Climate Policy and Urgency Laser Talk

Question: Shouldn’t climate action be taken as quickly as possible?

Answer: Yes, it should! The IPCC, in their 2018 special report, urged world leaders to cut emissions to net zero by 2050, and do it as quickly as possible. [1]

It’s tempting to infer that government regulations would get that done faster than putting a price on carbon. But the evidence shows the opposite. Well-designed carbon price legislation is forecast to work very quickly, [2, 3, 4] while regulatory action can be stalled for years by procedural obstacles and court challenges. [5, 6]

For example, the Clean Power Plan [7] was first announced in 2013, [8] but never took effect before being repealed in 2019. [9] Any regulation based on the Clean Air Act must give each state three years to develop an implementation plan before the EPA can then proceed to a final rule, so the entire process takes about six years. Even longer delays have plagued other environmental regulations. A rule over worker exposure to silica dust took 13 years to go into effect. [10] The process of removing neurotoxic lead from gasoline took 23 years. [11]

In contrast, private companies and their investors can change direction rapidly when they see their old business model no longer making economic sense. A 2020 report from Columbia [12] shows that a carbon price schedule similar to the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act [13] would quickly put us on a path to net zero by 2050. Moreover, carbon fees are firmly grounded in Congress’s constitutional “power to lay and collect taxes,” making it resistant to efforts to overturn it in the courts. [14]

The IPCC emphasizes the importance of strong carbon prices, whether explicit or implicit, in driving quick progress. A predictable economy-wide carbon price is a powerful – and necessary – opening move.

  1. Global Warming of 1.5°C. Special Report SR1.5 from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Oct 2018).
  2. Kaufman, N., et al. “An Assessment of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.” Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University (Oct 2019).
  3. “Carbon Pricing Calculator.” Interactive tool, Resources for the Future (Aug 2020).
  4. “Energy Policy Solutions.” Interactive tool, Energy Innovation Policy & Technology LLC, V3.0.0. (19 Oct 2020).
  5. Shapiro, S. “Why does it take so long to issue a regulation?” The Hill (19 May 2015).
  6. Carlson, A., A. Keyes, B. Harris, and D. Burtraw. “Policymaking in the shadow of the Supreme Court.” Resources (27 Oct 2020).
  7. “Clean Power Plan.” Wikipedia (02 Nov 2020).
  8. “Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan.” The Guardian (25 Jun 2013).
  9. “Repeal of the Clean Power Plan; Emissions Guidelines for Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Existing Utility Electric Generating Units; Revisions to Emission Guidelines Implementing Regulations.” Federal Register (08 Jul 2019).
  10. “Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica (81 FR 16285).” Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (23 Jun 2016).
  11. “Fact Sheet – A Brief History of Octane in Gasoline: From Lead to Ethanol.” Environmental and Energy Study Institute (30 Mar 2016).
  12. Kaufman, N., et al. “A near-term to net zero alternative to the social cost of carbon for setting carbon prices.” Nature Climate Change 10 1010-1014(2020). (17 Aug 2020).
  13. R.763 – Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019. (24 Jan 2019).
  14. Article I. Legal Information Institute (accessed 28 Nov 2020).

This page was last updated on 12/12/20 at 13:01 CST.

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