Carbon Intensity Targets Can Be Effective Tools for Reducing Emissions, Says WRI Report

Carbon Intensity Targets Can Be Effective Tools for Reducing Emissions, Says WRI Report

Intensity targets, or rate-based targets, on greenhouse gas emissions, despite often being dismissed as ineffective or deceptive, can sometimes be a better option for some countries than absolute targets in setting climate policy.

This is one of the main findings in Target: Intensity: An Analysis of Greenhouse Gas Intensity Targets, jkust released by the World Resources Institute during the annual United Nations climate change conference.

"Intensity targets have often masqueraded as real reductions. However, if properly set and enforced, intensity can result in real and meaningful reductions," said Timothy Herzog, who co-authored the report with WRI's Jonathan Pershing and Kevin Baumert.

GHG intensity targets are policies that specify emissions reductions relative to productivity or economic output. For instance, one common way of expressing an intensity target is to base it on tons CO2/million dollars GDP. By contrast, emissions caps specify reductions measured in metric tons, relative to a historical baseline.

Herzog added, "This report is unique in that it broadly analyzes and evaluates intensity targets on the basis of experiences to date, both in the United States and internationally. It also examines practical implementation issues, such as the interaction of intensity targets with other climate policy tools, in particular emissions trading."

In addition, the report considers intensity targets at the corporate and sectoral levels, and offers examples that show how intensity targets can effectively work for governments - especially in developing countries - that are exploring reduction policies.

One example details Argentina's announcement in 1999 to adopt a target designed to lower GHG emissions to address global warming. The country's target was to exist alongside the "fixed," or absolute, targets adopted by the industrialized world as part of the Kyoto Protocol. Argentina's target was designed to allow emission levels to adjust to the underlying fluctuations in economic activity, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP).

In 2002, the United States also adopted a GHG intensity target (shown in the above graphic, and featured in the report as Figure A). The report argues that while targets like those in the U.S. show how intensity can disguise weak targets as being strong, they can nonetheless lead to significant reductions by encouraging cleaner and more efficient energy use. Intensity targets can also accommodate the need for economic growth, especially in developing and least developed countries.

"The challenge facing us is to make sure, as we address the global threat of climate change, that we don't craft policies that force developing countries to make a choice between reducing GHG emissions and meeting the legitimate needs and aspirations of their people," said Jonathan Lash, WRI president.