Handbook on Energy and Climate Change
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Handbook on Energy and Climate Change

Edited by Roger Fouquet

This timely Handbook reviews many key issues in the economics of energy and climate change, raising new questions and offering solutions that might help to minimize the threat of energy-induced climate change.
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Chapter 28: Is a global crisis required to prevent climate change? A historical–institutional perspective

Edward B. Barbier


The threat posed by global warming is symptomatic of the diminishing returns from the way in which the world economy has been exploiting its remaining land and natural resources since the Industrial Revolution (Barbier, 2011a). At the heart of the global warming problem is that the anticipated increasing costs associated with climate change are not routinely reflected in markets. Nor have adequate policies and institutions been developed to handle these costs. All too often, policy distortions and failures compound these problems by encouraging wasteful use of natural resources and environmental degradation. The result is that we have failed to design a comprehensive set of policies and market incentives to ensure an efficient price for carbon, and, as a consequence, the world economy still emits too many greenhouse gases (GHGs). The global policy stalemate on climate change is epitomized by the failure to achieve a comprehensive successor agreement for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on curbing global GHG emissions, which expires in 2012. It was widely anticipated that the December 2009 Copenhagen meeting of all the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change would lead to a binding agreement for the post-Kyoto period. Instead, the meeting produced a much weaker Copenhagen Accord, which adopts a target of limiting the increase in global mean temperature to below 2 °C and pledges from high-income countries to reduce their GHG emissions by 2020 to achieve this target.

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