Mark Jaccard: Economic Efficiency vs Political Acceptability Trade-offs in GHG-reduction Policies

Datum: 24 april 2019
Tid: 10:00-12:00

Mark Jaccard, Professor in the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver


There are obvious reasons why for three decades most jurisdictions have failed to implement and sustain policies that would substantially reduce GHG emissions. GHG reduction is a global collective action problem, but there is no effective global governance. Even if the problem were solvable within the confines of individual jurisdictions, there are powerful interests vested in the fossil fuel-dominated status quo and these can influence democratic systems which, with their 4-year electoral cycles, do not reward politicians who impose near-term energy system transformation costs that could provide long-term benefits (if other major emitting countries do the same). In this situation of likely continued failure, it is important not to encumber climate-energy policies with unnecessary additional political challenges.

Public surveys and observation of real-world GHG reduction successes suggest that explicit carbon pricing (carbon tax and perhaps cap-and-trade) can be substantially more politically difficult than certain regulatory policies for shifting the energy system on to a deep decarbonization trajectory. Nonetheless, some people have argued that carbon pricing is an essential GHG reduction policy, suggesting that sincere politicians must do carbon pricing no matter how politically difficult. But the claim that carbon pricing is essential is factually incorrect. Deep decarbonization can be achieved entirely with regulations. Regulatory policies are unlikely to be as economically efficient as carbon pricing. But not all regulations perform identically when it comes to the economic-efficiency criterion. Flexible regulations have some attributes that make them low cost relative to regulations that require adoption of specific technologies.

This talk provides evidence that assesses both the relative economic efficiency of policies and their relative political acceptability. The findings reported here suggest that some kinds of flexible regulations can perform significantly better than explicit carbon pricing in terms of relative political cost per tonne reduced while performing only marginally worse in terms of economic cost per tonne reduced. Presumably, this type of trade-off information could be of value to politicians who sincerely want deep decarbonization but would also like to be rewarded with re-election so that they and competing politicians see the value in ambitious and sustained GHG reduction efforts.

Mark is a professor, since 1986, in the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University, interrupted in 1992-97 when he served as Chair of the BC Utilities Commission. His PhD in energy economics is from the University of Grenoble (Mendez-France). Internationally, Mark has served internationally on the IPCC, the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development, and the Global Energy Assessment, and domestically on the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy and the BC Climate Action Team. He researches the design and application of energy-economy models for assessing climate policies. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the CD Howe Institute, and in 2009 was named BC Academic of the Year by the Confederation of University Faculty Associations. In 2006, his Sustainable Fossil Fuels won the Donner Prize for best policy book in Canada. Since 2013, he holds a distinguished chair as University Professor.
(on twitter @MarkJaccard and blogging at

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