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Transfer payments in global climate policy

Nature Climate Change volume 2, pages 628633 (2012) | Download Citation


Many scientists and policymakers agree that large financial flows from richer to poorer countries will be necessary to reach an agreement on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions enough to keep global warming below 2 °C. But the required amounts of transfer payments and justifications for them remain contested. We contribute to this debate by developing an argument for transfer payments that derives from the differences between carbon prices that different countries may set in light of two distinct criteria for appropriate levels of emission reductions. If, for reasons of cost efficiency, a globally uniform carbon price was installed, transfer payments would be required to offset these differences. We combine global climate modelling with regional welfare analysis to estimate regional carbon prices under various climate change, emissions and economic scenarios. The estimated ratios between regional carbon prices are surprisingly robust to different modelling assumptions. To the extent that burden-sharing choices in global climate policy are motivated by regional carbon prices, our analysis allows for a quantification of required transfer payments. Assuming a global carbon price of US$35 per t CO2, for example, our estimates would justify transfer payments of the order of US$15–48 billion per year.

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We are grateful to C. Böhringer, F. Joos, and T. Rutherford for comments and support. C. Böhringer kindly provided us with estimates of marginal abatement-cost curves and F. Joos supplied us with a version of the BERNCC climate model and instructed us on how to run it.

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  1. ETH Zürich, Centre for Energy Policy and Economics (CEPE), ZUE E1, Zürichbergstrasse 18, CH-8032, Zürich

    • Florian Landis
  2. ETH Zürich, Center for Comparative and International Studies (CIS) and Institute for Environmental Decisions (IED), IFW C45.1, Haldeneggsteig 4, CH-8092, Zürich

    • Thomas Bernauer


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F.L. carried out the climate modelling and economic computations. T.B. and F.L. developed the research idea and main concepts and jointly wrote the paper.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Florian Landis.

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