Washington International Law Journal


Carbon emissions trading, or cap-and-trade, is increasingly in vogue among Pacific Rim countries as a means of combating climate change. In theory, cap-and-trade promises to solve climate change by capping and gradually reducing the amount of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions, and to do so with maximum economic efficiency. In reality, environmentally effective and economically efficient carbon emission trading systems have eluded both the international community and the European Union, and in practice have arguably increased emissions by artificially prolonging and legitimizing reliance on fossil fuels. In spite of this poor track record, five countries on the Pacific Rim committed to reducing their carbon dioxide emissions through domestic trading systems: Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea. Although these countries’ commitment to mitigating climate change is admirable, their domestic carbon emissions trading systems are characterized by the very same features that rendered the Kyoto Protocol’s international carbon market and the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme utterly ineffective. These countries are consciously repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results. Analyzing these five experiments, this comment identifies the features that will likely undermine the environmental and efficiency goals of these systems. This comment argues that due to these shortcomings, the emissions trading systems on the Pacific Rim will not lower carbon dioxide emissions to safe levels—instead, they will exacerbate climate change by artificially prolonging and legitimizing the use of fossil fuels. In addition, the reappearance on the Pacific Rim of these unsound design features lends credence to the theory that emissions trading is fundamentally unreliable as a means of regulating and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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