IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this article

Revisiting the case for intensity targets: Better incentives and less uncertainty for developing countries

  • Marschinski, Robert
  • Edenhofer, Ottmar

In the debate on post-Kyoto global climate policy, intensity targets, which set a maximum amount of emissions per GDP, figure as prominent alternative to Kyoto-style absolute emission targets, especially for developing countries. This paper re-examines the case for intensity targets by critically assessing several of its properties, namely (i) reduction of cost-uncertainty, (ii) reduction of 'hot air', (iii) compatibility with international emissions trading, (iv) incentive to decouple carbon emissions and economic output (decarbonization), and, (v) use as a substitute for banking/borrowing. Relying on simple analytical models, it is shown that the effect on cost-uncertainty is ambiguous and depends on parameter values, and that the same holds for the risk of 'hot air'; that the intensity target distorts international emissions trading; that despite potential asymmetries in the choice of abatement technology between absolute and intensity target, the incentive for a lasting transformation of the energy system is not necessarily stronger under the latter; and, finally, that only a well-working intensity target could substitute banking/borrowing to some extent--but also vice versa. Overall, the results suggest that due to the increased complexity and the potentially only modest benefits of an intensity target, absolute targets remain a robust choice for a cautious policy maker.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Energy Policy.

Volume (Year): 38 (2010)
Issue (Month): 9 (September)
Pages: 5048-5058

in new window

Handle: RePEc:eee:enepol:v:38:y:2010:i:9:p:5048-5058
Contact details of provider: Web page:

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Quirion, Philippe, 2005. "Does uncertainty justify intensity emission caps?," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(4), pages 343-353, November.
  2. Catherine Boemare & Philippe Quirion, 2002. "Implementing greenhouse gas trading in Europe: lessons from economic literature and international experiences," Post-Print halshs-00007264, HAL.
  3. Kolstad, Charles D., 2005. "The simple analytics of greenhouse gas emission intensity reduction targets," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 33(17), pages 2231-2236, November.
  4. Carolyn Fischer, 2003. "Combining rate-based and cap-and-trade emissions policies," Climate Policy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 3(sup2), pages S89-S103, December.
  5. Valentina Bosetti & Carlo Carraro & Emanuele Massetti, 2008. "Banking Permits: Economic Efficiency and Distributional Effects," CESifo Working Paper Series 2214, CESifo Group Munich.
  6. Nordhaus, William D., 1993. "Rolling the 'DICE': an optimal transition path for controlling greenhouse gases," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(1), pages 27-50, March.
  7. Newell, Richard G. & Pizer, William A., 2008. "Indexed regulation," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 56(3), pages 221-233, November.
  8. Pizer, William, 2005. "The Case for Intensity Targets," Discussion Papers dp-05-02, Resources For the Future.
  9. Frank Jotzo & John Pezzey, 2007. "Optimal intensity targets for greenhouse gas emissions trading under uncertainty," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 38(2), pages 259-284, October.
  10. Krysiak, Frank C., 2008. "Prices vs. quantities: The effects on technology choice," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(5-6), pages 1275-1287, June.
  11. Neil Strachan, 2007. "Setting greenhouse gas emission targets under baseline uncertainty: the Bush Climate Change Initiative," Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Springer, vol. 12(4), pages 455-470, May.
  12. M. L. Weitzman, 1973. "Prices vs. Quantities," Working papers 106, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  13. Blyth, William & Bradley, Richard & Bunn, Derek & Clarke, Charlie & Wilson, Tom & Yang, Ming, 2007. "Investment risks under uncertain climate change policy," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 35(11), pages 5766-5773, November.
  14. Marschinski, Robert & Lecocq, Franck, 2006. "Do intensity targets control uncertainty better than quotas ? Conditions, calibrations, and caveats," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4033, The World Bank.
  15. A. Denny Ellerman & Ian Sue Wing, 2003. "Absolute versus intensity-based emission caps," Climate Policy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 3(sup2), pages S7-S20, December.
  16. Huifang Tian & John Whalley, 2009. "Level versus Equivalent Intensity Carbon Mitigation Commitments," NBER Working Papers 15370, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Flachsland, Christian & Marschinski, Robert & Edenhofer, Ottmar, 2009. "Global trading versus linking: Architectures for international emissions trading," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(5), pages 1637-1647, May.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:enepol:v:38:y:2010:i:9:p:5048-5058. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Shamier, Wendy)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.