Pielke+on+Policy - OPINION A Positive Path for Meeting The...

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People are willing to bear costs to reduce emissions, but they are only willing to go so far. The course that the world has been on for climate policy has created the conditions for failure. OPINION A Positive Path for Meeting The Global Climate Challenge Climate policies that require public sacrifice and limiting economic growth are doomed to failure. To succeed, policies to reduce emissions must promise real benefits and must help make clean energy cheaper. BY ROGER A. PIELKE JR. This past year, the Indian government took two actions that help to illustrate which steps to decarbonize the global economy might work and which are unlikely to succeed. In advance of the G20 Summit in Toronto last June, India proposed lifting a small fraction of its subsidies on kerosene, diesel, and petroleum, with the inevitable result being an increase in fuel prices for Indian consumers. What was the result of that price hike, which had the equivalent impact of a $30-per-ton carbon tax? Widespread riots and strikes. By the end of August, India’s government had decided to delay implementation of the reforms, due to political opposition. The other decision by the Indian government was to impose a small tax on coal, with the proceeds to be invested in renewable energy technologies. That small levy — expected to raise $535 million in its first year, despite imposing a tax equivalent to only 35 cents per ton of carbon — met with no public protests. Yet it could have a substantial impact on helping India develop its own green energy technologies. The difference in public response to these government actions illustrates the immutability of what I call the iron law of climate policy: When policies on emissions reductions collide with policies focused on economic growth, economic growth will win out every time. Climate policies should flow with the current of public opinion rather than against it, and efforts to sell the public on policies that will create short-term economic discomfort cannot succeed if that discomfort is perceived to be too great. Calls for asceticism and sacrifice are a nonstarter. The “iron law” thus presents a boundary condition on policy design that is every bit as limiting as is the second law of thermodynamics, and it holds everywhere around the world, in rich and poor countries alike. It says that even if people are willing to bear some costs to reduce emissions (and experience shows that they are), they are willing to go only so far. That reality was certainly behind the failure of climate legislation in the U.S. Senate this summer. Putting a cap on carbon emissions sounds great. The problem is that it cannot work. All of the effort and politicking was fruitless, because the idea of placing a hard cap on emissions was a fantasy. A cap did not fly in the Senate because politicians were not going to do anything that might adversely impact
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Pielke+on+Policy - OPINION A Positive Path for Meeting The...

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