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Why is Climate Change a Policy Issue?

Why is climate change fast becoming a sociopolitical priority?
© Adam Smith Centre

Since the 1980s, a strengthening body of research has supported the theory of anthropogenic global warming. As a consensus has formed that it is largely caused by human fossil fuel use, a political movement to address the issue has likewise emerged.

Climate change matters to public policy because climate change affect people’s lives. Naturally, people now argue for a wide range of social and political responses. Among the most common proposals are emissions-targeting regulations, subsidies for low- and zero-carbon energy sources, and taxes or caps on greenhouse gas emissions—also known as emissions pricing.

At its best, climate policy aims to account for the negatives alongside the positives and position humanity for a thriving future. Managing the tradeoffs between the short-term benefits of affordable fossil energy and the potential for long-term harms is a great challenge.

This last proposal, emissions pricing, tends to be favored by economists in search of a policy solution to climate change. These economists believe that greenhouse gas emissions constitute an externality, or, in other words, a cost not borne by the participant in the emitting behaviour or exchange. By pricing emissions through a tax or through requiring demonstration of tradeable permits, many economists think we can account for the externality of emissions’ imposed environmental cost.

© Adam Smith Centre
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Climate Change and Public Policy

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