Carbon Border Adjustment Measures: a Straightforward Multi-Purpose Climate Change Instrument?


Carbon border adjustment measures (CBAMs) are instruments that can be used to mitigate climate change, but also have a positive impact on trade, climate leadership and even public finance. In this article, I challenge the view that they can serve as straightforward multi-purpose instruments. In a first step, I analyse each of the purposes that can be achieved through CBAMs and explain their underlying differences. In a second step, I discuss their legal design and explain how CBAMs’ design features affect the types of purposes that they can achieve. I apply this two-step analytical framework to the European Union context, where a proposal for a regulation establishing a CBAM has been published by the European Commission in July 2021. I demonstrate that the design of the EU CBAM is inconsistent with the Commission’s main objectives of promoting fair competition and climate mitigation in line with the Paris Agreement. The EU CBAM proposal is primarily an instrument of climate leadership.