Speaker: Dr. Leigh Raymond

Date: November 1, 2018

Dr. Leigh Raymond is Professor of Political Science at Purdue University and the Fulbright Canada Chair in the Sustainable Economy at the University of Ottawa for fall 2018. He received his PhD in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management from U.C. Berkeley, and a BA in Philosophy from Yale University. Dr. Raymond’s research focuses on “market-based” environmental policies, including emissions trading policies to address climate change.


Raymond’s presentation explored the political dimensions of carbon pricing, offering several lessons learned from reflecting on various carbon pricing systems in the United States, most notably, the success of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) cap and trade program in the northeastern United States. Dr. Raymond highlighted the consideration of the power of norms and policy framing as key to successful carbon pricing policies.

Simply put, a carbon pricing policy should lead to increasing prices on carbon emitting commodities for consumers, subsequent decreased demand, and the end result of less carbon pollution. But while carbon pricing is considered by many experts to be an important tool in mitigating carbon emissions, implementing the policies is often politically challenging, as the cost is especially apparent to the voting public. Raymond noted that public uneasiness with having to pay another tax is exacerbated by the tendency for carbon pricing systems to be explained inadequately by the media. Much of the part about how carbon pricing works is often misconstrued, or completely lost in the media’s communication.

What can we learn from the success of carbon pricing systems in select regions of the United States? Raymond traced the success of the RGGI cap and trade program to a shift in policy framing, underpinned by norms of fairness. Before RGGI, cap and trade programs saw little success in reducing pollution as existing polluters were not required to buy allowances but were rather ‘grandfathered’ in to the program. Making polluters pay was thought to be politically impossible, as the grandfathering policy was underpinned by Lockean norm of ‘right of prior use,’ which essentially meant “we were here first, so we don’t need to pay.” Key to the political success of RGGI was normative reframing of the issue, which promoted rewarding beneficial labour instead of harmful labour (e.g. making the polluters pay), as well as egalitarian norms in which equal shares of the benefits should be distributed to the public. The RGGI program thus required that all polluters would have to buy allowances in order to pollute, with the money accrued then invested by the governments into programs for further reducing emissions or in ways that benefit the public. Before RGGI the idea of making polluters pay was thought to be impossible, but by normative reframing, the idea was now politically feasible.

Raymond calls the result of this normative gear-switching the “Public Benefit Frame.” This model of carbon pricing posits that in order to pollute, you must pay for it, as the atmosphere is a public resource.  Additionally, revenue accumulated must be distributed as tangible consumer benefits, allocated to the majority of the population. These could include protecting constituents from increased energy prices, public health benefits from reduced air pollution, climate change protection and benefits, economic growth in the low-carbon energy sector, subsidies for energy efficiency, as well as  investments in lowering the costs of low carbon energy. The Public Benefit Model has seen success in other jurisdictions such as California and the EU.


Much of the discussion with Dr. Raymond and seminar participants centred around how Canada could do better in light of the recent Canadian setbacks and challenges, namely, Ontario pulling out of its cap and trade agreement and the considerable pushback against the federal carbon tax policy by conservative leaders.

Challenges with framing

Questions were raised over how best to frame a carbon tax in the Canadian context. For example, would the Public Benefit Frame would work in Canada, as Canadian concerns tend to center around jobs and the economy as opposed to the prioritization of consumerism in the United States. Raymond responded that framing is indeed not enough, a successful carbon pricing policy needs to be able to deliver on what it’s meant to deliver on.   How then, do we decide which norms are acceptable in choosing how to frame this issue?  A simple place to start is by examining the justification for the policy while at the same time prioritizing the current concerns of affected jurisdictions. For example, if electricity prices are already high, that issue is already salient, and the policy must be designed with this in mind.

Advice for Canadian carbon price policy makers?

Raymond stressed that Canada needs to be cautious not to get too addicted to carbon dividends, as this could lead to constituents losing sight of the what the carbon tax is meant to achieve, less pollution. However, it is also important to not lose track of the obvious concern of energy affordability. At minimum, Raymond notes that governments need to be able to respond to first lines of attacks on affordability from opponents.  This could improve the durability of carbon price policies, and hopefully prevent what we just saw in Ontario, the repeal of a newly established cap and trade system.

Precis by Jessica Leis and Silke Popescu, MA Sustainable Energy students.

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