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Political economy constraints on carbon pricing policies: What are the implications for economic efficiency, environmental efficacy, and climate policy design?

Jesse D. Jenkins

Energy Policy, 2014, vol. 69, issue C, 467-477

Abstract: Economists traditionally view a Pigouvian fee on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, either via carbon taxes or emissions caps and permit trading (“cap-and-trade”), as the economically optimal or “first-best” policy to address climate change-related externalities. Yet several political economy factors can severely constrain the implementation of these carbon pricing policies, including opposition of industrial sectors with a concentration of assets that would lose considerable value under such policies; the collective action nature of climate mitigation efforts; principal agent failures; and a low willingness-to-pay for climate mitigation by citizens. Real-world implementations of carbon pricing policies can thus fall short of the economically optimal outcomes envisioned in theory. Consistent with the general theory of the second-best, the presence of binding political economy constraints opens a significant “opportunity space” for the design of creative climate policy instruments with superior political feasibility, economic efficiency, and environmental efficacy relative to the constrained implementation of carbon pricing policies. This paper presents theoretical political economy frameworks relevant to climate policy design and provides corroborating evidence from the United States context. It concludes with a series of implications for climate policy making and argues for the creative pursuit of a mix of second-best policy instruments.

Keywords: Climate change; Instrument choice; Political economy; Carbon tax; Emissions trading; Environmental economics (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2014
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DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2014.02.003

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