This article proposes a way of introducing some organization and tractability in climate science, generating more widely credible evaluations of climate science, and imposing some discipline on the processing and interpretation of climate information. I propose a two-part policy instrument consisting of (1) a carbon tax that is indexed to a “basket” of climate outcomes, and (2) nested inside this carbon tax, a cap-and-trade system of emissions permits that can be redeemed in lieu of paying the carbon tax. The amount of the carbon tax in this proposal would be set each year on the basis of some objective, non-manipulable climate indices, such as temperature and mean sea level, and also on the number of certain climate events, such as hurricanes or droughts, that occurred in the previous year (or some moving average of previous years). In addition to setting a carbon tax rate each year, an auction would be held each year for tradeable permits to emit a ton of carbon dioxide in separate, specific, future years. That is, in the year 2012, a number of permits to emit in 2013 would be auctioned, as well as a number of permits to emit in 2014, in 2015, and so forth. In the year 2013, some more permits to emit in 2014 would be auctioned, as well as more permits to emit in 2015, 2016, and so forth.
The permits to emit in the future are essentially unitary exemptions from a future carbon tax: an emitter can either pay the carbon tax or surrender an emissions permit to emit in the specific vintage year. Because of this link between the carbon tax and the permit market, the trading price of the permits should reflect market expectations of what the carbon tax will be in the future, and concomitantly, expectations of future climate outcomes. The idea is to link the price of tradeable permits to future climate outcomes, so that a market is created in which accurate and credible information about future climate conditions are important inputs into the price of permits. The market for tradeable permits to emit in the future is essentially a prediction market for climate outcomes.
The rationale for this idea is clear, namely a desire to build consensus by getting agreement to a broader proposal ex ante. Nonetheless I think of such fine-tuning as a misguided approach. Is there such a good “basket” measure of climate outcomes with sufficiently low short-term volatility? (Or does the metric do econometrics on the higher-order polynomial?) Should the tax be fine-tuned year-by-year when the lag times between energy inputs and climate outputs is thirty years or longer, possibly reaching up to one hundred years? Still, I am happy to pass the idea along for consideration.
For the pointer I thank Chris Auld.