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On the Politics of a U.S. Federal Carbon Price: Evidence from Three North American Case Studies

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Arvan, Timothy D 


To limit catastrophic damages associated with global warming in excess of 1.5oCabove pre-industrial levels, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has beenunambiguous in its calls for “rapid and far-reaching transitions” in land-use, energy andindustrial systems. However, perceived asymmetry between the significant up-frontcosts and relatively abstruse, delayed benefits of climate change mitigation createsparticular challenges for the political favorability of policies to reduce greenhouse gas(GHG) emissions. As a result, carbon pricing mechanisms overwhelmingly endorsed byeconomists across the ideological spectrum have been, with a few notable exceptions,resoundingly rejected by legislators and political constituencies. Assessment of partisan,policy design, public opinion, and interest group pressures counteracting momentumfor carbon pricing is critical in the deployment of a politically durable climate changeagenda. This policy-focused communication assesses these dimensions through theexamination of three case studies initially discussed by Barry G. Rabe in “Can WePrice Carbon?” (MIT Press, 2018)—British Columbia’s carbon tax, the RegionalGreenhouse Gas Initiative in the northeast United States, and California’s cap-and-trade system for GHGs. Drawing on lessons from case studies and applying politicaltheories to develop Rabe’s analysis, this work synthesizes guiding principles to commenton the feasibility of a U.S. federal carbon tax within the next five years.



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Cambridge Journal of Science and Policy

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Cambridge University Science and Policy Exchange

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