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Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from national climate legislation


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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Fig. 1: Climate laws.
Fig. 2: Emissions path with and without laws.
Fig. 3: Change in emissions by gases and region (1999–2016).

Data availability

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 Data on the rule of law are from the Worldwide Governance Indicators, available at and Economic data are from World Bank’s World Development Indicators database, available at Data on political systems are from the Database of Political Institutions 2017, available at Temperature data come from the World Bank’s Climate Change Knowledge Portal, available at Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

The full computer code is available on GitHub ( The analysis was carried out using STATA.


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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.

Author information




The authors have contributed equally to the study. The research question, study design, model development and identification strategy were developed jointly. S.M.S.U.E. took primary responsibility for data manipulation and S.F. led on drafting.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Shaikh M. S. U. Eskander.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

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.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–3.

Source data

Source Data Fig. 1

Excel file with the data for Fig. 1a and b (one workbook each).

Source Data Fig. 2

Excel file with the data for Fig. 2 (emissions with and without laws).

Source Data Fig. 3

Excel file with the data for Fig. 3 (change in emissions by gas and region).

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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).

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