Moving toward a consensus on climate policy: The essential role of global public disclosure

Among climate scientists, there is no longer any serious debate about whether greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are altering the earth's climate. There is also a broad consensus on two issues related to reducing emissions. First, developing countries must be full participants in global emissions control, because they will be most heavily impacted by global warming, and because they are rapidly approaching parity with developed countries in the scale of their emissions. Second, efficient emissions control will require carbon pricing via market-based instruments (charges or cap-and-trade). These points of consensus are sufficient to establish a clear way forward, despite continued disagreements over the choice of specific instrument and the appropriate carbon charge level. Since all market-based systems that regulate emissions sources require the same emissions information, the international community should immediately establish an institution mandated to collect, verify and publicly disclose information about emissions from all significant global carbon sources. Its mandate should extend to best-practice estimation and disclosure of emissions sources in countries that initially refuse to participate. This institution will serve four purposes. First, it will lay the necessary foundation for implementing any market-based system of emissions source regulation. Second, it will provide an excellent credibility test, since a country's acceptance of full disclosure will signal its true willingness to participate in globally-efficient emissions reduction. Third, global public disclosure will itself reduce carbon emissions, by focusing stakeholder pressure on major emitters and providing reputational rewards for clean producers. Fourth, disclosure will make it very hard to cheat once market-based instruments are implemented. This will be essential for preserving the credibility of an international agreement to reduce emissions.
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