Joseph E. Aldy
By Joseph E. Aldy, Faculty Affiliate, Harvard Project on Climate Agreements
Joseph Aldy's Viewpoint makes a case for how transparency through policy surveillance can facilitate more effective international climate change policy architecture.
September 2, 2009
This brief considers the technology negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) within the wider context of low-carbon energy technology. In doing so, it focuses on how technology issues can be effectively embedded within a potential agreement at the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) in Copenhagen. The paper asserts that the negotiations must be conducted with cognizance of national decision-making processes and competing priorities. It puts forth a series of framing topics in order to more explicitly explore the large technology "ecosystem". It concludes that the most appropriate area for international cooperation on technology under the UNFCCC lies in the direct provision of human and institutional capacity building with a focus on the least developed countries.
In December 2011, parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, which launched a new round of negotiations aimed at developing "a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force" for the post-2020 period. The Durban Platform negotiations got underway this year and are scheduled to conclude in 2015. This Viewpoint analyzes the elements of the Durban Platform and the possible role that a new instrument might play.
The Kyoto Protocol establishes a very complex and ambitious regime, in architecture if not stringency. The problem is that relatively few states, representing only about a quarter of the world's emissions, have been willing to assume emission targets under Kyoto....The future of the Protocol thus seems doubtful at best. Even in the most optimistic scenario, a new round of emissions targets couldn't be agreed in time to prevent a legal gap between the first and second commitment periods. A possible middle ground would be to establish a transitional regime that would be political in nature, but that could evolve over time into a legally-binding regime.
"...[T]he Copenhagen Accord is "only" a political agreement, so it does not provide sufficient assurance that countries will take action. But how much difference does it make that the Copenhagen Accord is a political rather than a legal agreement? Obviously, political agreements do not require domestic ratification, so they provide a weaker signal of domestic commitment. But the legal versus non-legal form of an instrument makes less of a difference in other respects, such as judicial enforcement, since even when an agreement is legally-binding, there are relatively few opportunities for adjudication either internationally or domestically. And evidence from other regimes suggests that states often take non-binding agreements quite seriously and make significant efforts to implement them."
By Fulvio Conti
Negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at Copenhagen in December 2009 did not produce a new international treaty with binding emissions commitments, but have defined a roadmap for dealing with global climate change in the post-2012 era. As countries continue to pursue new models for global agreement, it will be important to learn from the weaknesses of past approaches, while building on positive aspects of the experience with the Kyoto Protocol so far.
Paula J. Dobriansky
The current global economic crisis highlights the fact that environmental objectives exist in a balance with economic growth, a balance that political leaders struggle to find in their own countries and at the global level. The UNFCCC contributes importantly to achieving a healthy balance by providing an overall framework for action to address climate change and as a regular gathering point for diplomats, policymakers, and technical experts from the widest range of countries. As such, it is a unique forum for building partnerships to help countries meet their own national objectives and to forge the consensus needed for success in global efforts to address climate change. It could also help to coordinate international efforts, creating synergies, and avoiding duplication.
By Erik Haites
An effective international climate agreement poses formidable challenges. Existing agreements, naturally, have some good features. Further improvements are being discussed in the current negotiations. But the cost and uncertainty associated with regular renegotiation of commitments is not being addressed. The São Paulo Proposal suggests mechanisms that would avoid the need for regular renegotiation of commitments and suggests other ways to make international climate agreements more effective.
By Bard Harstad
Climate policy is complicated. For a treaty to be beneficial, one must think through carefully how it will work, once it is implemented. Crucial questions include the following: How should an international treaty be designed? Should one negotiate commitments for a five-year period, or for much longer? Assuming that the treaty specifies aggregate or country-specific emission caps, what should these caps be and how should they change over time? How should the agreement be updated once policymakers, scholars, and the public learn more about the severity of the climate-change problem, or about the effects of the policy? Can the treaty be designed to encourage investments in "green" abatement technology or renewable energy sources? Finally, how can one motivate countries to participate and comply with such an agreement?
August 27, 2009
By Bard Harstad
A climate treaty is characterized by a large number of parameters: What should the abatement or emission levels be? How should the burden to abate be distributed across countries? What should the time profile for the emission levels be? Should there be issue linkages with other policy areas? Should there be any side transfers between some countries and, if so, what should the transfers be? This richness in parameters implies that there is a lot to decide and negotiate before the final climate treaty is ready.
Moreover, there is great uncertainty regarding the future costs and benefits of abatement. Today, it is not yet known how much abatement will be desirable in the future. This means that any climate treaty must be updated, or renegotiated, quite frequently in the coming years. The realized climate policies depend on future international negotiations—and the rules governing these.