Friday, January 29, 2010

Recommended Reading in Legal History and Climate Change

1. Alexander Volokh of Emory Law School has a very interesting new article in the latest issue of the American Law and Economics Review (Vol.11, 2009, pp. 399-450) on "Property Rights and Contract Form in Medieval Europe," which contributes to our understanding of medieval legal and economic history as well as  institutional development. The article also happens to be elegantly written (despite the mathematical gymnastics). Here is the abstract:
Throughout western Europe, beginning about 1200, leasing of lords' estates became more common relative to direct management. In England, however, direct management increased beginning around the same time until the fourteenth century, and leasing increased thereafter. This article models contract choice as a trade-off between incentives and insurance. Leasing increases as living standards improve. In England, the increase in direct management can be explained by improved security of freehold tenure, and the increase in leasing can be explained not only by living standards but also by improved security of leasehold tenure.
A prepublication version of this paper is available here.

 2.  Economists Scott Barrett of Columbia University's Earth Institute and Michael Toman of the World Bank have an interesting new paper comparing and contrasting two general approaches to climate change mitigation: (1) the familiar "targets and timetables" approach, reflected in the Kyoto Protocol; and (2) a variety of "loosely coordinated smaller scale agreements," addressing different aspects of the problem.

The authors identify the following characteristics of any viable approach to climate mitigation: (a) global benefit should exceed global cost; (b) every country should gain individually from an agreement; (c) participation should be very broad; (d) obligations should be permanent, though subject to periodic revision; and (e) agreements should be enforced using credible mechanisms.

After illustrating how the Kyoto Protocol reflects the first approach  - "targets and timetables" - to achieving mitigation, Barrett and Toman suggest several characteristics of a differentiated portfolio approach to mitigation. Among them: emissions of different greenhouse gases or gases from different sources, such as aviation and marine transportation, might be separately regulated; sector-specific agreements might be negotiated; separate agreements might cover land use and forestry-related issues; etc.

Barrett and Toman conclude, interestingly, that the "targets and timetables" approach could well be more cost-effective than the piecemeal approach, but the piecemeal approach might be more successful in actually reducing greenhouse gases because it would be easier to implement in light of barriers to collective action.

The full paper is available here.

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