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Cap-and-trade or carbon taxes? The feasibility of enforcement and the effects of non-compliance

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One of the proposed alternatives to Kyoto’s cap-and-trade approach is a regime based on an internationally harmonized carbon tax. In this paper, we consider and compare the enforcement problems associated with a tax regime and a cap-and-trade regime, respectively. The paper tries to convey two main points. First, both types of regime require an. effective enforcement mechanism. However, such a mechanism is unlikely to be adopted as part of a regime with full participation, because the political process leading up to its adoption tends to water down the enforcement mechanism to a point where it no longer has much bite. And even if this is somehow avoided, countries expecting compliance to be difficult or costly will almost certainly decline to sign—not to mention ratify—the resulting agreement. Second, the implications of non-compliance in a tax regime differ in important ways from the corresponding implications in a cap-and-trade regime. In a cap-and-trade regime emissions trading can make inaction legitimate for buyers of emission permits. In particular, overselling of permits by one (or a few) permit exporting countries might completely undermine the regime’s environmental effect. In a tax regime, by contrast, one country’s non-compliance can not make inaction by other countries legitimate. It follows that an agreement based on a harmonized carbon tax will always have some effect, provided that at least one country complies.

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Correspondence to Jon Hovi.

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Hovi, J., Holtsmark, B. Cap-and-trade or carbon taxes? The feasibility of enforcement and the effects of non-compliance. Int Environ Agreements 6, 137–155 (2006).

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