Researcher ORCID Identifier

Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Second Department


Reader 1

Michael Kuehlwein

Reader 2

Char Miller

Reader 3

Pey-Yi Chu

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In this thesis, I conduct an economic and political analysis of California’s cap-and-trade program, the leading national (and international) example of a market-based strategy to reduce climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions. I evaluate the program on several economic and political measures of success, especially as contrasted with the performance of various regulatory policies that California also relies on to meet its emissions reduction targets. These regulations exemplify a command and control approach to emissions mitigation as opposed to a market-based approach, and indeed tend to be favored by grassroots activists who may be skeptical about market-friendly policies; my thesis seeks to isolate the contributions of both the cap-and-trade program and regulatory efforts to California’s progress in achieving its emissions reduction goals thus far, and analyze which policy approach has greater potential to help California meet its future emissions targets. My thesis finds that the cap-and-trade program has been relatively successful economically: it has had a real impact on California’s pre-2020 GHG emissions, and possibly even an outsized impact compared to its command and control counterparts. In terms of political success, however, I find that the program may very well lack political durability due to lack of buy-in from grassroots activist communities. I conclude with recommendations for strengthening the program along both the economic and political axes. This thesis also incorporates an interview that I conducted with Fran Pavley, the former California state legislator whose bill paved the way for the creation of the cap-and-trade program.