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Thinking about the Institutional Dimensions of Climate Change Policy

Robert Stavins's picture
Professor & Director John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Robert N. Stavins is the A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy & Economic Development, Director of Graduate Studies for the Doctoral Programs in Public Policy and in Political Economy and...

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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.

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The post Thinking about the Institutional Dimensions of Climate Change Policy appeared first on An Economic View of the Environment.

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