Having your carbon cake and eating it too

Alex Evans at the Global Dashboard writes about Bono’s recent endorsement the climate change concept of contraction and convergence. In short the idea is this: give countries the equal rights to emit carbon and allow them to trade those rights for cash while slowly reducing the sum total of the rights. As Bono puts it:

One smart suggestion I’ve heard, sort of a riff on cap-and-trade, is that each person has an equal right to pollute and that there might somehow be a way to monetize this. By this accounting, your average Ethiopian can sell her underpolluting ways (people in Ethiopia emit about 0.1 ton of carbon a year) to the average American (about 20 tons a year) and use the proceeds to deal with the effects of climate change (like drought), educate her kids and send them to university. (Trust in capitalism — we’ll find a way.)

Distributing equal rights to carbon emissions is an attractive idea. Its most desirable properties are those that pertain to the efficiency of the resulting allocation: Since countries can trade off their rights to pollute for cash such series of exchanges would, theoretically, end only when improving the lot of one country would make another worse off, given some basic (but not uncontroversial) assumptions about preferences.

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