The Politics of Climate

The Politics of Climate


Required Readings:

  • Edwards and Cox, “Cap and adapt: A failsafe approach to the Climate Emergency.”
  • Green and Denniss, “Cutting with both arms of the scissors: The economic and political case for restrictive supply-side climate policies.”

What are carbon taxes (in practice) and what is cap and trade?

  • Carbon taxes: FF’s social costs priced by emissions or at source

–In Canada: charged to producers and passed on to consumers. Each person gets a uniform rebate.

  • Cap and trade: Govt assigns finite # of permits.

–These are tradeable,

–incentivizes emissions reduction among producers.



Supply side vs. Demand side policies

  • Demand (supportive and restrictive)

–Carbon pricing

–Cap and trade

–Consumer subsidies

  • Supply (supportive and restrictive)

–FF subsidy reduction –FF production quotas, bans, caps –Etc..


–Alternatives: auctions, non-tradeable.


Green and Denniss: Policy Options (pg. 75)



From economic to political models: some key considerations   Supply side and demand side are complements
  • Feasibility in a given context (regions, type •Other examples of supply:

of economy, etc.)                                                                                                                          –Tobacco or cannibis: licensing sales, restricting

  • Policy making capacity –type of gov’t to minors

institutions                                                                                                                                          –Restrict smoking to some places

–Limit advertising.

  • Positive feedback loops (dynamic not static):

–Policies not a reflection of what we want                                                                                    •Past examples of supply-side: CFC bans

–They can change what we want (and can do)                                                                                 –International cooperation

  • Command and control vs. market solutions

5                                                                                                          6

More on shortcomings of demand side policies

End Pt. 1 (acc. to G&D and E&C))

  • High cost of monitoring emissions.

–Especially problematic internationally

  • Transaction costs: rules and procedures.
  • Expensive and easy to ‘game’ (info asymmetry).
  • Often excludes small emitters (compliance costs).
  • Coal and oil reserves – easier to track than emissions.
  • Leads to populist resentment (inflation etc.)
  • Too indirect and gradualist
  • Better to make wealthy pay through tax.



The Canadian context

  • Pipeline politics – a supply side issue

–Alleged “hypocrisy” of Trudeau’s policies.

  • Carbon tax as the main battleground.

–Burden on households

–Diverts effort from policies that will address CC more rapidly or directly.

  • Need to phase out FF subsidies


More forward-looking (and dynamic) policy tool

  • Supply policies send signals to investors.
  • Problem of long term fixed (sunk) costs

–Increasing price doesn’t alter need to recoup these.

–Issue is how will we invest (price doesn’t always determine this – too indirect). Other risk factors, etc..

  • Hence another tool:

–Securities regulators: require reporting on climate


–Ford gov’t killed this idea (along with strengthened reporting of women on corporate Boards)


Other advantages of supply side

  • Supply restrictions also increase price (but more reliably).
  • Carbon prices only reduce demand as prices may only increase in participating countries.

–Irony: lowers price in non-participating countries •Overcomes infrastructure lock-in.

  • Best used in combination


More advantages of supply side approach

  • Avoids Green paradox (anticipating higher prices leads to accelerated extraction)
  • Supply can adapt to or shape political values and interests.

–More salient benefit (if sold properly) than increasing price.

–Polling shows people like good ideas but usually don’t want to pay more.

–Example: youth coalition around climate activism.


11                                                                                                        12

•Benefits of reduced emissions are often distant (in time and space), incremental and diffused (too abstract!)

–Consumers experience & understand costs more than the benefits.

–Concern about free riders.

–Easy for populist climate-deniers to oppose.

•Supply side policies can “mobilize” support better (identify with the cause, new types of careers, etc.)

•Dirty coal – elimination of Ontario coal plants under Ontario Liberal government.

•Targeting producers:

–Policy advocates. Divestment campaigns

(pension plans, etc..)

–Unfairness of making consumers pay (why not producers?).

–Finding supportive coalition of producers.

13 14  
What is the best policy instrument?   End Pt. 2
  • Targeted to attract support from the relevant groups.

–Green energy jobs.

  • Create positive feedback

–(more cooperation) at int’l level. –Attract investors.

Concentrated vs. diffuse benefits   G&D: So, let’s target FF itself
  • Key lessons:

–Carbon pricing and “command and control” are complementary policies

15                                                                                                        16

Federal Liberal government policies   Canadian Banks*
•Carbon pricing.

•Accept Paris targets (1.5C), major reductions by 2030.

•Carbon neutrality by 2050

•Committed to action in 2015.

•Reality: still heavily financing FF industry

•Three Cdn banks in top ten global institutions financing FF projects.

•Some small progress: TD green bonds.

•What else can be done?

–Activist shareholders could try to link CEO pay to decarbonization.

* Amir Barnea, “Big 5 banks need to take action on climate change.” Toronto Star, Jan 25, 2020.

17 18  
  • Decarbonizing the US Economy: Pathways Toward a Green New Deal. M. Paul, A Fremsted, J.W. Mason. Roosevelt Institute, 2019.
  • Some Democratic members of US Congress.
  • NDP and Green Party in Canada.
Some Advocates of Green New Deal policies

19                                                                                                        20

Some elements of GND   GND cont’d
  • Key principle: Markets and prices are not •Redistribute tax or permit revenues equally: enough: –Benefit to lower income people

–Too many sectors to coordinate and institutions •Recent years: ratio of corp profits to to change.                    investment is low.

  • Assumes need for 45% reduction of CO2 use •Economy needs jobs and stimulus. by 2030, carbon neutrality by 2050. •Progressive cap (increases over time.
  • Need regulation in addition to carbon •Cap and adapt:

pricing                                                                                                                                                   –need to assist economically displaced

21                                                                                                        22

Cap and Adapt   Mandates and concrete policies
•Transition to renewables fairly. Use nontradeable allowances.

•Fallback: rationing plan.

•Rich country targets should be higher. –But use border adjustment tariffs.

–Avoids leakage –penalize non-complying imports.

•Emphasize renewables, energy efficiency demand reduction.

•Progressive reduction of FF extraction and use.

•Electric vehicle mandates and subsidies.


•Public spending.

•Mass transit.

23 24  


Convergence between climate and macroeconomic policies/goals   End Pt. 3
  • Green New Deal involves public spending

(like depression-era New Deal of the 1930’s) •Reverse declining rate of taxes and new investment (relative to wealth) in rich countries.

  • Decarbonization will create good jobs & reduce inequality: –Declining labour share of income in many economies.

Research paper guidance video posted soon.



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