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The Case for Intensity Targets


  • Pizer, William

    () (Resources for the Future)


While the rest of the world has pursued absolute emissions limits for greenhouse gases, the Bush administration has proposed an alternative policy formulation based, among other things, on reducing emissions intensity—that is, emissions per dollar of real gross domestic product. Critics of this formulation have denounced the general idea of an intensity-based emissions target, along with its voluntary nature and weak targets. This raises the question of whether intensity-based emissions limits, distinct from the other features of the Bush initiative, offer a useful alternative to absolute emissions limits. This paper makes the case that they do, based on how emissions targets are framed. The argument draws on four key observations: greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise over the near term, absolute targets emphasize zero or declining emissions growth while intensity targets do not, developing countries’ economic development is integrally tied to emissions growth for the foreseeable future, and intensity targets need not be any more complicated to administer than absolute targets.

Suggested Citation

  • Pizer, William, 2005. "The Case for Intensity Targets," Discussion Papers dp-05-02, Resources For the Future.
  • Handle: RePEc:rff:dpaper:dp-05-02

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Burtraw, Dallas & Palmer, Karen, 2003. "The Paparazzi Take a Look at a Living Legend: The SO2 Cap-and-Trade Program for Power Plants in the United States," Discussion Papers dp-03-15, Resources For the Future.
    2. Pizer, William A., 2002. "Combining price and quantity controls to mitigate global climate change," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 85(3), pages 409-434, September.
    3. Burtraw, Dallas & Evans, David, 2003. "The Evolution of NOx Control Policy for Coal-Fired Power Plants in the United States," Discussion Papers dp-03-23, Resources For the Future.
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    More about this item


    carbon; climate; policy; intensity; global warming;

    JEL classification:

    • Q54 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Climate; Natural Disasters and their Management; Global Warming
    • Q58 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environmental Economics: Government Policy
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth

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