Too Good to Be True? Three Economic Assessments of California Climate Change Policy
California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 limits California’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2020 to their 1990 level. Global climate change is a pressing environmental problem, and the best possible public policies will be required to address it. Therefore, analyses of prospective policies must themselves be of high quality, so that policymakers can reasonably rely on them when making the critical decisions they inevitably will face. In 2006, three studies were released indicating that California can meet its 2020 target at no net economic cost — raising questions about whether opportunities truly exist to substantially reduce emissions at no cost, or whether studies reaching such conclusions may simply severely underestimate costs. This paper provides an evaluation of these three California studies. We find that although opportunities may exist for some no-cost emission reductions, these California studies substantially underestimate the cost of meeting California’s 2020 target. The studies underestimate costs by omitting important components of the costs of emission reduction efforts, and by overestimating offsetting savings that some of those efforts yield through improved energy efficiency. In some cases, the studies focus on the costs of particular actions to reduce emissions, but fail to consider the effectiveness and costs of policies that would be necessary to bring about such actions. While quantifying the full extent of the resulting cost underestimation is beyond the scope of our study, the underestimation is clearly economically significant. A few of the identified flaws individually lead to underestimation of annual costs on the order of billions of dollars. Hence, these studies do not offer reliable estimates of the cost of meeting California’s 2020 target. Better analyses are needed to inform policymakers. While the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 sets a 2020 emissions target, critical policy design decisions remain to be made that will fundamentally affect the cost of California’s climate policy. For example, policymakers must determine emission targets for the years before and after 2020, the emission sources that will be regulated to meet those targets, and the policy instruments that will be employed. The California studies do not directly address the cost implications of these and other policy design decisions, and their overly optimistic findings may leave policymakers with an inadequate appreciation of the stakes associated with decisions that lie ahead. As such, California would benefit from studies that specifically assess the cost implications of alternative policy designs.Nonetheless, a careful evaluation of the California studies highlights some important policy design lessons that apply regardless of the extent to which no-cost emission reduction opportunities actually exist. In particular, policies should be designed to account for uncertainty regarding emission reduction costs, much of which will not be resolved before policies must be enacted. Also, consideration of the different market failures that lead to excessive GHG emissions makes clear that to reduce emissions cost-effectively, policymakers should adopt a market-based policy (such as a cap-and-trade system) as the core policy instrument. The presence of specific market failures that may lead to some no-cost emission reduction opportunities suggests the potential value of additional policies that act as complements, rather than alternatives, to a market-based policy. However, to develop complementary policies that efficiently target such no-cost opportunities, policymakers need better information than currently exists regarding the specific market failures that bring about those opportunities.
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.:
- Stavins, Robert & Jaffe, Adam & Newell, Richard, 2000.
"Technological Change and the Environment,"
dp-00-47, Resources For the Future.
- Stavins, Robert & Jaffe, Adam & Newell, Richard, 2000. "Technological Change and the Environment," Working Paper Series rwp00-002, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
- Adam B. Jaffe & Richard G. Newell & Robert N. Stavins, 2000. "Technological Change and the Environment," NBER Working Papers 7970, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- Gilbert E. Metcalf & Donald Rosenthal, 1995. "The “new” view of investment decisions and public policy analysis: An application to green lights and cold refrigerators," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 14(4), pages 517-531.
- Jaffe, Adam B. & Stavins, Robert N., 1994. "The energy-efficiency gap What does it mean?," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 22(10), pages 804-810, October.
- Brown, Marilyn A., 2001. "Market failures and barriers as a basis for clean energy policies," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 29(14), pages 1197-1207, November.
- Kevin A. Hassett & Gilbert E. Metcalf, 1992. "Energy Tax Credits and Residential Conservation Investment," NBER Working Papers 4020, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- Sanstad, Alan H & Blumstein, Carl & Stoft, Steven E, 1995. "How high are option values in energy-efficiency investments?," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 23(9), pages 739-743, September.
- Kenneth Gillingham & Richard G. Newell & Karen Palmer, 2009.
"Energy Efficiency Economics and Policy,"
NBER Working Papers
15031, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- repec:reg:rpubli:137 is not listed on IDEAS
- Anderson, Soren T. & Newell, Richard G., 2004.
"Information programs for technology adoption: the case of energy-efficiency audits,"
Resource and Energy Economics,
Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 27-50, March.
- Newell, Richard & Anderson, Soren, 2002. "Information Programs for Technology Adoption: The Case of Energy-Efficiency Audits," Discussion Papers dp-02-58, Resources For the Future.
- Huntington, Hillard & Schipper, Lee & Sanstad, Alan H., 1994. "Editors' introduction," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 22(10), pages 795-797, October.
- David S. Loughran and Jonathan Kulick, 2004. "Demand-Side Management and Energy Efficiency in the United States," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 1), pages 19-44.
- Gilbert E. Metcalf & Kevin A. Hassett, 1997.
"Measuring the Energy Savings from Home Improvement Investments: Evidence from Monthly Billing Data,"
NBER Working Papers
6074, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- Gilbert E. Metcalf & Kevin A. Hassett, 1999. "Measuring The Energy Savings From Home Improvement Investments: Evidence From Monthly Billing Data," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 81(3), pages 516-528, August.
- Kevin A. Hassett & Gilbert E. Metcalf, 1997. "Measuring the Energy Savings from Home Improvements Investments: Evidence from Monthly Billing Data," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 9701, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
- Jaffe, Adam B. & Newell, Richard G. & Stavins, Robert N., 2005.
"A tale of two market failures: Technology and environmental policy,"
Elsevier, vol. 54(2-3), pages 164-174, August.
- Stavins, Robert & Jaffe, Adam & Newell, Richard, 2004. "A Tale of Two Market Failures: Technology and Environmental Policy," Discussion Papers dp-04-38, Resources For the Future.
- Paul L. Joskow, 2001.
"California's Electricity Crisis,"
Oxford Review of Economic Policy,
Oxford University Press, vol. 17(3), pages 365-388.
- Hassett, Kevin A. & Metcalf, Gilbert E., 1995. "Energy tax credits and residential conservation investment: Evidence from panel data," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 57(2), pages 201-217, June.
- Lubowski, Ruben N. & Plantinga, Andrew J. & Stavins, Robert N., 2006.
"Land-use change and carbon sinks: Econometric estimation of the carbon sequestration supply function,"
Journal of Environmental Economics and Management,
Elsevier, vol. 51(2), pages 135-152, March.
- Lubowski, Ruben & Plantinga, Andrew & Stavins, Robert, 2005. "Land-Use Change and Carbon Sinks: Econometric Estimation of the Carbon Sequestration Supply Function," Working Paper Series rwp05-001, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
- E. Roy Weintraub, 1994. "Editor's Introduction," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 26(1), pages 97-98, Spring.
- Jerry A. Hausman, 1979. "Individual Discount Rates and the Purchase and Utilization of Energy-Using Durables," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 10(1), pages 33-54, Spring.
When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:rff:dpaper:dp-07-12. 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: (Webmaster)
If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.