Thinking about the Institutional Dimensions of Climate Change Policy

Most economists tend to neglect the institutional and political dimensions of proposed climate change policies, whereas political scientists, policymakers, and stakeholder groups frequently give primary attention to these considerations.  This is demonstrated by my recent podcast conversation with Navroz Dubash, professor at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, and a Coordinating Lead Author of the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  You can listen to our conversation in the latest episode of my podcast, “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.”  Our full conversation is here.

In these podcasts, I converse with leading experts from academia, government, industry, and NGOs.  Navroz Dubash fits well within this group, as a respected international expert on the politics of climate change policy and governance, the political economy of energy and water resources, and the regulatory state in the developing world.  In addition, he was previously a senior associate at the World Resources Institute and a policy analyst at the Environmental Defense Fund.

In discussing pragmatic frameworks necessary for the implementation of effective climate change policy, Dubash explains why international institutions are absolutely essential.

“Climate change in a sense is now a problem with a clock. We have a ticking clock if you’re going to meet two degrees, and even more so if you meet [the goal of limiting the increase in global temperatures below] 1.5 degrees. It’s not enough for every country to do what they can. We have to be measuring progress against what is determined to be necessary by science. So, we have to have some process through which policies and actions are assessed and evaluated.”

This is where, Dubash says, international institutions and rules have a critical role to play.

“What is the mechanism through which future [emissions reduction] targets translate into current action? There needs to be some kind of interlinking mechanism through which we both decide what target is reasonable, as well as think back to what we have to do today in order to achieve those targets. And if there are obstacles to that action, how we overcome those obstacles? All of those tasks really require institutions,” he says.

I ask Navroz to talk about the differences between China and India, since they are sometimes (incorrectly) lumped together in conversations about climate change.  He describes the differences in the context of both countries attempting to reduce their emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

“In a sense, China has now over the last 20 years built up its infrastructure to the point where it can start thinking about in a sense what the transition is to a low carbon future. India has actually not built up its infrastructure. And we are an interesting place because our emissions are likely to grow for a while longer in order to meet development needs. Now, the trick is going to be how can India do this with a shallower increase in emissions than China exhibited?,” he says. “To unwind a coal or fossil economy actually will have ripple effects throughout the larger political economy of India. And so that it’s not just the economic costs that matter, but also the transaction costs.”

Navroz Dubash remarks that the long-term potential for climate policy to succeed depends heavily on the internal politics in nations that have voluntarily pledged under the terms of the Paris Agreement to reduce their carbon emissions in coming years.

“I think the positive part of Paris for me was that it essentially recognized that progress on climate change is not going to come because of hectoring or peer pressure at the international level. It’s going to come because national politics in country after country shift, where countries find ways of telling a story about how low carbon futures are good for them economically and can sell that politically to their own people. And Paris basically gave countries space to figure out how to tell that story and make it happen.”

For this and much more, I hope you will listen to my complete conversation with Navroz Dubash, the 31st episode in the Environmental Insights series, with future episodes scheduled to drop each month.  You can find a transcript of our conversation at the website of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.  Previous episodes have featured conversations with:

“Environmental Insights” is hosted on SoundCloud, and is also available on iTunes, Pocket Casts, Spotify, and Stitcher.

Share

Assessing China’s National Carbon Market

On July 16th, China launched trading in the world’s largest carbon market, which is one part – but apparently an important part – of that nation’s efforts to curb its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  That message was delivered on July 22nd by Carnegie Mellon University Professor Valerie Karplus during the most recent webinar in our series, Conversations on Climate Change and Energy Policy, sponsored by the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements (HPCA).   A video recording (and transcript) of the entire webinar is available here.

As readers of this blog know, in this webinar series we feature leading authorities on climate change policy, whether from academia, the private sector, NGOs, or government.  In this most recent Conversation, I was fortunate to engage with someone with solid experience in research and engagement, with her focus on energy and environmental policies in an exceptionally important part of the world, namely China.  Valerie Karplus is Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie-Mellon University, where she studies resource and environmental management in firms operating in diverse national and industry contexts. 

Professor Karplus is an expert on China’s energy system, including related climate change policies – a very timely topic given recent developments in China.  She previously directed the MIT-Tsinghua China Energy and Climate Project, a five-year research effort focused on analyzing the design of energy and climate change policy in China, and its domestic and global impacts.  She holds a BS in biochemistry and political science from Yale University, and a PhD in engineering systems from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In the first part of the webinar, Valerie uses a PowerPoint deck to take us through her views of “The Future of China’s National Carbon Market.”  She praises the Chinese government’s commitment to addressing climate change, while acknowledging that sustaining those efforts will be neither simple nor easy.  

“Many challenges around the question whether China can be trusted come from the fact you had different interests operating in different parts of the system,” she says. “I would say that the intentions of the top leadership to establish a credible system can be trusted…[but] a lot of the challenges will come in the implementation on the ground.”

Professor Karplus with QI Ye, Director of the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy (BTC), at a workshop in Beijing in 2019 on carbon emissions trading, organized by the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements.

China’s new, national carbon trading system, launched earlier this month, is currently limited to the nation’s electricity sector, and includes more than 2000 power plants, but Karplus remarks that there will most likely be pressure to expand the scope of the system to other sectors in coming years to meet President Xi’s 2020 proclamation that the country will be carbon free by 2060.

“This is very ambitious because this is the first time that there has been discussion of deeply reducing emissions in China and tying that to a long-term goal,” she says. “There are plans underway to think about how all of the different energy sectors will need to change to support China’s carbon neutrality goal by 2060.”

China’s climate policies date back several decades, Karplus notes, and were crystallized by the nation’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), announced in compliance with the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. This includes making best efforts to reach peak CO2 emissions by 2030, reducing CO2 intensity by 60-65 percent relative to 2005 levels by 2030, increasing the non-fossil share of the primary energy sector by 20 percent by 2030, and increasing the forest stock by approximately 4.5 billion cubic meters by 2030.  Doing all of this will be challenging, to say the least.

 “China’s efforts to start to address carbon emissions we should think about as a gradual and long-term process, and the planning process and even action plans will also play an important role alongside efforts to address carbon through legislation targets,” she remarks. “The accounting of carbon is just now starting to happen. It’s well developed for the power sector, but for the other sectors it’s still not developed, so we need to ask how to read the tea leaves, essentially, on how different instruments will come into play and have different impacts over time.”

China’s national emissions trading system may be said to have begun with a set of sub-national pilot systems in 2014, in parallel with a number of other efforts designed to address air pollution.  The seven pilot systems eventually led to the announcement in 2017 that the country would push forward with the development of a national emissions trading system. Policymakers learned a great deal through those pilot systems, according to Karplus.  Looking forward, she predicts that China’s current carbon trading system, which is a tradable performance standard, will evolve into a mass-based cap-and-trade system by 2030, and will be accompanied by several other policy advances.

“You’re going to see a lot more electrification, a lot more renewables, a lot of directive energy policies in place alongside the cap-and-trade system, and the cap-and-trade system will evolve over time to have the function of both linking with global efforts and ambitions to provide a way of tracking and responding to other things happening in the world.  And it also will help to control emissions within an ever-shrinking share of the power sector, which is fossil generation, but I don’t see the carbon market per say as being the main driver. It is one of many drivers and that’s where I think things will be in 20 years.”

The Q&A session with the audience after Valerie Karplus’s presentation is particularly interesting and informative.  Do stay on the video for that!

All of this and much more can be seen and heard in our full Conversation here.  I hope you will check it out.

Previous episodes in this series – Conversations on Climate Change and Energy Policy – have featured Meghan O’Sullivan’s thoughts on Geopolitics and Upheaval in Oil Markets, Jake Werksman’s assessment of the European Union’s Green New Deal, Rachel Kyte’s examination of “Using the Pandemic Recovery to Spur the Clean Transition,” Joseph Stiglitz’s reflections on “Carbon Pricing, the COVID-19 Pandemic, and Green Economic Recovery,” Joe Aldy describing “Lessons from Experience for Greening an Economic Stimulus,” Jason Bordoff commenting on “Prospects for Energy and Climate Change Policy under the New U.S. Administration,” Ottmar Edenhofer talking about “The Future of European Climate Change Policy,” and Nathaniel Keohane describing his view of “The Path Ahead for U.S. Climate Change Policy.”

Watch for an announcement about our next webinar. You will be able to register in advance for the event on the website of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements.  

Share

New Publication on Chinese Climate Change Policy

Readers of this blog need not be reminded that climate change is a global commons problem and therefore necessitates cooperation at the highest jurisdictional level – that is, international cooperation among national governments – if it is to be adequately addressed. This points to the key role for national governments to put in place meaningful public policies, consistent with international cooperation.

But sub-national governments can also significantly advance efforts to mitigate climate change. Provinces and municipalities around the world have indeed undertaken initiatives – sometimes working together across national boundaries – to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. This includes jurisdictions in the largest-emitting countries – China, the United States, and India – as well as in the European Union.

A New Publication Now Available on the Internet

We – the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements (HPCA) – have just released a new volume that examines sub-national climate-change policy in China.  The volume focuses to a considerable degree on carbon-pricing policy in China, including how China’s sub-national (pilot) emissions-trading systems can inform the emerging national carbon-pricing system.

The briefs in this volume – edited by Dr. Robert Stowe and myself – draw on presentations and discussion at a research workshop organized by the HPCA in Beijing on July 18 – 19, 2019. The workshop was hosted and co-sponsored by Tsinghua University’s Institute of Energy, Environment, and Economy, directed by Professor Zhang Xiliang. Workshop participants included 24 researchers and practitioners from China, Australia, Canada, India, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Chinese participants were based in Guangdong Province, Hubei Province, and Shanghai, as well as Beijing.  The agenda and participant list for the workshop are included at the end of the volume.

The volume – and the July 2019 workshop – are part of a larger initiative of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements examining and comparing sub-national climate-change policy in China, India, the United States, and Canada. The Harvard Project is conducting a similar workshop in New Delhi in the summer of 2020 and will release a volume of briefs on sub-national climate-change policy in India in early 2021.

Overview and Framing

The volume begins with a brief by Zhang Xiliang and Zhou Li that details policies adopted by Chinese provinces and municipalities to address climate change. Ye Qi and Xiaofan Zhao then describe what they see as the most important drivers of climate-change policy in China, providing context for the volume.

Institutional Perspectives

Next, institutional perspectives are provided in four briefs by experts on center-provincial institutional dynamics in China, with applications to climate-change policy. Michael Davidson explores China’s “quasi-federalist” system, and discusses how this system might be leveraged to develop effective institutions for addressing climate change. Gørild Heggelund focuses on China’s national emissions-trading system (ETS).

Tan Xianchun provides a concise yet detailed analysis of China’s administrative systems and procedures for addressing climate change – both carbon pricing and other approaches to reducing emissions, including the results of modeling that estimates the potential impact of a range of “[l]ow-carbon measures and policies” in Chongqing municipality and Guangdong Province.

Providing the final institutional perspective, Christine Wong discusses how the implementation and enforcement of environmental policy in China have evolved over the last decade. She finds that although the central government places greater emphasis on environmental policy than in the past and has provided considerable financial support for implementation and enforcement, renewed financial constraints in a period of low economic growth may prompt sub-national officials to favor carbon pricing over more traditional top-down policy approaches.

Emissions Trading Systems in China:  Lessons for National Policy Design from the Pilots

Three contributors examine lessons for national policy design from experience with the pilot ETSs. Shaozhou Qi assesses the performance of the seven pilot ETSs. Tian Qi provides insights based on his study of Hubei’s pilot ETS, focusing on allowance allocation, as well as the closely-related topics of auction design and market-stability measures. Zeng Xuelan examines a range of GHG emissions-reduction policies in Guangdong Province, noting that Guangdong’s pilot ETS has been its “main mechanism for reducing provincial emissions.”

Zeng also notes the possibility of the central government terminating Guangdong’s ETS after lessons have been incorporated into the national carbon-pricing system.

The fate of the pilot ETSs more broadly is the subject of Valerie Karplus’s brief. She discusses three scenarios: “(1) coexistence, that is, maintaining separate sub-national trading systems alongside the national system; (2) partial integration, which would mean allowing credits from one system to be used in other systems; and (3) full integration, which would involve subsuming the seven sub-national pilots under a single national ETS.” Karplus discusses the tradeoffs among these options and then suggests an approach to strengthening the pilot ETSs that is somewhat independent of the path chosen.

Designing and Implementing China’s National ETS

Four briefs focus on the development of the national carbon-pricing system, though in each case with some reference to the sub-national pilots. Pu Wang identifies a set of important challenges to the implementation of the national system, concluding in part – as did Heggelund – that “institutional capacity related to the carbon market needs to be significantly enhanced at all levels, from the central government to the local level.”

We Libo discusses the results of a modeling initiative that explores sub-national distributional impacts of various trading-intensity and allowance-allocation scenarios. Zhang Jianyu presents ten policy recommendations for the implementation of the national system. Among these, he suggests that the pilot ETSs can continue to play a useful role after the national system is implemented, and that the central government should continue to support the pilots.

Finally, Fei Teng examines the important relationship between the power sector in China and the performance of the national carbon-pricing system. The power sector is highly regulated, though the central government is pursuing market-oriented reforms. Teng presents three options for passing through higher electricity costs resulting from carbon-pricing to electricity consumers, with one option including trading in generation rights.

Comparative Perspectives on Sub-National Policy

The final section of the volume includes three briefs providing cross-national comparative context on sub-national climate-change policy.

Radhika Khosla writes on India, Robert Stavins on the United States, and Katie Sullivan and Ellen Lourie on Canada.

Final Thoughts

Each of the seventeen briefs in the volume begins with several key points, and the seventeen sets of key points are compiled immediately following an introduction. We hope that this structure renders the insights, research results, and analysis contained in the briefs more readily accessible.

The Harvard Project on Climate Agreements is grateful to the Harvard Global Institute, which provides generous support for the initiative of which this volume and the July 2019 workshop in Beijing are part. We are also grateful for our ongoing collaboration with Professor Zhang Xiliang and his colleagues – a collaboration that has yielded insights that we hope prove useful to researchers and policy makers working to address the problem of climate change.

Share