The Climate-Policy Trap

ROME – Today’s policies to combat climate change cost much more than the benefits they produce. Unfortunately, bad political choices often make these policies even less cost-effective.

Consider the European Union’s 20-20 policy, which targets a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions below 1990 levels by 2020. It is important to examine this approach, not only because the EU is pursuing the world’s largest and most ambitious climate policy, but also because other climate policies suffer from similar shortcomings.

The most cost-efficient way to achieve the 20% target would be to operate a single, EU-wide carbon-market, which would cost the EU about $96 billion annually by 2020. But the benefits to the entire world would be much lower. Indeed, the only peer-reviewed overview of EU climate policy estimates that it can avoid climate-related damage of about $10 billion per year. So, for every dollar spent, the EU stands to avoid about ten cents of damage.

This does not mean that climate change is not important; it means only that the EU’s climate policy is not smart. Over the course of this century, the ideal EU policy would cost more than $7 trillion, yet it would reduce the temperature rise by just 0.05oC and lower sea levels by a trivial nine millimeters. After spending all that money, we would not even be able to tell the difference.