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US Climate Change Policy Approaches
Author: Charles Laffiteau















1

Introduction
The Obama administration’s environmental policy team, as well as members of the US
Congress and their staff, need to urgently consider implementing new climate change policies
and making changes to existing climate change policies like those favoring biofuels.
Although some skeptics remain, most political leaders agree that climate change, which
most scientists agree is due to man-made carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, is a
global environmental problem which will eventually require the world’s nations to negotiate with
one another in order to implement regulatory policies that will reduce the rising levels of CO
2
in
the earth’s atmosphere. Yet almost two decades of intense international negotiations have still
not produced any effective global climate change agreements.
There are a range of issues which make a deal difficult – including the complexity of the
issues at play and the growing economic weight and carbon emissions of large developing
countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China. But the nations with the largest per capita
carbon emissions are the United States (US) and its fellow members of the Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), so no global agreement will be reached until
the US and other OECD nations take the lead in carbon emission reductions. However the US
Congress remains deeply divided on the appropriate policy responses and the existing policy
literature does not explain why US policies have diverged from those of other OECD countries.
Much like the discovery of the health risks associated with ozone depletion, large scale
climate change due to man-made CO
2
emissions only emerged as an international environmental
concern within the past thirty years. Antonio Cassese explains that; “Before, the problem was not
felt, for three main reasons. First, industrial developments had not spawned pollution and
damage to the environment on a very large scale. Second, States still took a traditional approach
to their international dealings: they looked upon them as relations between sovereign entities,
each pursuing its self-interest.….and unmindful of general or community amenities. Third,
public opinion was not yet sensitive to the potential dangers of industrial and military
developments to a healthy (global) environment.”
1

But the initial reluctance of the US and other developed countries to take effective action
with respect to environmental issues is what led to the formation and growth of environmental
non-governmental organizations (NGOs), to lobby public officials in national governments, as

1
Antonio Cassese International Law (Oxford UK: Oxford University Press, 2001): 375
2

well as policy makers within international institutions, for policies that are environmentally
sensitive. Indeed, environmental NGOs were initially successful pressuring the US and other
OECD nations to sign an international agreement to deal with governance of the global issue of
ozone depletion. Environmental NGO “Friends of the Earth U.K. ran an aggressive campaign
through 1987, culminating in a boycott threat against twenty specific CFC-aerosol products.”
2

The environmental NGOs then followed up on this success by pushing for another international
treaty designed to govern man-made CO
2
emissions at the United Nations Conference on
Environment and Development (UNCED), aka the 1992 Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro.
The successful negotiation of the ozone treaty was also due, at least in part, to the success
of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in reducing international trade barriers during the latter
half of the 20
th
century. Jan Aart Scholte notes that, thanks to economic globalization and the
effectiveness of the WTO as an institution of global governance increasing trade and economic
ties between the world’s nations, “we have also developed some potentials for global governance
of environmental matters. In this respect the ozone regime established through the 1985 Vienna
Convention and the 1987 Montreal Protocol has proved particularly successful.”
3

At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, it was environmental NGOs who galvanized
public opinion worldwide, thus putting pressure on the world’s political leaders. Donald Kettle
writes; “These organizations are powerful engines for organizing and driving policy change, and
their influence has been impressive. At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, they raised
public pressure for governments to commit to reducing greenhouse gases.”
4

These treaty negotiations culminated in the development of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an
international treaty designed to deal with the threat of catastrophic climate change caused by
man-made CO
2
emissions. The resulting United Nations Framework Convention on Climate
Change (UNFCCC) became the world’s first international environmental treaty specifically
designed to achieve “stabilization of greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere at
a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a
level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to
climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic

2
Edward Parson “Protecting the Ozone Layer” in Peter Haas, Robert Keohane and Marc Levy(eds.) Institutions for the Earth:
Sources of Effective International Environmental Protection (Cambridge MA: MIT Press): 43
3
Jan Aart Scholte. Globalization. A critical introduction, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000): 212
4
Donald Kettl. “The Transformation of Governance: Globalization, Devolution, and the Role of Government” Public
Administration Review, (Vol. 60, No. 6, 2000): 491
3

development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”
5
It should also be noted that the CO
2
emissions
regulated by the Kyoto Protocol, were in addition to the chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) GHG
emissions nations had previously agreed to reduce under the terms of the Montreal Protocol.
Although a ‘safe’ or acceptable level of global temperature increase has never been
established, the general consensus of climate scientists both then and now was that an average
global temperature rise of more than 1.5-2

C would cause substantial damage to ecosystems
around the world. Nicholas Stern also notes that; “because many greenhouse gases, including
carbon dioxide (CO
2
), stay in the atmosphere for more than a century and the effects on climate
come through with a lag, temperature and sea level will continue to rise during the twenty-
second century, even if we stabilise emissions soon. Most of the damaging consequences of
climate change are associated with water in some shape or form, including droughts, floods,
storms, and sea level rise.”
6
Given the fact that scientists could demonstrate that the world had
already experienced close to a 0.7

C rise in global temperatures, the overall objective of the
Kyoto Protocol was to reduce four types of GHG emissions (of which CO
2
was by far the largest
contributor) 5.2 per cent from their 1990 benchmark levels by the year 2012. Many climate
scientists as well as environmentalists also hoped that a 5.2 per cent reduction in GHG emissions
would represent the first step to deal with climate change that would lead to further reductions in
GHG emissions, thus preventing the world from warming more than the 1.5-2

C that most
scientists believed would damage local ecosystems around the world. John Grace writes that
effective CO
2
reduction policies are urgently needed because, “At best, a 5.2% reduction would
merely mark the start of a large-scale and long-running set of international negotiations aimed at
stabilizing the atmospheric greenhouse gas content. In principle, to bring the carbon cycle back
to equilibrium the world needs to reduce its emissions to match the natural sink strength.”
7

Since the worlds wealthier, more industrialized nations like the US also bore the
responsibility for emitting the majority of the atmosphere’s existing CO
2
gases, it was also
agreed that these nations would agree to take the lead in reducing their GHG emissions and agree
to meet specific GHG emission reduction targets. Paul Harris writes that this agreement was
based on the international legal principle of ‘Common but Differentiated Responsibility’. As

5
United Nations. “Article 2.” The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (1997)
6
Nicholas Stern “What is the Economics of Climate Change?” World Economics (Vol. 7, No. 2, 2006): 2
7
John Grace “ Presidential Address: Understanding and Managing the Global Carbon Cycle” Journal of Ecology, (Vol. 92, No. 2
,2004):197
4

such Harris says that; “while all countries must join in efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse
gases that contribute to climate change, the developed countries are required by the Climate
Convention to take the lead.”
8
Furthermore, the economic development needs of developing
countries necessitated some increase in GHG emissions and their historical GHG emissions, as
well as their per capita GHG emissions, were also much lower than those of more industrialized
countries. Therefore, in contrast to the GHG emissions reductions mandated for the US and the
other industrialized nations of the OECD, developing countries like Brazil, Russia, India and
China were allowed to wait to set their own GHG emissions reduction targets in conjunction
with negotiations for a 2012 successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol.
However, since China, India and Brazil were among the world’s largest emitters of GHG
gases but were not required to set reduction targets, the then newly elected US President,
Republican George Bush (the US at the time was also the OECD’s largest GHG emitter),
subsequently refused to agree to the Kyoto Protocol’s 7% GHG emission reduction target for the
US even though the US at the time was the world’s largest GHG emitter.
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The US President and
US Senate’s subsequent refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol underscores the fact that, in contrast
to the political challenge of dealing with atmospheric ozone depletion, the political complexity of
the problem of climate change (caused primarily by fossil fuel CO
2
emissions) poses a profound
challenge to contemporary forms of both national and international political governance.
Effectively dealing with climate change will also entail the use of new environmental
policy instruments (NEPI) and different types of economic decision making criteria by
governments, as well as the inclusion of non-state actors like businesses and third sector
organizations in the policy making process with the objective of achieving environmental
outcomes that are both economical and sustainable. The complexity of the network of potential
stakeholders in any decision and the absence of a set of prior decisions and policies in this area
has also meant that initial policy-making was quite varied in its outputs. Since the US is the
world’s largest emitter of CO
2
that is why the Obama administration’s environmental policy
team, as well as members of the US Congress and their staff, need to urgently consider
implementing new policies and making changes to the US’s existing GHG emissions policies.

8
Paul Harris “Common But Differentiated Responsibility: The Kyoto Protocol and United States Policy” New York University
Environmental Law Journal (Vol. 7, 1999):30
9
Diana M. Liverman. “Conventions of climate change: constructions of danger and the dispossession of the atmosphere” Journal
of Historical Geography (Vol. 35, 2009): 291-192
5

Overview of Current US Climate Change Policies
Over the past thirty years the US has implemented some policies designed to mitigate the
negative effects of GHG emissions. Following is a brief summary of the direct regulation and
other types of policies that are currently being utilized to address the issue of climate change.
Direct Regulation
Restrictions followed by a ban on the production of CFCs that lead to ozone depletion
and an increase of global GHG emissions.
Increasing fuel economy standards for cars & trucks.
Regulations mandating the percentage of ethanol mixed in gasoline.
EPA regulation of air pollution standards and the types of gasoline mixtures required for
all of the US’s major urban regions.
EPA regulation of pollutants (i.e. soot and nitrous oxides that lead to acid rain) produced
by US factories and electricity providers.
Government Grants, Subsidies and Import Tariffs
Subsidies for US corn farmers and ethanol producers to encourage the production and use
of low CO
2
emissions ethanol made from corn.
Import tariffs on ethanol made from less energy intensive sources such as sugar cane.
Subsidies to encourage the development of alternative sources of non-CO
2
emitting
energy sources (i.e. solar panels & wind turbines).
Subsidies for mass transit systems in various urban areas throughout the US.
Grants for research on carbon sequestration (i.e. ‘clean coal’), hydrogen fuel cells & other
types of ‘clean’ energy technologies.
But of all of these climate change related policies, the most prominent public policy
specifically designed to reduce CO
2
emissions in the US as well as many other OECD nations is
encouraging the production and use of ethanol and other biofuels made from agricultural corn,
soybeans, palm oil, rapeseed, and sugar cane. US government support for the production and use
of biofuels has included direct regulation by mandating the percentage of ethanol mixed in
gasoline as well as government subsidies for US corn farmers and import tariffs’ to protect US
ethanol producers. However, in a world with almost one billion undernourished inhabitants, is
the use of food crops and agricultural land to provide the raw materials for biofuels also the best
use of scarce arable land and water resources?
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Although the concept of turning food crops into atmosphere friendly biofuels such as
ethanol initially appeared to have some positive effect on reducing CO
2
emissions, many climate
scientists have now concluded that increasing the production of biofuels is more harmful to the
earth’s atmosphere than the continued burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil is. Climate
scientist Joe Fargione explains how this misconception came to pass by noting that; “Previous
conclusions that biofuels reduce greenhouse gases were based on incomplete analyses. They did
not include the effect that biofuels can have on the conversion of natural ecosystems to crops.
Adding energy production to our current and growing demand for food production inevitably
requires more land to be converted to agriculture, whether or not the biofuel is grown directly on
that land. Some of this land comes from natural ecosystems, and the conversion of these natural
ecosystems to cropland releases carbon to the atmosphere and contributes to global warming.”
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The current controversy surrounding the production and use of biofuels and its impact on
the world’s food supplies is pertinent because until fairly recently this was the only policy
designed to reduce CO
2
emissions that had gained wide acceptance in the US and other
developed countries. However as a recent article in the Economist notes, “According to William
Cline of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, DC, at least 4% of the
world’s grain is used to make ethanol for fuel. Most of this is doing little good for the global
environment, and stopping subsidies for such fuels would boost the supply of grain for feeding
people on a scale similar to the hit that the past three decades of warming have provided.”
11
Yet
in spite of the abundant evidence that shows using grain to produce biofuels has at best a
marginal impact on reductions in overall CO
2
emissions and a decidedly negative impact on food
supplies and prices, biofuel policies persist. However, although some OECD members have now
changed their biofuel policies, other OECD countries like the US continue to embrace them.
Regardless of the environmental efficacy of producing biofuels as an alternative to
burning fossil fuels, in and of themselves, biofuels were never going to lead to substantial
reductions in CO
2
emissions because they were really only viable as a substitute for oil as a
transportation fuel. Biofuels were never envisaged as a substitute for the much more substantial
CO
2
emissions that result from coal used in generating electricity, natural gas used for heating or
as a replacement for oil as a source of petrochemicals and plastics. The rapid increase in grain

10
Joe Fargione Interview with nature.org (February 2008)
11
“Hindering Harvests.”The Economist. (Vol. 399 No. 8732, 7 May 2011): 74
7

prices and food shortages experienced in many developing countries between 2007 and 2008 was
fueled by droughts in grain producing countries in 2006 as well as a spike in oil prices. But these
events also underscored the fragility of the world’s food supplies and called into question the
wisdom of using agricultural land and food crops to develop biofuels. As a consequence, since
most of the US and other OECD nations had initially promoted and even subsidized the
production of biofuels as a way to reduce their CO
2
carbon emissions, their political leaders and
policy makers have now been forced to face the fact that achieving reductions in their CO
2

emissions is actually going to be a much more complex, difficult and costly undertaking than
they had at first believed. Figure 1illustrates the complexity of the problem of reducing GHG
emissions due to the numerous different economic sectors and end user activities that are both
dependent on fossil fuels and are also the sources of almost all of the world’s GHG emissions.
Figure 1

Given the negative impacts the production of biofuels has on food supplies, many
environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club have now started to argue that a more
sensible course of action is for national governments to levy carbon taxes on the goods and
services produced by the use of fossil fuels. Carl Pope, Sierra Club executive director says “[a
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carbon tax] will be more effective [than a cap-and-trade system] if people know that in year ‘X’
they will pay this much.”
12
Many economists also agree saying that carbon taxes would increase
the costs of fossil fuel energy, thus providing an economic incentive for both businesses and
consumers to reduce their use of fossil fuels in favor of alternative energy sources that reduce the
earth’s uptake of CO
2
gases. For instance Marc Chupka, a leading energy economist, notes that a
carbon tax would provide; “a continual incentive to reduce the costs of carbon abatement,
13

Jonathan Zasloff also notes that a carbon tax is “precisely the policy instrument that many
economists say is the best form of regulation, but is routinely dismissed as politically
unfeasible.”
14
Advocates of carbon taxes also point out that an additional benefit governments
could realize through the imposition of carbon taxes, is that these taxes could also provide more
tax revenues national governments could then use to fund climate change mitigation and
adaptation strategies.
But unlike their counterparts in Europe, most US political leaders as well as the US
general public have thus far been reluctant to embrace the use of carbon taxes to address climate
change’s national and global negative externalities; i.e. the concept that ecological damage (i.e.
climate change due to man-made fossil fuel CO
2
emissions) that results from the way something
is produced (i.e. energy and fuel), but is not taken into account in establishing the market prices
of the goods and services involved (i.e. plastic products, electricity and transportation). Elected
politicians in the US are justifiably concerned about adverse voter reactions from both businesses
and consumers towards CO
2
emissions reduction policies that raise the costs of the goods
produced through the use of fossil fuels and or the prices businesses and consumers currently pay
for fossil fuel derived energy (electricity, heat, petrol, etc.) as well as the thousands of other
carbon based products they use such as agricultural fertilizers, petro-chemicals and plastics.
Furthermore some business lobbies in the US have argued that carbon taxes will put them
at a competitive disadvantage, compared to producers in emerging economies that are not subject
to Kyoto targets, such as Brazil Russia, India, Indonesia and China. With respect to exports,
Harry Clarke writes that similar arguments by businesses in Australia were not without merit and
that these companies’ “exports face a competitive disadvantage in international markets simply

12
Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson “Tax on Carbon Emissions Gains Support” Washington Post (April 1, 2007)
13
Marc Chupka, “Carbon Taxes and Climate Change,” Encyclopedia of Energy, (Volume 1, 2001).
14
Jonathan Zasloff. “Judicial Carbon Tax: Reconstructing Public Nuisance and Climate Change.” The Symposium: Changing
Climates: Adapting Law and Policy to a Transforming World UCLA Law Review (Vol. 55 No.1 October 2007): 1829

9

because globally desirable carbon mitigation objectives are being pursued.”
15

Consequently, given the concerns of the industrialized democracies of the OECD, as well
as the concerns of poorer developing countries about climate change policies adversely affecting
their parochial economic development interests, formulating politically acceptable national, as
well as international environmental policies that account for domestic economic interests, is a
complicated task for public policy practitioners. As a result, climate policies that balance global
environmental and national economic interests, present a unique political conundrum for all
government policymakers, but particularly for the policy makers of the OECD member states’
democratic political governance regimes. Although some OECD political leaders and policy
makers may have initially been confused about the effectiveness of biofuels in reducing global
CO
2
emissions, there is no such confusion about a variety of other policies that would be much
more effective than biofuels in reducing CO
2
emissions. So why has the US failed to embrace
other climate change policies such as nuclear power, or the use of New Environmental Policy
Instruments (NEPI) like eco-carbon taxes, eco labeling, tradable CO
2
emission permits and
industry wide environmental management systems? Furthermore, why does the US continue to
promote and subsidize the production of coal, oil and gas and, in some cases, the continued
production of biofuels at the expense of the global food supply as well as the environment?
Since most
16
of the Kyoto Protocol’s Annex 1 nations (which are committed to reduce
their CO
2
emissions) including the US are also members of the OECD, the wealthier more
technologically developed nations of the OECD were expected to take the lead in reducing their
CO
2
emissions. Therefore, in contrast to the CO
2
emission policies of China, India and other
large developing nations with high levels of GHG emissions, the vast majority of the OECD’s
member nations (except the US and Canada) also agreed to meet specific GHG emission
reduction targets agreed to in the Kyoto Protocol by 2012. While there were no financial
penalties for Annex 1 nations that failed to meet their 2012 emission reduction targets, there was
still widespread acceptance on the part of these OECD nations, that their failure to meet these
CO
2
reduction targets would undermine their bargaining position with respect to future
UNFCCC negotiations over the CO
2
emission reductions targets that they would want faster

15
Harry Clarke “Some Basic Economics of Carbon Taxes” CCEP working paper 4.(10, October 2010): 8-9
16
Mexico, South Korea, Chile and Israel are the only OECD nations that are not Annex 1 nations while the former Communist
nations of Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Ukraine and the Russian Federation as well as the European
principalities of Liechtenstein and Monaco are the only Annex 1 nations that are not members of the OECD.
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growing developing countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRICs) to adopt.
The extent of divergence between the US and other OECD members’ policies and the
explanation for the policy divergence in climate change related environmental policies is a
puzzle because the self-declared aim of the OECD states is to cooperate and harmonize policies
among its members in order to “help governments’ foster prosperity and fight poverty through
economic growth and financial stability. We (also) help ensure the environmental implications of
economic and social development are taken into account.”
17

The US and other members of the OECD also share many characteristics as a group,
which are widely seen in the literature as variables leading towards policy convergence in a
range of policy areas. They are all high-income, economically developed, democratic nations
that have relatively (compared to wider global comparators) similar socio-economic profiles. In
contrast, the G77 group of developing countries varies much more significantly in their socio-
economic profiles and they also vary widely in terms of their consumer cultures, levels of
income inequality, education levels, as well as the structure of their economic systems.
Finally, it should be noted that it was climate scientists residing in the US and the more
technologically advanced OECD nations who were the first to raise the alarm about the
damaging impact man made chlorofluorocarbons were having on the earth’s ozone, and to
discover the role man-made GHG emissions were playing in raising global air and water
temperatures, thus leading to adverse climate changes in ecosystems worldwide.
US critics of implementing new CO
2
emission reduction policies have cited the lack of
CO
2
emission reduction targets for China, the world’s largest GHG emitter and second largest
economy, as a justification for not ratifying the emission reduction targets set for the US in the
Kyoto Protocol. While more economically advanced countries like China are unlikely to be
granted the same exemption from GHG emission reductions as the poorer developing countries
in Africa and Asia in future climate change treaty negotiations, China and India’s counter-
argument that their per capita CO
2
emissions are still a fraction of those in countries like the US
is not without merit. Setting aside the ethical argument that the US and more developed nations
are also the nations’ most responsible for the excessive levels of GHG emissions that are already
in the earth’s atmosphere, the US cannot realistically expect developing countries to reduce their
own carbon emissions until after the US takes the lead in doing so and shows the developing

17
Organization for Economic Development and Co-operation. What We Do and How. Online at www.oecd.org
11

countries how to reduce carbon emissions without hurting their own economic development.
The aforementioned arguments were repeated many times during negotiations between
the US, European nations and members of the G77 group of developing countries in the months
leading up to the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. The lack of substantive
progress in Copenhagen as regards a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, has resulted in
an impasse for now, but there is also little argument by the nations of Europe or the developing
world’s G77, that it is still the responsibility of the more technologically advanced nations like
the US to lead the way in reducing GHG emissions.
The lack of tangible progress at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference was also due
to several factors which were years in the making. The 2008 financial crises has had a deeper
and longer lasting effect on the economies of the US and Europe than it had on the economies of
developing countries. As a result, the US and many OECD states in Europe had economies that
were still suffering from the effects of the global economic recession in 2009, 2010 and 2011. So
in addition to the US, with some of their economies still in shambles many European nations are
less willing to sign up for the deeper and more difficult to achieve cuts in their carbon emissions
envisaged as a part of a new climate change treaty that would succeed the Kyoto Protocol.
As a result, the terms of the debate shifted noticeably in the months following the 2009
Copenhagen Climate Conference. Whereas the initial goal of the carbon reduction strategies of
the OECD countries had been to prevent a global temperature rise of more than 1.5-2

C; the lack
of any real progress during the preceding decade by many OECD nations in meeting their 2012
Kyoto Protocol targets led to the tacit abandonment of this objective at the 2010 Cancun Climate
Conference. Furthermore, instead of adopting 2

C as a new target, the goal of the climate change
negotiations in Cancun shifted to mitigating the worst effects of climate change by keeping the
global temperature increase under 3

C. As a result, most climate change discussions are now
focused on mitigation and adaptation strategies to cope with the consequences of climate change,
instead of trying to prevent climate change. But once again, because the wealthier OECD nations
are more technologically advanced than their developing country brethren, they are not only
more likely to lead the way in terms of reducing their carbon emissions and developing low
carbon emission alternatives, but will also lead the way in terms of adapting to or coping with the
negative consequences of climate change. Therefore, the initiative for policy action stills lies
with the US and other developed countries. No one expects a global deal without a significant
12

shift in the policy position of more developed countries - in particular the US, so the chances of
making any real impact on reducing the world’s GHG emissions are becoming ever more
dependent on the climate change policies adopted by the US.
Literature Review
Most of the environmental policy literature dealing with climate change focuses on the
global nature of the problem instead of individual nations’ policies to deal with it. To that end,
Jacob Park, Ken Conca, Matthais Finger and their collaborators, “focus particular attention on
Rio’s flawed and outmoded governance model.”
18
With respect to the factors that influence
nations to implement environmental protection policies, Tews, Busch and Jorgens concluded that
“the adoption of environmental policy innovations is more likely if these policy innovations
figure prominently on the global political agenda.”
19
They also concluded “that the special
features of a policy innovation can either facilitate of hinder its widespread adoption.”
20
In other
words, while international institutional support does have an impact on environmental policy
diffusion, the nature of the environmental policies themselves also has a substantial affect on
whether a country actually adopts a specific environmental policy. Tews et al therefore
considered national factors as crucial for answering the question of why nations adopt policy
innovations at an earlier stage, at a later stage or even resist them altogether.
Jordan, Wurzel and Zito note that since governance theory regards regulation as the very
essence of government, they used the adoption and implementation of NEPIs to assess how these
particular environmental policy responses impact governments’ regulatory domain. The authors
used comparative research to investigate whether or not governance of the environment has
eclipsed the role of government in eight industrialized OECD states and the EU. Jordan et al
focused on how the use of NEPIs impacted the governance of environmental issues by looking at
the levels of support they found for four types of NEPIs in eight industrialized OECD nations
and within the EU. Like Tews et al, they cite the importance of national factors and attribute
differences in levels of support to “national-level factors such as deeply engrained national
policy styles, industry opposition and the absence of effective champions.”
21
Their research also

18
Jacob Park et al. “The death of Rio environmentalism.” In Jacob Park, Ken Conca and Matthais Finger, Editors. The Crisis of
Global Environmental Governance. (New York: Routledge. 2008): 9
19
Kerstin Tews, Per-Olaf Busch and Helge Jorgens. “The diffusion of new environmental policy instruments.” European Journal
of Political Research (Vol. 42 No. 3, 2003): 572
20
Tews et al: 573
21
Andrew Jordan, Rüdiger K. W. Wurzel and Anthony Zito. “The Rise of ‘New’ Policy Instruments in Comparative Perspective:
Has Governance Eclipsed Government?” Political Studies. (Vol. 53, 2005): 491
13

suggests that NEPIs such as tradable carbon emission permits are not viewed as a replacement
for existing regulation of CO
2
emissions; rather they are being used to plug the gaps that exist in
some national environmental policy systems or to respond to new, high profile problems such as
climate change. Based on the results of their study, Jordan et al conclude that “Broadly speaking,
our nine jurisdictions (all of them are members of the OECD) have, on balance, shifted from a
position of ‘government’ to one of ‘governance’ with respect to their use of (new environmental)
policy instruments.”
22

Overall, the environmental politics literature suggests that complex interactions between
a number of different elements influence environmental policy at the global level. Authors like
Young, Schofer and Hironaka contend it is international institutions that have a substantial
impact on improving environmental policy outcomes while others like Princen and Finger say it
is the influence of environmental NGOs. On the other hand, Hajer and Whitman cite the public
discourse of societal elites while Jordan et al and Tews et al argue that state level national factors
are more crucial in the development of global environmental policies than the influence of
international institutions or environmental NGOs.
Tews et al also cite the influence of regional ties, due at least in part to cultural
similarities, in their analysis of policy diffusion writing that the “nearly simultaneous policy
adoption of energy/carbon taxes in the Scandinavian countries had been co-ordinated by the
Nordic Council.”
23
Andrea Lenschow, Duncan Liefferink and Sietske Veenman’s paper, “When
the birds sing: A framework for analysing domestic factors behind policy convergence,” was the
only significant policy convergence study in the environmental politics and policy literature that
used culture as a determinant of the likelihood that countries would adopt certain types of new
environmental policies. The authors argue that although these factors may have different degrees
of importance given the goals of the policy, culture as well as institutions and economy are the
three domestic factors that underlie policy diffusion and convergence.
Lenschow et al concluded “that new ideas, principles and goals impinge first and
foremost on national culture. Therefore, countries that share important aspects of their cultural
foundations might be expected to more quickly adopt similar ideas, principles and goals than

22
Jordan et al: 477–496
23
Tews et al: 586
14

countries that are culturally less close to each other.”
24
Based on my review of the environmental
policy literature and surveys of cultural values conducted by Geert Hofstede
25
it appears that the
differences that exist between the individualistic cultural values of the US and the more
collectivist cultural values of most European countries best explains why the US has not yet
adopted the GHG emissions reductions policies implemented by many European countries.
However, the other explanation most often heard is that the US is waiting for new
technologies such as geoengineering to develop that will address the problem. Geoengineering
schemes run the gamut from deploying millions of solar panels in space to more prosaic
proposals like painting all rooftops white. While most of these engineering ideas are still in their
infancy one of the more plausible ones is a “solar radiation management” (SRM) scheme that
simulates the cooling effects of volcanic eruptions by spraying millions of tons of sun-reflecting
particles into the upper reaches of the earth’s atmosphere. While not much is known about the
overall risks and long term costs of these geoengineering schemes we must begin to investigate
them immediately. Scott Barrett observes “Should our efforts to limit (GHG) concentrations fail,
or should rapid climate change occur despite emissions being curtailed sharply, geoengineering
may seem worth the risk. Either way, it would seem prudent to be prepared for these possible
futures, which is why R&D into geoengineering should begin now.”
26

Unfortunately, literature dealing with the economic costs and benefits of different types
of GHG emission reduction policies is also relatively immature. However, separate studies that
have been done by William Nordhaus and Gilbert Metcalf, have concluded that the long term
costs of waiting for new technologies before adopting new GHG emission reduction policies far
exceeds the short term and overall costs of acting now. While reducing the GHG emissions that
underlie climate change is a global problem that will require global cooperation, there will be no
real cooperation on a global scale until the world’s wealthiest nation undertakes its own policies.
As Gerald Metcalf notes, “Without the participation and leadership of the world's richest country
and one of the leading emitters of greenhouse gases, it is difficult to imagine how the world can
ever make meaningful progress on slowing and eventually stopping global warming.”
27


24
Andrea Lenschow, Duncan Liefferink and Sietske Veenman. “When the birds sing: A framework for analysing domestic
factors behind policy convergence.” Journal of European Public Policy (Vol. 12 No. 5, 2005): 810
25
Geert Hofstede, Culture's Consequences: comparing values, behaviors, institutions & organizations across nations (Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage 2001)
26
Scott Barrett. “The Coming Global Climate-Technology Revolution” The Journal of Economic Perspectives, (Vol. 23, No. 2
Spring, 2009): 73
27
Gilbert E. Metcalf. “Market-based Policy Options to Control U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions” Journal of Economic
15

US Climate Change Policy Options
Since the costs and risks associated with geoengineering schemes are unknown at this
time, this paper will focus on the policy options that have been proposed for the US and have
already been implemented in other countries. Following is a brief summary of specific types of
direct regulation and incentive policy options which have been proposed to reduce GHG
emissions in order to mitigate some of the negative impacts of climate change as well as the pros
and cons and economic, political and societal impacts associated with each policy alternative.
Direct Regulation
1) A GHG/CO
2
emissions target is established for each polluting firm and industry so the
burden of reducing emissions can’t be shifted to firms that can more easily achieve them.
2) Major advantage is the cost to comply with GHG/CO
2
emissions regulations is born
directly by the polluting firms and indirectly by consumers of those firms’ products and
services through higher prices that reflect the fact that firms are no longer ‘free riders.’
3) Major disadvantage is command and control regulations are inflexible and do not
encourage polluting firms to go beyond their regulatory emissions targets and cut their
GHG emissions more than they are required to.
4) A carbon tax is a form of carbon pricing that levies an environmental tax on the carbon
content of fuels, electricity and other goods produced from fossil fuels.
5) Major advantage is carbon taxes address the problem of GHG/CO
2
emitters who are free
riders since they don’t pay for the negative externalities or social costs of their actions.
6) Economists prefer a carbon tax because it is explicit, not hidden, it is efficient,
minimizing collateral damage to the economy, and it is effective, raising the price of
greenhouse gas emissions and encouraging alternatives.
7) Major disadvantage is regressive nature of tax adversely impacts budgets of poor citizens.
Incentive Policies
Emissions trading or cap-and-trade is a market-based approach used to control pollution
by providing economic incentives for polluting firms to reduce GHG emissions.
Major advantage is incentive is designed to achieve the greatest amount of GHG
emissions reductions at the most efficient and economically effective cost.

Perspectives (Vol.23, No. 2, Spring 2009): 25
16

A cap and trade of CO
2
emissions permits is also one of the new climate change policy
options that has already been adopted by many countries in Europe and the OECD.
Major disadvantage centers on price fluctuations and government policies that give away
permits to industrial polluters as opposed to policies that auction government permits.
Direct regulation has been used successfully by many governments, including the US, to
address local, state and national environmental problems such as air and water pollution as well
as international pollutants that affect other countries such as acid rain. Direct regulation was also
used by the US and other developed countries to address the global environmental problem of
ozone depleting CFC chemicals. But reducing GHG CO
2
emissions involves many different
industries and a much greater number of polluting firms, not to mention consumers who own
cars and other GHG emitting products, so it is difficult to imagine a direct regulation scheme that
will effectively target all polluters in proportion to their contribution to GHG emissions.
Therefore due to the complexities of regulating so many producers and consumers of fossil fuels,
no new direct regulation policies beyond those governing CFCs and or tweaks to existing EPA
policies governing fuel economy standards and ethanol mixtures will be considered.
Many European countries such as the United Kingdom (UK) have imposed a carbon tax
based on the estimated carbon content and GHG emissions of fuel and energy products.
According to a recent Bloomberg news report about Australia’s new carbon tax, the Australian
government expects to raise $24.7 billion in four years from the carbon tax that will take effect
on July 1 2012. The tax on Australia’s biggest sources of GHG emissions starts at $23 per ton of
carbon and rises by 2.5 percent in real terms in each of the following two fiscal years. The
Australian Treasury projects the price will reach $29 a ton in 2015-16, when the mechanism
moves to a price set by the market. The tax is also expected to increase consumer prices by 0.7
percentage point in the 12 months starting July 1 2012.
28

The European Union Emission Trading Scheme (or EU ETS) is the largest multi-
national, GHG/CO
2
cap and trade emissions trading scheme with a market value of $120bn in
2010. It is one of the EU's central policy instruments used since 2005 by 25 of 27 EU members
to meet their Kyoto Protocol emissions targets. New Zealand also introduced an Emissions
Trading Scheme in 2008. However, the World Bank says the international market in carbon

28
Garfield Reynolds.“Australia Predicts $24.7 Billion Carbon Revenue.”Bloomberg (May 9 2012)

17

credits suffered an almost total collapse in 2010 with only $1.5bn of credits traded, the lowest
amount since the market first opened in 2005. Furthermore, the price of carbon emission permits
has swung widely and is currently around $10 per ton which is widely considered to be too low a
price to encourage firms and consumers to reduce their GHG emissions.
US Climate Change Policy Cost Benefit Analysis and Policy Recommendations
Figure 2 represents the decision matrix that was used to identify climate change related
policy alternatives and the rationale that was used in deciding which climate change related
policies to recommend over the other climate change policy alternatives that were rejected.
Figure 2
Revenue-Benefits Decision Matrix
Policy Options Polluting Firm Benefits Government Benefits
No Mitigation Policy YES (No added costs ‘free riders’) NO (Pays costs of free riders)
Cap & Trade Emissions Permits YES (Profit from trading permits) NO ( Yes if permits auctioned)
Carbon Tax NO YES

Based on his in-depth economic analysis of the price of carbon emissions, Richard Tol
observes that “The price of carbon dioxide emission permits in the European Union was $78 per
ton of carbon in January 2009 and although the United States has no federal policy specifically to
reduce carbon emissions, many utilities apparently factor in the likelihood of a carbon tax of $15
per ton of carbon in their investment decisions. This pattern also suggests that the European
Union may be placing too high a price on carbon emissions, while the United States is placing
too low a price on such emissions.”
29

Figure 3 is a cost benefit analysis that shows the dollar value of implementing a new
climate change mitigation policy and continuing with the status quo of no new climate change
policies. As such, it compares the cost of a carbon tax CO
2
mitigation policy through 2035
beginning with an initial tax of $10 per ton of carbon (rising to $33 per ton in 2035) with no
mitigation policy through 2035. Losses are figured in discounted Global World Product (GWP)
in billions of dollars. US GDP is approximately 25% of GWP so US losses are 20-25% of figures
shown. Annual losses (and gains) are discounted back to 2005. “IN” means “impossible now”;
temperature target cannot be reached by any mitigation policy initiated in 2005. “IL” means

29
Richard Tol. “The Economic Effects of Climate Change.” Journal of Economic Perspectives (Vol. 23, No. 2, Spring 2009): 46
18

“impossible later”; temperature targets could not be achieved by any adjustments in 2035 to
mitigation policies initiated in 2005. Since the current price of carbon emissions permits is
around $10 per ton of carbon, the very conservative cost benefit analysis illustrated in Figure 3
uses this price instead of the $15 price used by US electric utilities or the $78 EU carbon price.
Figure 3
Cost Benefit Analysis of Carbon Tax vs. Status Quo (No CO
2
Mitigation Policy)
DISCOUNTED ADJUSTMENT COSTS
($) GIVEN AN INITIAL CARBON TAX OF $10
Temperature target
Climate Sensitivity (degrees)→
(degrees)
↓ 2 2.5 3 3.5
1.5 $0 $0 $0 $0
2 $2 $1 $0 $0
3 $4 $3 $1 $0
4 IL $6 $2 $0
5 IL $12 $3 $0
6 IN IL $4 $1
7 IN IL $6 $3
8 IN IL $9 $5
9 IN IL $12 $9

DISCOUNTED ADJUSTMENT COSTS
($) GIVEN NO MITIGATION THROUGH 2035
Temperature target
Climate Sensitivity (degrees)→
(degrees)
↓ 2 2.5 3 3.5
1.5 $32 $11 $3 $0
2 $38 $22 $16 $4
3 $180 $29 $18 $22
4 IL $60 $24 $24
5 IL $142 $25 $25
6 IN IL $27 $28
7 IN IL IL $34
8 IN IL IL $35
9 IN IL IL $38

Figure 3’s dollar value analysis shows the cost of status quo is much higher and the value
is based on the DICE model used by William Nordhaus who notes that “The DICE baseline
temperature projections are in the lower-middle end of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report’s
19

best estimate of the global mean temperature increase of between 1.8 and 4.0°C from 1980-2099.
The DICE baseline yields a global mean temperature increase of 2.2°C over this same period.”
30

Figure 4 illustrates the economic effect of carbon tax and cap and trade of emissions.
Figure 4

In Figure 4, the intersection of the supply and demand curves for GHG-emitting
products, point A, will generate emissions equal to Q
0
, and the price will be P
0
. There are two
climate change policies either of which the government can use to reduce the quantity to Q
1
.
Carbon tax: if a carbon tax π is added into the price the supplier's price will be the old
price plus the amount of the tax, and the supply curve will shift up to S*. The new equilibrium is
at point B, the quantity is the target Q
1
, and the price will increase to P
1
.
Cap-and-trade: if government restricts emissions to a level consistent with Q
1
the new
supply curve S* is vertical and no matter how high the price goes, supply will remain fixed at Q
1
.
The new equilibrium is B, the quantity is determined by the cap at Q
1
, and price will rise to P
1
.
π is the green area which represents the difference between the price the consumers pay
at B and what it costs suppliers to produce at Q
1
. In the case of the carbon tax, that money goes
to the government to help pay for the costs of climate change disasters. But if output is capped at

30
William Nordhaus. A Question of Balance: Weighing the Options on Global Warming Policies. (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 2008): 199
20

Q
1
, that π difference is pure profit since a permit to produce one unit of output allows its owner
to collect a rent equal to the difference between the selling price and the cost of production.
31

Figure 5 illustrates the economic impact carbon taxes and a cap and trade of emissions
permits has on two firms; one with high GHG emissions and one with lower GHG emissions
Figure 5

With a carbon tax, the high cost polluting firm will abate to e* (right to left) and suffer
abatement costs of K and pay a tax bill to the government equal to B + C + F + G. The low cost
firm will abate to e* (left to right) and suffer abatement costs of C + G and pay a tax bill to the
government equal to J + K. The efficient abatement level is achieved: e* The abatement cost to
the polluting firms, C + G + K, is minimized and Government revenue = B + C + F + G + J + K.
With cap and trade schemes, the abatement cost to the low abatement cost firm is equal to
area C. The abatement cost to the high abatement cost firm is D + F + G + K. If it recognizes that
its marginal abatement cost is higher than the marginal abatement cost of the low cost firm it
could propose a trade. In effect, the blue line over area D, F and G is a demand curve for permits
and the green line is a supply curve for permits. Anywhere in between the blue and green line is
a permit price that is mutually agreeable between both firms. A competitive permit market will
result in a permit price equivalent to the efficient carbon tax. Trading reduces overall abatement
costs by area D + F. The efficient abatement level is achieved: e* and the abatement cost to the

31
Stephen Gordon. “Carbon Taxes vs Cap and Trade.”The Economists View (June 3, 2008)
21

polluting firms, C + G + K, is minimized. However, the drawback is that there is no revenue for
the government that it can use to pay for costs of negative externalities of climate change.
32

Conclusions
Compared to other types of direct government regulation command and control schemes,
both carbon taxes and carbon cap-and-trade permits could achieve the same level of increased
efficiency by achieving the optimal GHG/CO
2
emissions abatement levels at the minimum cost.
However, even though the economics graphs in Figure 4 and Figure 5 show that the economic
impacts of a direct carbon tax and a cap and trade of emissions permits are equivalent, they will
in fact only be roughly equivalent if the cap and trade emissions permits are auctioned off to the
highest bidders by the government. But if the GHG emissions permits are simply given to
existing GHG emitters, then all permit trading profits are pocketed by the polluting firms.
However, if the permits are auctioned off, the price will be bid up to an equilibrium
market price for carbon (probably somewhere between the $10 per ton of carbon used in the cost
benefit analysis, US electric utilities’ $15 per ton estimate and the EU’s carbon permit price of
$78 per ton). The polluting firms could still earn profits from future trading of emissions permits
while the US government would receive some money right away to use to pay for the costs of
climate change related negative externalities. Unfortunately, US politicians have long expressed
a preference for hidden taxes. Given the current anti-tax political climate that all Congressional
Republicans now have to operate within, it is much more likely that they will support a cap-and-
trade of emissions permits, which private firms can profit from. Since a carbon tax would not be
a hidden tax, Congress is unlikely to approve of it even though it would also provide the federal
government with an ongoing revenue stream to pay for climate change related costs.
Given the multifaceted number of contributors to the earth’s GHG emissions I believe a
multifaceted policy approach will also be necessary to effectively address the problem. To that
end, the US government should take action on the following policy fronts; 1) Increase
conservation and replanting of forests that absorb CO
2
2) Increase the energy efficiency of the
US electric grid and electric appliances, 3) Stop underwriting government insurance of homes on
beaches & flood plains, 4) Increase the federal gasoline tax to pay for rebuilding road and water
infrastructure, 5) Implement a carbon tax on electricity per kilowatt hour to fund climate change
adaptation, 6) A Cap & Trade of emissions permits for industries that make goods from carbon.

32
“Carbon Tax vs. Cap-and-Trade” Environmental Economics at http://www.env-econ.net/
22

Overhanging the debate about what steps we should take to deal with climate change is
the fact that the quality and quantity of research on the economic impacts of climate change is in
no way commensurate with the expected costs of mitigating the worst effects of climate change
or adapting to it. While numerous polls have consistently shown that approximately two thirds of
Americans believe that man made emissions are causing climate change, there is no consensus
on what policies should be adopted to address the problem because so little is known about the
short and long term economic impacts. As Richard Tol notes “Politicians are proposing to spend
hundreds of billions of dollars on green house gas emission reduction, and at present, economists
cannot say with confidence whether this investment is too much or too little.”
33

Richard Lind poses another interesting question that policy makers need to consider when
doing any kind of cost benefit analysis; “If we invest successfully in new technologies that will
substantially reduce the costs of abatement in ten years, can we wait and more cost-effectively
reach the same level of total abatement by starting later and doing it more efficiently?”
34
Mr.
Lind has a valid point here, particularly in regard to evaluating the costs and benefits of the
geoengineering schemes that are now being discussed. However, many climate change skeptics
use this same rationale to argue that since the eminent threat of climate change doesn’t appear to
be as great, we also need to wait until we are more certain about precisely how and to what
degree man-made GHG emissions are negatively affecting our national and global environment.
But the Economist responds to those skeptics by noting that :”Some scientists are now
arguing that man-made climate change is not quite so bad a threat as it appeared to be and that
the planet’s “climate sensitivity”—the amount of warming from a doubling in the carbon-dioxide
level—may not be as high as was previously thought. So if the world has a bit more breathing
space to deal with global warming, that will be good. But breathing space helps only if you
actually do something with it”
35
Furthermore, Gary Yohe, Natasha Andronova and Michael
Schlesinger’s offer an insightful response to those who want to use uncertainty or the lack of new
technologies as an excuse to wait when they write that; “Uncertainty is the reason for acting in
the near term, and that uncertainty cannot be used as a justification for doing nothing.”
36


33
Richard Tol. “The Economic Effects of Climate Change.” Journal of Economic Perspectives (Vol. 23, No. 2, Spring 2009): 46
34
Robert Lind. “Intergenerational equity, discounting, and the role of cost-benefit analysis in evaluating global climate policy.”
Energy Policy (Vol. 23, No. 4–5 1995): 388
35
Economist “Global warming; Apocalypse perhaps a little later.” The Economist (Vol. 407 No. 8828, 30 May 2013)
36
Gary Yohe, Natasha Andronova and Michael Schlesinger. “To Hedge or Not Against an Uncertain Climate Future?” Science
(Vol. 306 October 15 2004): 416-417

23

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