The international response to climate change has been inadequate, but not zero. There are 1,800 climate change laws worldwide. We use panel data on legislative activity in 133 countries over the period 1999–2016 to identify statistically the short-term and long-term impact of climate legislation. Each new law reduces annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 0.78% nationally in the short term (during the first three years) and by 1.79% in the long term (beyond three years). The results are driven by parliamentary acts and by countries with a strong rule of law. In 2016, current climate laws were associated with an annual reduction in global CO2 emissions of 5.9 GtCO2, more than the US CO2 output that year. Cumulative CO2 emissions savings from 1999 to 2016 amount to 38 GtCO2, or one year’s worth of global CO2 output. The impact on other greenhouse gases is much lower.
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All data used in this study are in the public domain as follows. Climate legislation data are from Climate Change Laws of the World, available at https://climate-laws.org/. Data on the rule of law are from the Worldwide Governance Indicators, available at www.govindicators.org and https://databank.worldbank.org/source/worldwide-governance-indicators. Economic data are from World Bank’s World Development Indicators database, available at https://databank.worldbank.org/source/world-development-indicators. Data on political systems are from the Database of Political Institutions 2017, available at https://publications.iadb.org/en/database-political-institutions-2017-dpi2017. Temperature data come from the World Bank’s Climate Change Knowledge Portal, available at https://climateknowledgeportal.worldbank.org/download-data. Source data are provided with this paper.
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We acknowledge financial support from the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment and from the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) through its support of the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy (CCCEP). We are grateful to A. Brucal, B. Doda, R. Falkner, J. Finnegan, T. Garg, C. Gennaioli, B. Gilbert, M. Guenther, D. McCoy, A. Saussay and H. Schweiger for their insights and feedback.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Navroz Dubash and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
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Eskander, S.M.S.U., Fankhauser, S. Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from national climate legislation. Nat. Clim. Chang. 10, 750–756 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0831-z
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