Environmental Energy Economist Niven Winchester investigates the economic impacts of climate policies
A visiting scientist since June 2009, Niven Winchester has officially joined the Joint Program as an Environmental Energy Economist. A native of New Zealand, Niven broadly focuses his research on evaluating the economic costs and impacts of climate change policies and new technologies. Currently, he is interested in how climate policies affect what is called ‘leakage’: the shifting of greenhouse gas emissions from nations with stricter climate policies to countries without climate policies.
One proposed policy option for reducing this ‘leakage’ is to impose border carbon adjustments, such as tariffs on embodied greenhouse gases. For example, nations with climate policies may place a tax on imported goods to adjust for the greenhouse gases that would have been emitted if the products had been produced domestically. Interested in the effectiveness of this type of policy, Niven is exploring how tariffs actually impact leakage, and at what economic costs (See Report Summary 192 on Page 5).
To examine the effects of policies like carbon tariffs, Niven and his colleagues in the Joint Program employ large-scale models of the world’s economy, “building up, layer-by-layer, pieces of information about different aspects of the climate story, about different technologies or different policies” in order to understand how policy changes and technological developments will impact both greenhouse gas emissions and the economy.
Niven’s work suggests that carbon tariffs can cause significant economic distortions and may not be good for overall economic activity. Based upon these findings, Niven reasons that encouraging nations without climate policies to adopt minor efficiency actions—rather than imposing carbon tariffs on imported goods from these nations—will likely be a more cost-effective way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in developing countries.
Given the lack of political progress on federal climate policies, Niven and his colleagues are now shifting their focus toward analyzing alternative policies, such as bio-fuel mandates and state-level programs. According to Niven, the modeling framework can not only be employed to analyze the impacts of particular technological developments or climate policies, but it also “can be used to look at the impact of climate change if we don’t do any action.”
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