A Global Agreement On Climate Change Likely Won’t Include Carbon Pricing

CREDIT: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File

We won't have a global price on carbon with the United Nations conference ends in December, the UN climate chief said Monday.

Christiana Figueres, head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which will meet in Paris in December to hammer out worldwide carbon emissions reductions, said Tuesday that the conference will not include global carbon pricing.

Carbon pricing has been gaining support from a broad range of stakeholders, including the IMF, the World Bank, oil and gas companies, and world leaders. But agreeing on what the price would look like and how it would be charged is too big a challenge for this round of negotiations, Figueres said.

“(Many have said) we need a carbon price and (investment) would be so much easier with a carbon price, but life is much more complex than that,” Figueres said. “It’s not quite what we will have.”

Climate policy experts, though, weren’t rattled by the comments. The Paris agreement is part of a larger framework, building off the 1992 convention, said Joe Robertson, the global strategy director at Citizens’ Climate Lobby. The goals are to come up with a legally binding outcome, identify strong national plans, move forward on financing commitments, and establish action platforms that can help member countries achieve carbon reduction targets.

“This is the next step forward in an ongoing framework,” Robertson told ThinkProgress, saying it is not a “Big Bang” treaty that is going to end global warming in December. “It’s not possible. That’s not what the world is trying to do — and it should not be reported that way.”

On a domestic level, introducing a price on climate at the Paris conference could trigger the need for congressional ratification. International agreements that bind or prohibit U.S. actions that aren’t already part of U.S. law must be approved by Congress.

As Figueres pointed out Monday, there are already pricing mechanisms in use or planned across much of the globe. And more are expected. The Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition — a group representing global leaders, non-profits, and corporations — is one of the so-called action platforms and will help global economies implement carbon pricing. The coalition will work with member states to help build carbon pricing mechanisms, either through fees, taxes, or cap and trade systems, that will help them more efficiently achieve reduction pledges.

In the meantime, U.S. states are developing carbon reduction plans. Many of these plans will likely include some system of cap and trade or carbon fee as economically efficient ways to meet the mandates of the Clean Power Plan.

The carbon pricing landscape is shifting quickly. Some experts have called for a global carbon fee, and suggested that if China, the United States, and the EU began collecting fees at their borders, the scheme would quickly go global.

“The only approach that would work is an across-the-board rising carbon fee covering every fossil fuel at the source — the first sale at the domestic mine or port of entry,” Jim Hansen, a leading climate scientist, told ThinkProgress last week.

And Robertson agreed that the world is heading in that direction. The EU has already floated the idea of border fee.

“We know that the U.S. Congress understands it, we know that the EU understands it, we know that China understands it,” Robertson said. “Within the next few years, that is an absolute inevitability.”