Robert Stavins

Robert N. Stavins is the Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government, Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, and Chairman of the Environment and Natural Resources Faculty Group at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

to kill a mocking word

Who killed cap-and-trade?

In a recent article in the New York Times, John Broder asks “Why did cap-and-trade die?” and responds that “it was done in by the weak economy, the Wall Street meltdown, determined industry opposition and its own complexity.” Mr. Broder’s analysis is concise and insightful, and I recommend it to readers. But I think there’s one factor that is more important than all those mentioned above in causing cap-and-trade to have changed from politically correct to politically anathema in just nine months. Before turning to that, however, I would like to question the premise of my own essay. Is cap-and-trade …

What’s the proper role of individuals and institutions in addressing climate change?

This may seem like a trivial question with an obvious answer. But what really is the proper role for individuals and institutions in addressing climate change? An immediate and natural response may be that everyone should do their part. Let’s see what that really means. Decisions affecting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, for example, are made primarily by companies and consumers. This includes decisions by companies about how to produce electricity, as well as thousands of other goods and services; and decisions by consumers regarding what to buy, how to transport themselves, and how to keep their homes warm, cool, and …

convention without representation

Any hope for meaningful U.S. climate policy? A somewhat positive view

The current conventional wisdom ­– broadly echoed by the news media and the blogosphere – is that comprehensive, economy-wide CO2 cap-and-trade legislation is dead in the current U.S. Congress, and perhaps for the next several years. Watch out for conventional wisdoms! They inevitably appear to be the collective judgment of numerous well-informed observers and sources, but frequently they are little more than the massive repetition of a few sample points of opinion across the echo-chamber of the professional news media and the blogosphere. Keep in mind that the conventional wisdom as recently as June of 2009 had it that – …

Unintended Consequences of Government Policies: The Depletion of America’s Wetlands

Private land-use decisions can be affected dramatically by public investments in highways, waterways, flood control, or other infrastructure.  The large movement of jobs from central cities to suburbs in the postwar United States and the ongoing destruction of Amazon rain forests have occurred with major public investment in supporting infrastructure.  As these examples suggest, private land-use decisions can generate major environmental and social externalities – or, in common language, unintended consequences. In an analysis that appeared in 1990 in the American Economic Review, Adam Jaffe of Brandeis University and I demonstrated that the depletion of forested wetlands in the Mississippi …

What hath COP wrought?

A preliminary assessment of the Copenhagen Accord

After years of preparation, the Fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-15) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) commenced on December 7th, 2009, and adjourned some two weeks later on December 19th after a raucous all-night session. The original purpose of the conference had been to complete negotiations on a new international agreement on climate change to come into force when the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period comes to an end in 2012. But for at least the past six months, it had become clear to virtually all participants that such a goal was out of reach …

Approaching Copenhagen with a Portfolio of Domestic Commitments

As we approach the beginning of the Fifteenth Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen in December, international negotiations are focused on developing a climate policy framework for the post-2012 period, when the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period will have ended.  In addition to negotiations under the UNFCCC, other intergovernmental outlets, including the G8(+5) and the Major Economies Forum, are trying to reach common ground among the world’s major emitters of greenhouse gases.  To date, these efforts have not produced a politically, economically, and environmentally viable structure for a future climate …

Confusion in the Senate regarding allowance allocation

According to an October 22nd  story in Environment & Energy Daily (“Climate:  GOP Fence Sitters Voice Concerns Over Allocations” by Darren Samuelson), several key swing-vote Senate Republicans — including Senator Lisa Murkowski, ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee — are voicing skepticism about the Senate’s Boxer-Kerry climate bill’s cap-and-trade system because of the free allocation of some of the allowances to various recipients in the private (and public) sector. There are sound reasons for considering allocation mechanisms other than free allocation — for example, auctioning allowances (more about this below) — but the distribution of those allowances …

Cap-and-Trade versus the Alternatives for U.S. Climate Policy

Let’s credit Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) for raising questions in the National Journal about the viability of cap-and-trade versus other approaches for the United States to employ in addressing CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions linked with global climate change. Senator Murkowski says that only one approach – cap-and-trade – has received significant attention in the Congress.  Let’s put aside for the moment the fact that most of the 1,428 pages of H.R. 2454 – the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (otherwise known as the Waxman-Markey bill) – are not about cap-and-trade at all, but about a host …

Too Good to be True?

Global climate change is a serious environmental threat, and sound public policies are needed to address it effectively and sensibly. There is now significant interest and activity within both the U.S. Administration and the U.S. Congress to develop a meaningful national climate policy in this country.  (If you’re interested, please see some of my previous posts:  “Opportunity for a Defining Moment” (February 6, 2009); “The Wonderful Politics of Cap-and-Trade:  A Closer Look at Waxman-Markey” (May 27, 2009); “Worried About International Competitiveness?  Another Look at the Waxman-Markey Cap-and-Trade Proposal” (June 18, 2009); “National Climate Change Policy:  A Quick Look Back at …

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