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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Access Nature and 54 other Nature Portfolio journals
Get Nature+, our best-value online-access subscription
$29.99 / 30 days
cancel any time
Subscribe to this journal
Receive 12 print issues and online access
$209.00 per year
only $17.42 per issue
Rent or buy this article
Prices vary by article type
Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout
Similar content being viewed by others
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.
Rogelj, J. et al. Paris Agreement climate proposals need a boost to keep warming well below 2 °C. Nature 534, 7609–7631 (2016).
Emissions Gap Report 2019 (UNEP, 2019).
Climate Change Laws of the World (Grantham Research Institute, accessed May 2020); https://climate-laws.org/
Eskander, S., Fankhauser, S. & Setzer, J. Lessons from Global Trends in Climate Change Legislation and Litigation Environmental and Energy Policy Paper (NBER, 2020).
Averchenkova, A. & Bassi, S. Beyond the Targets: Assessing the Political Credibility of Pledges for the Paris Agreement (Grantham Research Institute, 2016).
Dubash, N. K., Hagemann, M., Hoehne, N. & Upadhyaya, P. Developments in national climate change mitigation legislation and strategy. Clim. Policy 13, 649–664 (2013).
Iacobuta, G., Dubash, N. K., Upadhyaya, P., Deribe, M. & Hoehne, N. National climate change mitigation legislation, strategy and targets: a global update. Clim. Policy 18, 1114–1132 (2018).
Townshend, T. et al. How national legislation can help to solve climate change. Nat. Clim. Change 3, 430–432 (2013).
Townshend, T. et al. Legislating climate change at the national level. Environment 53, 5–16 (2011).
Fankhauser, S., Gennaioli, C. & Collins, M. Do international factors influence the passage of climate change legislation? Clim. Policy 16, 318–331 (2015).
Fankhauser, S., Gennaioli, C. & Collins, M. The political economy of passing climate change legislation: evidence from a survey. Glob. Environ. Change 35, 52–61 (2015).
Clare, A., Fankhauser, S. & Gennaioli, C. in Trends in Climate Change Legislation (eds Averchenkova, A., Fankhauser, S. & Nachmany, M.) Ch. 2 (Elgar, 2017).
Averchenkova, A., Fankhauser, S. & Nachmany, M. (eds) Trends in Climate Change Legislation (Elgar, 2017).
Bulkeley, H. et al. Transnational Climate Change Governance (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).
Falkner, R. The Handbook of Global Climate and Environment Policy (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).
Jordan, A., Huitema, D., Van Asselt, H. and Forster, J. Governing Climate Change: Polycentricity in Action? (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2018).
Quéré, L. et al. Drivers of declining CO2 emissions in 18 developed economies. Nat. Clim. Change 9, 213–217 (2019).
Congleton, R. Political institutions and pollution control. Rev. Econ. Stat. 74, 412–421 (1992).
Hahn, R. The political economy of environmental regulation: towards a unifying framework. Public Choice 65, 21–47 (1990).
Neumayer, E. Are left-wing party strength and corporatism good for the environment? Evidence from panel analysis of air pollution in OECD countries. Ecol. Econ. 45, 203–220 (2003).
Oates, W. & Portney, P. in Handbook of Environmental Economics Vol. 1 (eds Mäler, K. G. & Vincent, J. R.) Ch. 8 (North-Holland/Elsevier, 2003).
Rafaty, R. Perceptions of corruption, political distrust, and the weakening of climate policy. Glob. Environ. Polit. 18, 106–129 (2018).
Fischer, F. & Miller, G. J. Handbook of Public Policy Analysis: Theory, Politics, and Methods (Routledge, 2017).
Mickwitz, P. A framework for evaluating environmental policy instruments: context and key concepts. Evaluation 9, 415–436 (2003).
Vedung, E. Public Policy and Program Evaluation (Routledge, 2017).
Fankhauser, S. A. A. & Finnegan, J. The UK Climate Change Act: A 10-Year Assessment (Grantham Research Institute, 2018).
Lorenzoni, I. & Benson, D. Radical institutional change in environmental governance: explaining the origins of the UK Climate Change Act 2008 through discursive and streams perspectives. Glob. Environ. Change 29, 10–21 (2014).
Lockwood, M. The political sustainability of climate policy: the case of the UK Climate Change Act. Glob. Environ. Change 23, 1339–1348 (2013).
Torney, D. Climate laws in small European states: symbolic legislation and limits of diffusion in Ireland and Finland. Env. Polit. 28, 1124–1144 (2019).
Bernauer, T. & Koubi, V. Effects of political institutions on air quality. Ecol. Econ. 68, 1355–1365 (2009).
Fredriksson, P. G., Vollebergh, H. R. & Dijkgraaf, E. Corruption and energy efficiency in OECD countries: theory and evidence. J. Environ. Econ. Manage. 47, 207–231 (2004).
Fredriksson, P. G., Neumayer, E., Damania, R. & Gates, S. Environmentalism, democracy, and pollution control. J. Environ. Econ. Manage. 49, 343–365 (2005).
Baettig, M. B. & Bernauer, T. National institutions and global public goods: are democracies more cooperative in climate change policy? Int. Organ. 63, 281–308 (2009).
Lachapelle, E. & Paterson, M. Drivers of national climate policy. Clim. Policy 13, 547–571 (2013).
Burgess, R., Hansen, M., Olken, B. A., Potapov, P. & Sieber, S. The political economy of deforestation in the tropics. Q. J. Econ. 127, 1707–1754 (2012).
Hochstetler, K. Tracking presidents and policies: environmental politics from Lula to Dilma. Policy Stud. 38, 262–276 (2017).
Kaufman, D., Kraay, A. & Mastruzzi, M. The Worldwide Governance Indicators: Methodology and Analytical Issues (World Bank, 2010).
Stern, D. I. The rise and fall of the environmental Kuznets curve. World Dev. 32, 1419–1439 (2004).
Doda, B. Evidence on business cycles and emissions. J. Macroecon. 40, 214–227 (2014).
IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C (eds Masson-Delmotte, V. et al.) (WMO, 2018).
Benson, D. & Lorenzoni, I. Examining the scope for national lesson? Drawing on climate governance. Polit. Q. 85, 202–211 (2014).
Dechezleprêtre, A. & Sato, M. The impacts of environmental regulations on competitiveness. Rev. Environ. Econ. Policy 11, 183–206 (2017).
Hodrick, R. J. & Prescott, E. C. Postwar US business cycles: an empirical investigation. J. Money. Credit. Bank. 29, 1–16 (1997).
Cruz, C., Keefer, P. & Scartascini, C. Database of Political Institutions 2017 (Inter-American Development Bank, 2018).
Eskander, S. & Fankhauser, S. Data and code used for the 2020 Nature Climate Change paper “Reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions by National Climate Legislation”. Zenodo https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3830922 (2020).
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.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
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
This article is cited by
Nature Climate Change (2023)
Nature Climate Change (2023)
Nature Climate Change (2023)
npj Climate Action (2023)
Conversion of CO2 to Light Hydrocarbons by Using FeCx Catalysts Derived from Iron Nitrate Co-pyrolyzing with Melamine, Bulk g-C3N4, or Defective g-C3N4
Catalysis Surveys from Asia (2023)