Pluses and Minuses of a Carbon Tax

Either a tax or a cap can put a price on climate pollution. The goal is to reduce it.

To the Editor:

A price on carbon is an essential tool in reducing climate pollution, but don’t give short shrift to a proven approach: emissions trading.

Well-designed pollution markets helped cut acid rain in the United States at a fraction of the predicted cost. Similar markets are working today to cut carbon pollution in California, seven Chinese cities and provinces, and other countries and regions home to nearly a billion people in all.

Even the European Union system you criticize has successfully cut emissions, and given the E.U. confidence to adopt a more stringent target.

The goal of climate policy is not simply to price pollution; it is to reduce it. Either a tax or a cap, if well designed, can achieve it. So let’s move beyond this debate and focus on the real issue: the need for ambitious action, at home and abroad, to put the world on a path to a secure and stable climate.

Nathaniel O. Keohane
Gernot Wagner
New York

The writers are, respectively, vice president for international climate and lead senior economist at the Environmental Defense Fund.

Published as Letter to the Editor in the New York Times on June 15th, 2015.

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