs and benefits of proposed policies. While the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions have received much attention from analysts and policymakers, far less attention has been directed at quantifying the benefits of such reductions. In spite of remaining uncertainties, the analytical community should offer practical guidance for informing near-term decisions. Drawing from the environmental economics, impacts, vulnerability, and risk assessment communities, this workshop considers what useful insights can be gleaned now about quantifying the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The workshop’s objectives are to develop a set of practical recommendations that decision makers can employ in the near-term and to outline a research path to improve decision making tools over time.
Symposium – Assessing the benefits of avoided climate change in government decision making
Eileen Claussen, President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Video: WMV PDF
Dina Kruger, Director, Climate Change Division, Office of Air and Radiation, U.S. EPA
Panel 1: Perspectives on Government Decision Making for Climate Change
Moderator: Steve Seidel, Vice President for Policy Analysis, Pew Center
- Martha Roberts, EDF: Incorporating the benefits of climate protection into federal rulemaking
Video: WMV Slides
- Christopher Pyke, CTG Energetics: A proposal to consider global warming under NEPA
Video: WMV Slides
- James Lester/Joel Smith, Stratus Consulting: Case studies on government decisions to limit greenhouse gas emissions – California, Australia, United Kingdom
Video: WMV Slides Paper
- Paul Watkiss, Paul Watkiss Associates: Social cost of carbon estimates and their use in UK policy
Video: WMV Slides
Panel 2: Challenges to Quantifying Damages from Climate Change
Moderator: Jeremy Richardson, Senior Fellow for Science Policy, Pew Center
- Mike MacCracken, Climate Institute: Overview of challenges to quantifying impacts
Video: WMV Slides Paper
- Kristie Ebi, ESS, LLC: Social vulnerability and risk
Video: WMV Slides Paper
- Tony Janetos, Joint Global Change Research Institute: Ecosystems and species
Video: WMV Slides
- Jon O’Riordan, University of British Columbia: Valuation of natural capital
Video: WMV Slides
Panel 3: The Role of Uncertainty in Assessing the Benefits of Climate Policy
Moderator: Jay Gulledge, Senior Scientist/Science & Impacts Program Manager, Pew Center
- Brian O’Neill, NCAR: Uncertainty and learning – implications for climate policy
Video: WMV Slides
- Joel Smith, Stratus Consulting: Dangerous climate change: an update of the IPCC reasons for concern
Video: WMV Slides
- Michael Mastrandrea, Stanford University: Assessing damages with integrated assessment models
Video: WMV Slides Paper
- Chris Hope, University of Cambridge: Social cost of carbon and optimal timing of emissions reductions under uncertainty
Video: WMV Slides Paper
Panel 4: Advances in the Economic Analysis of the Benefits of Climate Policy
Moderator: Liwayway Adkins, Senior Fellow, Economics, Pew Center
- Steve Rose, EPRI: Federal decision making on the uncertain impacts of climate change: Working with What You Have
Video: WMV Slides Paper
- Richard Howarth, E3 Network: The need for a fresh approach to climate change economics
Video: WMV Slides Paper
- David Anthoff, ESRI: National decision making on climate change and international equity weights
Video: WMV Slides
- Steve Newbold, U.S. EPA: Climate response uncertainty and the expected benefits of GHG emissions reductions
Video: WMV Slides Paper
Click here for more information about the workshop, including expert reports and proceedings.
Climate Policy Memo #1: Cap and Trade vs. Taxes
Cap and trade and a carbon tax are two distinct policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Each approach has its vocal supporters. Those in favor of cap and trade argue that it is the only approach that can guarantee that an environmental objective will be achieved, has been shown to effectively work to protect the environment at lower than expected costs, and is politically more attractive. Those supporting a carbon tax argue that it is a better approach because it is transparent, minimizes the involvement of government, and avoids the creation of new markets subject to manipulation. This note explores both the fundamental similarities between cap and trade and tax regimes, but also the important differences between them.
IMPORTANT SIMILARITIES BETWEEN CAP AND TRADE AND TAXES
Both correct a market failure. Both cap and trade and a tax have as their objective the correction of an existing market failure. Currently, sources responsible for GHG emissions do not have to pay for the damages they impose on society as a whole. The failure to internalize these costs leads to greater levels of emissions than would be socially optimal.
Both put a price on carbon. By placing a price on carbon, and thus correcting the market failure, both approaches create an incentive to develop and invest in energy-saving technologies. This will encourage the shift to a lower carbon economy.
Both take advantage of market efficiencies. Unlike direct regulations, both harness market forces to achieve the lowest cost reductions in GHG emissions.
Both can generate revenue. A tax by definition is designed to raise revenue, but a cap-and-trade system, to the extent that allowances are auctioned, can also raise similar amounts of revenue. How such revenues are used becomes an important issue in both systems. Some proposals rebate the revenue directly back to consumers, some use part of the revenues to ease the transition to a low carbon economy (e.g. for consumers, energy-intensive manufacturers, research development and deployments, etc.) and some combine both approaches.
Both impose a compliance obligation on a limited number of firms. Depending on who pays the tax or is responsible for holding allowances, the number of firms directly impacted by these systems can be large or small. Most proposals focus on a limited number of firms with the goal of maximizing emissions coverage and reducing administrative costs.
Both necessitate special provisions to minimize adverse impacts. By putting a price on carbon, both systems raise concerns about adverse impacts on energy-intensive firms and manufacturing states, and on workers and communities that historically have been dependent on fossil fuels. For example, both could result in large wealth transfers from coal and manufacturing states to other parts of the country. However, through special tax provisions or the use of allowance value, either can be designed in a way to mitigate adverse impacts on disadvantaged groups. Similarly, both systems would require special provisions to avoid imposing requirements on GHGs that are consumed as feedstocks or to provide credit for reductions that result from capturing and storing carbon or expanding carbon sinks.
Both require monitoring, reporting and verification. Both systems require similar data on emissions, reporting and verification of that data, and enforcement in the event of noncompliance.
Cost certainty v. environmental certainty. By setting a cap and issuing a corresponding number of allowances, a cap-and-trade system achieves a set environmental goal, but the cost of reaching that goal is determined by market forces. In contrast, a tax provides certainty about the costs of compliance, but the resulting reductions in GHG emissions are not predetermined and would result from market forces.
Compliance flexibility for firms. A tax requires a firm each year to decide how much to reduce its emissions and how much tax to pay. Under a cap-and-trade system, borrowing, banking and extended compliance periods allow firms the flexibility to make compliance planning decisions on a multi-year basis.
Impact of economic conditions. Changes in economic activity impact a firm’s behavior under either system. Under a cap-and-trade system, reduced economic growth would lower allowance prices. Under a tax, government action to lower the amount of the tax, not market forces, would be required to reduce the carbon price seen by firms. In times of economic expansion, the opposite would be true – under cap and trade, allowance prices would rise based on market forces, but taxes would remain the same unless adjusted through government action. In this sense, cap and trade can be seen as providing a self-adjusting price, high when the economy is doing well and low when the economy is in a downturn. A tax in contrast is not self-adjusting.
Linkage to other systems. Ideally, a global price for carbon would develop and allow cost efficiencies to be realized across borders. While we are a long way from a global system, several trading regimes are already operating, expanding, or are planned which could allow international linkages across systems in the future. Far fewer jurisdictions have either instituted or are considering carbon taxes and the notion of an international carbon tax has been considered but generally rejected as not realistic.
Experiences to date: Cap and trade has become the cornerstone of successful efforts to achieve low-cost reductions in sulfur dioxide emissions in the United States. For GHGs, this same approach is also being relied upon in the European Union (EU). The EU has implemented a GHG cap-and-trade program covering thousands of sources and has created a market with millions of transactions producing a market price for carbon determined through supply and demand. Following a trial period, during which a number of start-up challenges were encountered (e.g., lack of data, different approaches across Member States), the EU has succeeded in establishing the building blocks for a successful trading regime. Cap and trade is also being used in three regional trading programs in the United States and Canada. The use of taxes aimed at reducing GHG emissions has initially been used in several countries, including Norway, Sweden and Germany that are now relying increasingly on emissions trading. Carbon taxes have also been used in a few local governments in the United States and Canada. A carbon tax was considered by the Clinton Administration in 1992, but quickly became loaded down with special exemptions, was redirected away from carbon to be a BTU tax to avoid burdening coal, and was ultimately enacted as a few pennies tax on gasoline.
This review of cap and trade and taxes suggests that many of the longstanding myths about these approaches fail to recognize advances in design options aimed at addressing earlier concerns. While a tax regime sounds simpler in theory, history suggests that special provisions would be added, for example, to avoid adversely impacting specific regions, to exempt feedstocks and to mitigate competitiveness concerns. While a cap-and-trade regime doesn’t directly provide price certainty, recent proposals include temporal flexibility (e.g., banking, borrowing, and multi-year compliance periods) as well as floor prices and offset provisions that would dampen price volatility. In the end, history suggests that it is unlikely that a tax would result in a simpler system. The greater flexibility for firms and greater certainty that environmental objectives will be met appear to be the greatest strengths of a cap-and-trade policy.
This series was made possible through a generous grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, but the views expressed herein are solely those of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and its staff.
How Much Would You Pay to Save the Planet? The American Press and the Economics of Climate Change
By Eric Pooley
Kalb Fellow, Shorenstein Center, Fall 2008
Contributor at Time Magazine
Eric Pooley, a former Fortune managing editor and Time chief political correspondent, recently published a discussion paper that examines media coverage of the federal climate policy debate.
In his paper, Pooley explores the question: "How is the press doing on the climate solutions story?” Specifically, his paper examines media coverage of climate change with a focus on reporting of the economic debate over the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2008. Pooley argues that news organizations should devote greater attention to the climate policy story, and reporters must help fulfill a glaring need for public education about climate change with good explanatory journalism. He argues that there is an emerging consensus among economists that well-designed climate policy would not derail the U.S. economy, and that journalists have failed to report this consensus and have given undue attention to “doomsday forecasts” produced by opponents of climate action.
"This is the great political test, and the great story, of our time," writes Pooley. "But news organizations have not been treating it that way." He goes on to add, “It is time for editors to treat climate policy as a permanent, important beat: tracking a mobilization for the moral equivalent of war.”
The paper emphasizes the enormous complexities of the issue, and Pooley challenges reporters to devote the time required to grasp and explain them to readers in a straight, understandable way.
Pooley’s analysis is based on 40 print articles that examined the cost debate published between December 2007 and June 2008 in national and regional newspapers, wire services, and news magazines. Twenty-four stories are identified as works of journalistic stenography – or he said/she said pieces – and seven are one-sided articles. Pooley finds nine articles that attempt to explain the arguments and offer conclusions “with varying degrees of success.”
“It falls to the press to be an honest broker in this debate – sympathetic to the idea that change must come, yet rigorous in its analysis of competing claims,” he writes.
Pooley argues that reporters too often played the role of stenographer, presenting the give and take of the debate without questioning an argument’s validity. Instead of being stenographers, Pooley challenges journalists to act as referees of the climate debate, “keeping both sides honest by calling fouls and failures to play by the rules.” Playing referee carries greater responsibilities and requires more time and work to grapple with complex issues and present them in an understandable and compelling way. But the details of climate policy are greatly important, notes Pooley, and reporters who operate as honest referees serve a critical role in the debate.
To inform the climate change dialogue, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions has produced a series of brief reports entitled Climate Change 101: Understanding and Responding to Global Climate Change, Updated January 2011.
These reports provide a reliable and understandable introduction to climate change. They cover climate science and impacts, climate adaptation, technological solutions, business solutions, international action, federal action, recent action in the U.S. states, and action taken by local governments. The overview serves as a summary and introduction to the series.
For more information, be sure to listen to our Climate Change 101 podcast series
The complete set of six reports plus the overview in one volume.
This overview summarizes the key points from each of the Climate Change 101 reports.
This report provides an overview of the most up-to-date scientific evidence and also explains the causes and projected impacts of climate change.
This report details how adaptation planning at the local, state and national levels can limit the damage caused by climate change.
This piece discusses the technological solutions both for mitigating its effects and reducing greenhouse gas emissions now and into the future.
This report discusses how corporate leaders are helping to shape solutions.
This report discusses what will be needed for an effective global effort, one calling for commitments from all the world's major economies.
This report discusses federal policy options that can put the country on the path toward a lower-carbon future.
This report highlights states' efforts as they respond to the challenges of implementing solutions to climate change.
This report describes the actions taken by cities and towns.
This report explains the details of cap and trade.
November 12-14, 2008
Marriott Wardman Park Hotel
The Pew Center on Global Climate Change and Point Carbon invite you to Carbon Market Insights Americas 2008, taking place in the heart of political decision making, the week following the U.S. presidential election.
The event will involve key decision makers in the forthcoming U.S. Administration and Congress and provide participants with a fresh analysis on climate policy and carbon markets in North America. It will offer key insights into how federal policy changes are likely to affect regional cap-and-trade schemes in North America, the global carbon market, and emissions trading around the world.
Click here to Register and to get more information about the conference.
News Release: For Immediate Release — July 28, 2008
Alexia Kelly, The Climate Trust, 541-514-3633
Tom Steinfeldt, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, 703-516-4146
NONPROFIT COALITION ISSUES RECOMMENDATIONS FOR
DESIGN OF GHG OFFSET PROGRAMS IN CAP-AND-TRADE SYSTEMS
Group Receives Major Grant from the Energy Foundation
PORTLAND and WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Offset Quality Initiative (OQI) will release a white paper today in San Diego at a briefing to be held before the opening of the Western Climate Initiative stakeholder meeting. Titled “Ensuring Offset Quality: Integrating High Quality Greenhouse Gas Offsets Into Cap-and-Trade Policy,” the document offers policymakers practical recommendations regarding the integration of greenhouse gas offsets into emerging regulatory systems at the state, regional and federal levels. OQI, a coalition of six leading non-profit organizations—The Climate Trust, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, California Climate Action Registry, Environmental Resources Trust, Greenhouse Gas Management Institute, and The Climate Group—was founded in November 2007 to provide leadership on GHG offset policy and best practices.
“The availability of high-quality offsets is key to containing the cost of climate policy while delivering real greenhouse gas emission reductions,” said Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. “A rigorous and adaptable offset program design can ensure that offsets play a valuable role in an effective cap-and-trade system. OQI’s work will assist policymakers seeking to develop core components of a credible offsets program.”
In addition to regulatory design guidelines, the white paper addresses the key criteria for offset quality and discusses offset project types most appropriate for inclusion in emerging regulatory systems. OQI member organizations will discuss their recommendations with policymakers and other stakeholders over the next several weeks, beginning with today’s briefing in San Diego.
“Establishing confidence in the environmental integrity of offsets is critical for the successful launch and acceptance of future cap and trade regulatory systems. The goal of our paper is to provide policymakers with well-conceived and comprehensive recommendations for offset program design based on the collective knowledge and experience of the OQI members. Each nonprofit member of the coalition is a well-respected and established organization in climate change and brings valuable experience and knowledge to the group,” said Gary Gero, President of the California Climate Action Registry.
OQI recently received a one-year grant of $235,000 from the Energy Foundation to support its work. “We were excited and honored to receive the grant,” said Mike Burnett, Executive Director of The Climate Trust, which was awarded the grant on behalf of OQI. “This generous support from the Energy Foundation highlights the need for the unique work and perspective of OQI. We will use the funds to continue to advance sound greenhouse gas offset policy.”
For a copy of the white paper or for more information on the briefing, please visit www.offsetqualityinitiative.org.
About the Offset Quality Initiative
The Offset Quality Initiative (OQI) was founded in November 2007 to provide leadership on greenhouse gas offset policy and best practices. OQI is a collaborative, consensus-based effort that brings together the collective expertise of its six nonprofit member organizations: The Climate Trust, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, California Climate Action Registry, the Environmental Resources Trust, Greenhouse Gas Management Institute, and The Climate Group.
The four primary objectives of the Offset Quality Initiative are:
- To provide leadership, education, and expert analysis on the issues and challenges related to the design and use of offsets in climate change policy.
- To identify, articulate, and promote key principles that ensure the quality of greenhouse gas emission offsets.
- To advance the integration of those principles in emerging climate change policies at the state, regional, and federal levels.
- To serve as a source of credible information on greenhouse gas offsets, leveraging the diverse collective knowledge and experience of OQI members.
Ensuring Offset Quality: Integrating High Quality Greenhouse Gas Offsets Into North American Cap-and-Trade Policy
An Offset Quality Initiative White Paper
Download full paper (pdf)
This paper aims to provide policymakers with practical recommendations regarding the integration of greenhouse gas (GHG) offsets into emerging regulatory systems. Offsets have an important role to play in controlling the costs associated with regulating and reducing GHGs, and in driving technology transformation in sectors not mandated to reduce their GHG emissions. In order for offsets to deliver on their intended purpose — the achievement of a real and verifiable reduction in global GHG emission levels beyond what would have otherwise occurred —regulatory programs must be designed to ensure the quality and effectiveness of offsets used to meet GHG reduction requirements. Policymakers must also have a clear understanding of both the opportunities and challenges presented by the integration of offsets into GHG emission-reduction systems.
This document represents the consensus of the member organizations of the Offset Quality Initiative: The Climate Trust, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, California Climate Action Registry, Environmental Resources Trust, Greenhouse Gas Management Institute and The Climate Group. The GHG mitigation field is evolving at a rapid pace and will continue to do so over the next several years; this document will be updated over time to reflect any changes in the Offset Quality Initiative’s consensus positions.
The work of the Offset Quality Initiative is generously supported by the Energy Foundation.
The Economic Costs of a Market-based Climate Policy
June 2008 (updated version)
Download the full paper (pdf)
Effort to develop a mandatory climate policy is accelerating and it seems likely that a national market-based strategy for dealing with climate change is on the near term horizon. Key provisions are likely to include a cap on selected greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, an institutional framework for creating a nationwide emissions permit market, a welcoming integration of abatement opportunities from external domestic and international sources, and recognition of a broad range of features designed to soften economic impacts or promote economic efficiency. Prompted by a national sense of urgency, businesses, states and regions also are actively engaged in designing and implementing their own variations on these themes. Together, it is clear that there is growing support for a market-based complement to the technology orientation that characterizes current U.S. policy.