Climate laws work but remain critically insufficient in cutting carbon emissions

In a guest post written for Carbon Brief, Prof Sam Fankhauser provides an analysis of his research which shows a direct correlation between new climate laws and cuts in CO2 emissions in 2019. The analysis was published ahead of the G7 leaders summit on 11-13 June, to highlight emerging evidence of the impact of climate policies on reducing emissions. 

Fankhauser and his co-author, Dr Shaikh Eskander1, note that there are now more than 2,000 national climate change laws in place around the world, representing at least a 20-fold increase over the last 20 years. Their analysis of the statistical relationship between the passing of climate laws and national emissions (published last year in Nature Climate Change) showed that on average, each law reduced the carbon intensity of GDP – the CO2 associated with each unit of GDP – by 0.8% in the first three years and by 1.8% over longer time periods.

Fankhauser acknowledged that: 

"While the findings suggest that climate laws take a few years to reach their full effect, there is no doubt that they are absolutely necessary for accelerating the downward trajectory of carbon emissions." He added: "Socioeconomic factors or market trends, which may have influenced the move towards 'cleaner' energy solutions such as shale gas over coal, cannot be depended on to drive down emissions."

After conducting their analysis across all G7 countries, Fankhauser and Eskander conclude:

"Overall, our results show that climate laws do work. In the most successful countries, climate legislation has bent the emissions curve by at least 15% and sometimes over 20%." They stressed, however, that: "If global goals are to be met, climate policy will need to become not just tighter, but also more joined up."


1Prof Sam Fankhauser is research director of Oxford Net Zero, visiting professor at the Grantham Research Institute, London School of Economics, and Official Fellow at Reuben College. Dr Shaikh Eskander is senior lecturer of economics at Kingston University London and visiting fellow at the Grantham Research Institute, London School of Economics.