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If the United States decides to take broader action in the future to mitigate climate change, policy discussions may once again focus on development of a greenhouse gas (GHG) cap-and-trade program combined with development of a large-scale GHG emissions offsets program. The compliance flexibility offered by these programs, and the economic incentives they create to identify and implement low-cost compliance options, have the potential to reduce significantly the costs to achieve significant emissions limitations. Realizing this potential, however, is not guaranteed. The overall design and key elements of an offset program will have a significant impact on whether a future offsets program can achieve the objective of stimulating investment in activities that create low-cost GHG reductions. Fortunately, the design of a U.S. program can benefit from experience to date with existing offset programs. In particular, U.S. policymakers can draw lessons from the experience of the first large-scale offset program in the world—the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). By the end of 2012, the CDM is expected to issue offset credits for approximately one billion tons of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) emission reductions. This paper evaluates the CDM and other key existing offset programs, and draws lessons from these programs that can help to inform development of a potential future U.S. national or regional offsets program.
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