The Political Economy of global Carbon Emissions Reductions

The Political Economy of global Carbon Emissions Reductions

“The political economy of global carbon emissions reductions” Ecological Economics, 68(3) January 2009


The discussion about what reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are required and how the emissions rights might be distributed globally has fostered the belief that there is a fundamental conflict between the rich nations of the “North” and the poor but populous nations of the “South.” The argument is that grandfathering the rights will only reinforce existing global inequalities, while per capita distribution of the rights would lead to such huge transfers of wealth to the South as to be unacceptable to the North. However, a very simple general equilibrium model highlighting key elements of the global economy shows that this perception is incorrect under a plausible interpretation of the goal of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to “avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Instead of using an economic damage function to determine the optimal level of emissions reductions, the model’s utility functions are calibrated to reflect scientific understanding of what would be required to stabilize the atmosphere at safe concentrations of greenhouse gases. Among policy options that would accomplish this, the United States has a preference for grandfathering the allocation of emissions rights over a per capita allocation, but this preference is not strong and could be offset by other geopolitical considerations.

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