…environmental economics and the implications of environmental policy

Why Design Matters: Flexibility in Cap and Trade and Carbon Taxes

with 2 comments

Ok, so in taking a look at the CBO document a couple of points are worth mentioning.

First the report’s main conclusion that a carbon tax is five times more efficient than cap and trade is based on a policy comparison that is unreal. Essentially the inflexible option compared is unlike any cap and trade system that would be seriously contemplated. The poorly performing “inflexible” cap and trade policy has no design features for price certainty, like a safety valve, banking or borrowing. Most designs allow for intertemporal shifting of abatement effort to allow for efficiency in time. When these are added, the efficiency approaches that of a tax in the CBO document (see Figure 1-2). This assumed policy inflexibility seems excessive and is not therefore a real option. Yet the report makes the inefficiency argument strongly based on this comparison. This is not quit right.

Next, the report does make some good points on why a cap and trade program is less desirable. The case about administrative complexity is a good one, where cap and trade requires a number of design features that need to be tweaked in time to enable price certainty. This seems like a heavy administrative burden and thus the tax seems to be more desirable.

I think the authors of the report could have done us all a better service if they had highlighted one single point – design matters. In designing these programs effort is required to get things right – balancing price certainty through containing costs is important, but so is getting emission reductions. The report argues that reductions later are ok, and thus price certainty is more important (based on Weitzman’s argument that marginal costs are rising but damages are flat and somewhat uncertain and thus price certainty is preferred). But this does not mean that a tax is preferred, but rather that price certainty is important and can be achieved in cap and trade and a carbon tax.

While this report is worth the read, a critical eye seems warranted.

Written by Dave Sawyer

February 19th, 2008 at 8:39 pm

2 Responses to 'Why Design Matters: Flexibility in Cap and Trade and Carbon Taxes'

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  1. The caps would be a political football. It follows that “price certainty” is going to be extremely difficult.

    Brian Dell

    14 Mar 08 at 10:28 am

  2. .



    29 Jul 14 at 4:44 pm

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