In a critique of economist Mark Jaccard’s recent call for regulation to backstop carbon pricing programs, Broadbent Institute Policy Fellow Brendan Haley points to political mobilization as a key success factor in building climate programs that work.
“It is refreshing to see an economist recognizing the need for a political analysis,” Haley writes. But “if the benefits of environmental improvements are spread across a large number of people, and regulatory costs are borne by a powerful few, the powerful losers tend to block the policies through political mobilization. Regulatory policies are sustainable when there are clear beneficiaries who can mobilize politically.”
Haley cites Ontario’s coal phase-out and California’s vehicle regulations as climate successes that were brought about by citizen action—largely because the benefits were obvious for people who lived in Toronto and Los Angeles. But “sometimes, the beneficiaries of a policy aren’t as easy to organize. In these cases, progressive policy reformers can create the social and technological conditions that prepare society and markets for new regulatory standards.”
He lists technology demonstrations, green labels, and retailer education as approaches that can create markets for clean technology and pave the way for future regulatory standards. While “new regulations and technologies can increase social inequalities and create new social frictions,” he adds, “there is also an opportunity to create political bargains with a wider policy mix.” California’s climate policies “have stronger buy-in because of provisions to ensure low-income citizens can participate in the energy transition through rate designs, as well as solar and energy efficiency programs that ensure energy affordability.”