Academic Discipline: Geography
Course Name: Geography
Assignment Subject: Mitigating against climate change
Academic Level: Undergraduate-1st Year
Referencing Style: Harvard
Word Count: 2,119
Climate change is a man-made phenomenon that threatens the survival of local and global ecosystems. According to the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), “the global average temperature in 2019 was 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period”, which has affected the planet through higher levels of GHG emissions, and the increased magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events. The international community has pioneered a range of climate change mitigation agendas, which stress the importance of a multi-stakeholder approach that involves governments, corporations, households and individuals alike. The purpose of this expository research is to explore some of the climate change mitigation strategies that can be used at the governmental level, identify their relative advantages and disadvantages and evaluate which strategy is optimal for governments. It will be argued that the adherence to international climate change agendas and the imposition of a carbon tax are the most effective mitigation measures.
Climate Change Mitigation Strategies
Governments are among the leading stakeholders who can facilitate climate change mitigation, primarily because they have the political legitimacy and authority to implement policies that can constrain the behaviour of other social actors- such as corporations, households and individuals. The first broad climate change mitigation approach is the imposition of a carbon-tax, which charges consumers for fossil fuel consumption. The carbon tax system has been empirically used in developed and developing countries alike, including in countries such as Canada, Japan, Mexico and South Africa (Lai 2021).
The first advantage of a carbon-tax system is that it is a demand side policy that seeks to address climate change by reducing the level of demand for fossil fuels. Imposing a tax on fossil fuel users therefore acts as a disincentive that can be applied across all consumer categories (Ionescu 2019). The second advantage of a carbon tax system is that it can be uniformly applied to all consumers, intimating that its standardization potential increases the scope of application (Kutasi and Perger 2015). The third advantage of a carbon-tax system is that it encourages users to adopt alternative energy forms, in order to curtail the cost associated with fossil fuel consumption. This implies that the carbon tax system can spur innovation insofar as creating an incentive for users to find alternative, renewable forms of energy for their daily needs (Ionescu 2019).
Notwithstanding the advantages associated with carbon-tax, it is also fraught with challenges that may undermine its viability to drive climate change mitigation at the global level. First, the carbon tax is perceived as a regressive tax, in that it imposes the highest burden on low-income earners (Osman et al. 2021). That is, since fossil fuels become more expensive, low-income households that lack alternative sources of energy will need to spend a higher proportion of their disposable income on the tax, such that they will be worse off than their more affluent social counterparts. Second, the carbon tax does not adequately capture the environmental cost of pollution in both the immediate and the long term. The implication is that governments may be uncertain about the accurate tax rate, leading to a scenario where the tax may be too low or too high- both of which would negatively affect climate change mitigation (Whithey et al. 2022). Third, the carbon tax system creates an incentive for tax evasion, such that wealthy individuals, households or corporations may decide to offshore carbon production to developing economies with less stringent carbon tax measures. The implication is that countries may fail to uniformly apply the carbon tax- thereby undermining the global climate change mitigation agenda.
The second broad strategy that has been used to combat climate change is the cap-and-trade policy. The system essentially provides polluters with a carbon or emissions quota, which they are legally bound to operate within. In instances where a polluter has emissions remaining on their quota, they are free to sell their quota to a third party who may have exhausted theirs (Rabe 2016). The cap-and-trade system is arguably preferred to the carbon tax system, primarily because it provides a degree of autonomy to users. The first advantage of the cap-and-trade system is that carbon consumers can meet their production needs while simultaneously adhering to the expected levels of emissions. In other words, corporations can maintain their production levels, and keep emissions below or at the legally mandated levels (Rabe 2016). The second advantage is that the system provides flexibility for carbon consumers, which presents a sharp contrast to the tax regime which has a higher level of constriction among users. Third, the cap-and-trade system is beneficial because it provides a valuable revenue stream for governments, which can then redirect the financial resources towards other climate change mitigation projects (Liu and Li 2017).
Despite the range of benefits associated with the cap-and-trade system, the climate change mitigation approach also has limitations that warrant consideration. First, the system is arguably biased towards corporations and social actors with high revenues, as these actors can emit beyond their respective quotas by purchasing carbon credits from users who have lower total emissions. Second and relatedly, the system is disadvantageous for smaller actors who may lack the necessary financial liquidity to purchase additional credits to meet their own production quotas. Third, the system can be problematic in that it does not necessarily encourage the development of alternative energy resources, as corporations would still be permitted to emit greenhouse gasses (Zhang et al. 2021). The implication is that this approach is not a viable long-term solution to eliminate carbon dependency within the economy, as it simply confers a price to emissions. Finally, the cap-and-trade system can be problematic insofar as increasing the price of fossil fuels (Liu and Li 2017). The implication is that corporations may face higher operational costs in the medium to long term, which can negatively affect production and performance at the aggregate level.
The third broad strategy that can be used by governments to mitigate against climate change is creating incentives for social actors to switch towards renewable forms of energy. For instance, governments can provide funding for renewable energy research and development (R&D); impose import restrictions on fossil fuels and provide tax cuts among other incentives for corporations that are developing renewable energy (Michaelowa 2004). The first benefit of an incentive system is that it reduces the level of carbon dependency within the economy, thereby presenting a viable long-term avenue to mitigate against climate change (Dale et al. 2020). The second benefit of an incentive system is that it fosters competition among the different actors, thereby creating multiple solutions that can thereafter be tailored to meet the specific needs of energy consumers and producers. The main disadvantage of an incentive system is that it does not necessarily affect the current levels of GHG emissions and fossil fuel dependency, such that consumers may continue relying on fossil fuels while developing renewable energy alternatives. Another potential limitation of the approach is that it has high utility for industrialized and affluent countries, whose governments possess the necessary financial resources to provide adequate incentives for renewable energy. In other words, the approach may have limited utility for developing countries, thereby contravening the ability to achieve sustainable development objectives at the global level (Sforna 2019).
The fourth climate change mitigation approach that governments can use is the development of sustainable development goals, which provide a framework for social actors. The international community has made substantial progress in this regard, through the establishment of sustainable development goals (SDGs). The first advantage of an international SDG framework is that it is tailored to the needs and realities of each country, such that the SDGs that are applicable to industrialized economies are not necessarily mirrored by the goals applicable to developed economies (Sachs 2012). This is beneficial because it enables each country to set its own climate change mitigation agenda, based on a thorough understanding of its internal strengths, capabilities, resource endowments, and constraints. The second advantage of the SDGs approach is that the goals are often measurable and tangible, which increases the ease of tracing progress made in achieving the identified goals (Sachs 2012). The third advantage of the approach is that it is a comprehensive framework for combating climate change, as the attainment of SDGs necessarily requires cooperation and collaboration from a range of stakeholders in the country. For instance, in order to achieve the SDG of providing potable water to local communities, the stakeholders that can contribute to this objective include corporations, nongovernmental organizations, local communities, households and individuals. Finally, the SGD approach is beneficial because it aligns environmental responsibility with a range of social and human development indicators, thereby highlighting the relationship between environmental, human and economic development indicators (Pandey 2017).
The SDGs have been lauded as one of the most important international agreements of the contemporary context. However, to date, no country has yet achieved all the stipulated objectives. Therefore, the first limitation of this approach is that it can be perceived as overly ambitious, which negates the validity of the approach in meeting sustainable development objectives (Sachs 2012). The second limitation is that most SDGs highlight structural problems that are faced by local economies yet lack any structural level solution that can be leveraged to achieve the objectives. For instance, one of the SGDs is the elimination of poverty and hunger. The complexity of poverty in any context highlights the importance of structural level factors, for instance social determinants of health, institutional processes of discrimination, and the marginalization of vulnerable populations. Against this backdrop, the SDGs still lack structural level solutions, for instance in terms of policies that can be adopted to improve the global capitalist system and consider the needs of vulnerable populations in the Global South.
The focus of this analysis has been on evaluating climate change mitigation strategies, specifically those that can be implemented by governments. The research has identified four broad strategies that can be used- namely the imposition of a carbon tax; the introduction of a cap-and-trade system; the creation of incentives to improve adoption of renewable energy alternatives; and adhering to international climate change mitigation accords such as the SDGs. Each of the identified strategies is associated with both advantages and disadvantages. The purpose of this section is to evaluate which of the alternatives is the best approach for government agencies, based on the discussion conducted in the previous sections.
The objectives of a viable and comprehensive climate change mitigation approach should encompass both the reduction of current levels of emissions, as well as fostering higher adoption rates for renewable energy alternatives. Based on this assertion, the inferiority of climate change mitigation solutions is the cap-and-trade system. This is because the approach not only permits carbon emissions (thereby failing to reduce the actual level of emissions) and lacks any direct orientation towards the promotion of renewable energy resources (Liu and Li 2017). An equally inferior approach is the incentive approach, as this is considered a medium to long term plan that fails to address current levels of GHG emissions, albeit while fostering innovation and development of alternative renewable energy resources.
The adherence to international frameworks such as the SDGs is laudable because it provides each country with a unique set of objectives that can be used to address the climate change concern (Sachs 2012). Moreover, the approach is also laudable because of its multi-stakeholder orientation, as that facilitates a thorough implementation that involves a broad base of social actors. The carbon tax system is widely unpopular especially among economists and political commentators, but has notable benefits that highlight its potential as a climate change mitigation tool. Specifically, the carbon tax system is beneficial because it punishes fossil fuel consumption in the immediate term, while creating a disincentive that can propel social actors to divert towards renewable forms of energy. The implication is that governments should be more invested in climate change mitigation approaches that are consistent with international goals; have the capacity to reduce fossil fuel dependency in the immediate term, while creating an incentive for the widespread adoption of renewable forms of energy.
In conclusion, the purpose of this analysis was to consider the range of climate change mitigation tools that are typically used by governments across the globe. The intent was to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of each approach, prior to offering a recommendation for the best approach that governments can use. It was argued that governments should rely on measures that are consistent with international goals; have the capacity to reduce fossil fuel dependency in the immediate term, while creating an incentive for the widespread adoption of renewable forms of energy. This in turn highlights the carbon tax and SDGs as the most appropriate and comprehensive approach to climate change mitigation.
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