Mike Vandenbergh and Mark Cohen argue in favor of private incentives to reduce carbon emissions

Dec 9, 2009

Two Vanderbilt researchers suggest that regardless of whether the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit is successful in bringing public governance measures to bear, significant carbon reductions can be achieved by creating private incentives to reduce carbon emissions.

In a forthcoming NYU Environmental Law Journal article, researchers  Mike Vandenbergh, professor of law, and Mark Cohen, professor of management and law, outline a method of creating incentives for developing countries to reduce carbon emissions as carbon-intensive production shifts away from developed countries. Specifically, they argue that requiring corporate carbon footprint disclosure and carbon product labeling would create important incentives for carbon emissions reductions among suppliers and nations in the developing world.

Read the abstract

“With the dim prospects for domestic cap-and-trade in the near term, there is a growing sense that we need to be creating private incentives for carbon emissions reduction while public measures are developed,” said Vandenbergh, who co-authored “Climate Change Governance Boundaries and Leakage” with Cohen.

Cohen, who also is vice president for research at Washington, D.C.-based Resources for the Future, said carbon labeling might be an important complement to cap-and-trade legislation.

"Information disclosure has been called the third wave of environmental regulation,” he said. “There are numerous examples around the world where either facility-level labeling or product labeling has resulted in significant reductions in pollution without direct regulation.”

This is the 15th year for the Copenhagen Summit, where in 1997 the Kyoto Protocol was drafted, committing those who signed it to reducing emissions by an average of 5 percent between 2008 and 2012. In 2007, the convention deemed that the Kyoto agreement did not go far enough to curb emissions and that a new treaty was needed. That plan has been postponed although the conference continues as planned. President Obama has said he will attend.

– Jennifer Johnson, Vanderbilt University Public Affairs

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