October 08, 2008
Climate Policy Lessons from Around the World
By Breakthrough Senior Fellow Roger Pielke, jr., cross-posted from Prometheus
Policy analysis is not laboratory science. But fortunately, the real world is full of "experiments" that while not conducted in the controlled conditions that researchers like, nevertheless provide much useful knowledge. On climate policy, this week Canada and the EU provide some interesting lessons for understanding global climate policy focused on decarbonization. The main lesson, which seems inescapable is the following- policies that lead to increased costs of energy are politically doomed. Here is some of the reporting from Canada and the EU:
In Canada the Liberal government suffered a large defeat, which some have attributed to its efforts to pursue a revenue-neutral carbon tax, such as this column in the Globe and Mail:
While many of the most respected climate-change scientists in the world believe taxing carbon is one of the surest and most effective ways to attack rising emissions, it would appear to be a zero-sum game for politicians trying to sell it. Both Mr. Campbell's and Mr. Dion's carbon-tax policies are designed to be revenue-neutral - meaning the tax would have no impact on a person's pocketbook because it would be offset by income-tax cuts and rebates.
But people don't believe it. It's like listening to politicians say they will never break a campaign promise. Public skepticism is legitimate.
Second, solutions to climate change are often complex and not easily explained. Mr. Dion had trouble explaining his Green Shift himself sometimes, even in French, and if a politician doesn't sound convincing trying to sell a policy that includes a tax - even if it's one designed to help save mankind - opponents will exploit it and the electorate will say come back when you've thought this thing through a little.
People have to be convinced it's worth the price.
The EU has kicked the can down the road (to December, so not long) a decision among it members on its collected approach to climate change, due to strong opposition from Eastern European countries but also Italy. From the FT:
European Union leaders on Thursday set themselves the difficult task of fleshing out by the end of the year an ambitious plan to fight climate change, after a long and sometimes sharp debate that exposed differences among the 27 member-states.
According to a draft communiqué, EU heads of state and government will commit themselves to reaching a final agreement in December on a drastic reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and on boosting renewable energy use. . .
While the summit produced broad support from the 27 governments for the measures adopted so far to tackle the world financial crisis, it was a different story on climate change. . .
According to participants in the talks on Wednesday, Italy and several central and eastern European countries raised particularly fierce objections to the EU's plans for combating climate change.
They made the point that the global financial crisis and severe economic downturn in Europe were making it hard and costly to achieve the EU's targets.
But Nicolas Sarkozy, France's president, told them that the EU would cover itself in ridicule if it scaled back its plans, less than two years after announcing it would be the world's leader in tackling global warming.
EU governments committed themselves in March 2007 to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 20 per cent of their 1990 levels by 2020, to derive 20 per cent of all energy from renewable sources by 2020, and to make energy efficiency savings of 20 per cent by the same date. Collectively, this is known as the "20-20-20" plan.
Some leaders at Wednesday's discussions complained that they had not been in power when the 20-20-20 plan was agreed, implicitly arguing that they should not be bound by their predecessors' commitments.
Italy's Silvio Berlusconi summed up the views of the opposition:
We don't think this is the moment to push forward on our own like Don Quixote.
More climate policy lessons coming in December, stay tuned.