Discussion Paper

Emissions Targets and the Real Business Cycle: Intensity Targets versus Caps or Taxes

Apr 29, 2011 | Carolyn Fischer, Michael R. Springborn


For reducing greenhouse gas emissions, intensity targets are attracting interest as a flexible mechanism that would better allow for economic growth than emissions caps. For the same expected emissions, however, the economic responses to unexpected productivity shocks differ. Using a real business cycle model, we find that a cap dampens the effects of productivity shocks in the economy. An emissions tax leads to the same expected outcomes as a cap but with greater volatility. Certainty-equivalent intensity targets maintain higher levels of labor, capital, and output than other policies, with lower expected costs and no more volatility than with no policy.