International Emissions Trading & Global Climate Change: Impacts on the Cost of Greenhouse Gas Mitigation

Several factors influence the costs of greenhouse gas mitigation. This report illustrates the importance of one such factor—international emissions trading—in reducing the costs of carbon control. The authors find that an international greenhouse gas emissions trading regime will significantly lower global mitigation costs. Specifically, the report finds:

  • The costs of controlling carbon emissions would be significantly lower if trade is permitted than if each country is required to meet its obligations alone.
  • Providing greater flexibility in trading mechanisms—for example, allowing trading among various greenhouse gases and across emissions sources, and allowing trades to occur over time—lowers the costs.
  • Emissions trading reduces the potential for “leakage” of jobs, industry, and emissions compared to a control case with no trading because changes in world fuel prices would be moderated through the availability of trading.
  • While broader participation in trading is likely to yield greater benefits, any amount of trading will lower the costs for those participating. If a climate policy regime is in place that allows emissions trading, all parties—with or without obligations—are better off trading than not.
  • Issues of program design and institutional structure must be addressed carefully to realize the full economic potential of trading regimes.
  • By making transparent the core structure and assumptions of economic models, the Pew Center hopes to provide policy-makers and consumers of economic information with tools to better understand the important assumptions driving the models’ projections of costs.

This report is the first in a series designed to explore how economic models address the climate change issue. The first phase of this effort will make a direct and significant contribution to economic modeling in the following four areas: (1) review of existing models and identification of their key assumptions; (2) investigation of the models’ theoretical frameworks; (3) encouraging best practices in modeling specific aspects of the climate change issue; and (4) integrating innovative modeling practices into a state-of-the-art assessment of the costs of climate change and the policies used to address it.

The second phase of the Pew Center’s economics program will focus on how businesses react to climate change—and policies to ameliorate it—in the context of sound business strategy and practice. The Center is in a unique position to provide insight into the inner working of firms through the participation of our Business Environmental Leadership Council.