Stepping Stone or Stumbling Block: Incrementalism in National Climate Change Legislation

69 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2010 Last revised: 22 Dec 2014

Date Written: June 4, 2010


This Article examines the effects of incremental domestic legislation on international negotiations to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Mitigating the effects of climate change is a global public good, which, ultimately, only an international agreement can provide. The common presumption (justified or not) is that national legislation is a step forward to an international agreement. This Article analyzes how national legislation can create a demand for international action but can also preempt or frustrate international efforts. The crucial issue, which has been largely ignored thus far, is how incremental steps at the domestic level alter international negotiations. This paper identifies four mechanisms that support the intuitive idea that national legislation will have positive effects: (1) allocating economic resources, (2) providing leadership in international negotiations, (3) creating a demand for a uniform standard, and (4) cultivating public opinion. This Article demonstrates that, on closer examination, each of these mechanisms could hinder international efforts to create a comprehensive agreement. This is by no means an argument against all efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions at the national level. Instead, this Article calls for a more careful analysis the dynamic political impact of domestic proposals.

Keywords: carbon tariff, climate change, global warming,international investment, international trade

JEL Classification: F42, K32, K33

Suggested Citation

Brewster, Rachel, Stepping Stone or Stumbling Block: Incrementalism in National Climate Change Legislation (June 4, 2010). Yale Law & Policy Review, Vol. 28, No. 2, 2010; Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 10-35. Available at SSRN:

Rachel Brewster (Contact Author)

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

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