Monday, November 26, 2012

The Cost of International Climate Negotiations

The 18th conference of climate negotiations has just started in Doha, and no one seems very excited about them despite the fact that the Kyoto Protocol will expire at the end of this year and no extension, let alone a successor treaty, has yet been agreed. Over at Vox (here), the prominent climate economist Richard S.J. Tol comes out in favor of letting Kyoto expire:
Having flogged, ever harder for 18 years, the dead horse of legally binding emission targets, the UNFCCC should close that chapter and try something new.
Unfortunately, Professor Tol does not recommend any new and better path (or, in the parlance of climate wonks, "architecture"). He opposes binding emission reduction targets (which, after all, haven't proven very binding). But he implicitly supports the continuation of global negotiations under the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change, which itself calls for binding emissions reduction targets. We might reasonably ask why abandonment of the Kyoto Protocol's approach does not also require abandonment of the UNFCCC. After all, it the UNFCCC process goes forward (either continuing the Kyoto approach or moving in some other direction), the annual global meetings, which Tol estimates now cost in the neighborhood of $130 million dollars per year, are bound to continue.

Might it finally be time to abandon the global, roving cocktail party known as the "Conference of the Parties" (or CoP) in favor of a more "bottom-up" approach involving negotiations between a much smaller number of major emitting countries, including the US, EU, certain EU member states including Germany and the UK, Russia, China, India, Canada, and Australia? This is the approach George W. Bush favored after he repudiated the Kyoto Protocol in 2001 (I never said he was wrong about everything).

Shutting out the rest of the world, including most developing countries and NGOs, is far from ideal, but the universal-participation approach has been tried and found wanting. Perhaps a smaller number of countries, including some that already have skin in the game, such as the EU and its member states, could achieve greater success cobbling together a set of agreements leading to the foundation of institutions that could get the ball rolling in the right direction, actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions, then expand over time to incorporate new participants.

Having said all that, I expect the parties at the Doha CoP to try to save face, and the UN's process, by extending the Kyoto Protocol, with or without new binding emission-reduction targets. If they succeed, we are likely to see continued dithering for the rest of the present decade. Failure might be a better option.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I actively moderate comments for spam, advertisements, and abusive or offensive language.