The case for intensity targets
While most of the world has pursued absolute emission limits for greenhouse gases, the Bush administration has proposed an alternative policy formulation based, among other things, on reducing emissions intensity—that is, emissions per dollar of real gross domestic product (GDP). Critics of this formulation have denounced the general idea of an intensity-based emission target, along with its voluntary nature and modest targets. This raises the question of whether intensity-based emission limits, distinct from the other features of the Bush initiative, offer a useful alternative to absolute emission limits. This essay makes the case that they do, based on how emission targets are framed. The argument draws on four key observations: greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise over the near term; absolute targets emphasize zero or declining emissions growth while intensity targets do not; developing countries' economic development is integrally tied to emissions growth for the foreseeable future; and intensity targets need not be any more complicated to administer than absolute targets. © 2005 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.
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