Unilateral climate policies have been unable to achieve intended emissions reductions. We argue that international harmonization of climate policy is the only way forward, and that global carbon pricing is the best available instrument to manage this. A foundation has already been laid, as current carbon pricing initiatives cover about 20% of global CO2 emissions. Since it limits free-riding by countries, negotiating global carbon pricing is behaviourally easier than negotiating other instruments, such as targets or standards. To overcome political resistance, we propose a dynamic strategy consisting of two parallel tracks. The first entails assembly of a carbon-pricing coalition that expands over time and exerts moral and economic pressure on non-members to join. The second track involves refocusing UNFCCC negotiations on carbon pricing, resulting initially in heterogeneous prices based on countries’ income levels, which then gradually converge. The two tracks are designed to reinforce one another, increasing the likelihood of a successful outcome. The proposal results in a transition trajectory consisting of two interactive tracks and five phases. Political feasibility would enhance if a broad group of scientists supported such a transition to global carbon pricing.
Jeroen van den Bergh is ICREA Professor at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (2007–present), and full Professor of Environmental & Resource Economics at VU University Amsterdam (1997–present). His research is on the interface of environmental economics, energy-climate studies and innovation research. He is Editor-in-Chief of the journal Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions. He received the Royal/Shell Prize 2002 for Sustainability Research, IEC’s Sant Jordi Environmental Prize 2011 and an ERC Advanced Grant. His latest book is Human Evolution Beyond Biology and Culture: Evolutionary Social, Environmental and Policy Sciences (Cambridge University Press, October 2018).
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