Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Name and Shame Game

 By Joseph Sarkis
The US government, at least the executive branch of the US government, has decided that the best strategy to encourage the US and other countries to care about reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is to ‘shame’ them.  Stories in the New York Times and USA Today provide additional story background on this new policy. 
Naming and shaming is about identifying and publicizing information related to carbon emissions.  This approach is being recommended by the US administration because treaty ratification is unlikely in today’s US Congress.  So according to the New York Times:
American negotiators are instead homing in on a hybrid agreement — a proposal to blend legally binding conditions from an existing 1992 treaty with new voluntary pledges. The mix would create a deal that would update the treaty, and thus, negotiators say, not require a new vote of ratification.
Countries would be legally required to enact domestic climate change policies — but would voluntarily pledge to specific levels of emissions cuts and to channel money to poor countries to help them adapt to climate change. Countries might then be legally obligated to report their progress toward meeting those pledges at meetings held to identify those nations that did not meet their cuts.

These reporting obligations are an information-based mechanism meant to shame countries into acting.

Will this work? 

At least at the national US policy level information-based regulatory mechanisms have been utilized to encourage organizations to reduce hazardous wastes through the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) also known as the toxics releases inventory (TRI).  The TRI regulatory policy has, arguably, been successful.

The idea of utilizing a similar reporting mechanism as the TRI for carbon emissions has occurred with the introduction of the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP) implemented in 2010.  In January 2012, EPA publicized the first year of GHGRP reporting data Facility Level Information on GreenHouse gases Tool (FLIGHT). 

The figure below shows the summary of US GHG emissions data from 1990 to 2012. Since the implementation of the GHGRP the totals seem to have decreased.  It is not clear how the original data was determined before the mandatory reporting requirements, but a decrease in emissions can be seen since 2010, even after an improving economy.

Source: US EPA

Personally, I was only slightly and peripherally aware of the GHGRP.  My lack of awareness may be due to my focus on academic articles.  That is, I have yet to see many, if any, organizations and natural environmental researchers using this information for their research.

I would think that some courses have utilized this data as they would the TRI database.  Whereas the TRI was effectively publicized in the popular press, the data from GHRGP has yet to reach those popularity levels.  Effective shaming cannot occur without this publicity.  But, also shaming cannot occur if communities do not believe it is a shame to have GHG emissions.  The lack of immediate local concerns may be a detriment to making this an effective information regulatory rule.  We will have to wait to see.

The larger question, at this point, is whether the name and shame game can work on a global level.  Will other national norms allow this approach to work in similar ways as they might in the US?