Designing Post-2012 International Climate Change Policy

December 7th, 2007 <-- by Joseph Aldy -->

The 2007 UN-sponsored climate change negotiations opened in Bali, Indonesia this week. By the end of the conference on December 14, the world community may agree to a two-year “roadmap,” as called for by the UN Secretary-General, for negotiating an agreement to guide climate change mitigation efforts after the end of the Kyoto Protocol’s 2008-2012 commitment period. A number of academics, analysts, nongovernmental organizations and related processes have proposed various ways of moving forward with international climate change policy, including the Pew Center on Global Climate Change’s Dialogue at Pocantico, the UN Foundation and the Club of Madrid’s Global Leadership for Climate Action, and the Centre for Global Studies’ L20 concept of engaging the most important developed and developing countries on this issue, which is similar to the Bush Administration’s Big Economies process.

Rob Stavins of the John F. Kennedy School of Government and I are leading the Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements to complement these other efforts and to help identify key design elements of a scientifically sound, economically rational, and politically pragmatic post-2012 international policy architecture for global climate change. This project, funded as a part of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s Climate Policy Initiative, builds on the book we co-edited and recently published by Cambridge University Press, Architectures for Agreement: Addressing Global Climate Change in the Post-Kyoto World. The book provides six proposals for international climate policy architectures that span much of the policy space from centralized, top-down regimes akin to the Kyoto agreement to decentralized, bottom-up pledge and review approaches. Summaries of these proposals can be found at the Harvard Project website. The Harvard Project will undertake more analysis and research over the coming year to develop a small menu of promising frameworks and design principles and conduct outreach to inform relevant policymakers in the United States and around the world in late 2008 and 2009. Through the project, we will commission work from scholars in a variety of disciplines, including political science, law, economics, international relations, and the natural sciences from the developed and developing world.

Our focus on delivering new ideas over 2008 reflects the expectation that Bali will simply provide a framework to initiate a new negotiation. The Bali framework will focus efforts to craft a successor to the Kyoto Protocol by the 2009 UN climate change negotiations in Copenhagen. While I do not want to prejudge the outcome of our efforts through the Harvard Project, let me identify three objectives that I believe should be addressed on the road to Copenhagen.

1. The world has changed since 1992; so should our approach to differentiation. The Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol differentiate between two categories of countries: Annex I and Non-Annex I. The former, including most industrialized countries, have quantitative emission targets under the Kyoto Protocol, while the latter, primarily developing countries, do not. Many non-Annex I countries argue that they are too poor to take on commitments in the next agreement. But a review of the most recent data on per capita incomes (on a purchasing power parity basis from the Penn World Table ) shows that Romania, the poorest country with a target under Kyoto, now has lower income than more than 50 non-Annex I countries that don’t have targets. More than 110 countries in the world now have higher per capita incomes than the poorest country that agreed to join Annex I in the Framework Convention in 1990 (when the FCCC negotiation process began). The successor to Kyoto should reflect this changed world, and pursue a “variable geometry” of commitments. A more effective climate policy should break the two-class model and allow for greater gradation in commitments among countries.

2. We need to provide better incentives for participation and compliance. The status quo does not require four of the five largest emitting countries in the world to abate their emissions: the United States (1st in emissions) walked away from the Kyoto Protocol, China (2nd) and India (5th) do not have commitments under the agreement, and Russia (3rd) received such a lax target that it will not have to take any action to comply with its commitment. Moreover, there are clear signs now that a number of countries will have problems complying with their Kyoto commitments. Canada’s 2005 emissions of all greenhouse gases including land use change are a whopping 64% above its Kyoto target! Japan’s emissions are 14% above its Kyoto target, although many expect Japan to purchase credits and allowances through the global carbon market established under the agreement to ensure its compliance. The fast-growing periphery countries of the old EU-15 are well above their commitments, despite the generous reallocation within the EU-15 to give these countries more emission allowances. Spain (with an EU reallocated target of 1990+15%) is 39% above its target; Portugal (1990+27%) is 10% above its target; and Ireland (1990+13%) is also 10% above its target. With the large economies not required to abate greenhouse gas emissions and many other countries hard-pressed to comply with Kyoto, the next agreement needs to provide the right incentives for countries to participate more fully and, once they agree to participate, to undertake policies and actions necessary to ensure their compliance.

3. The goal of climate change policy should be to mitigate risks of global climate change. The Kyoto Protocol focuses primarily on emission mitigation. While it is laudable to aim to prevent climate change risks from occurring, we should also pursue policies that recognize that the climate is already changing and will continue to change even with ambitious emission abatement efforts. This suggests that we should also mitigate climate change risks through adaptation, i.e., we need to get used to some climate change. Efforts should be undertaken to facilitate adaptation in the most vulnerable developing countries that lack the resources and capacity to adapt to climate change without such assistance. In some cases, the best form of adaptation may be economic development. In other cases, more focused policies to promote climate-related adaptation may be merited.

An agreement that can address these issues could constitute a meaningful and productive next step after the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period.

Finally, let me note that if you are attending the Bali COP, then please join us for the
Harvard Project side event at 15:30 Monday December 10 in the Solar Room at the Grand Hyatt. If you can’t make it, feel free to check out the Harvard Project website and sign up for e-alerts if you would like to learn more about our efforts.

4 Responses to “Designing Post-2012 International Climate Change Policy”

  1. Grant Stevenson Says:

    1. I am not a climatologist, but my censuses of birds are sure to include the variable of WEATHER, but not climate, though a piece in the possible puzzle. Unfortunately, my journal is ad libitum, not even having a standardized time scale. Resident Bird Counts, according to Dr. Robert Ricklefs (Bob) at UM-St. Louis biology/ecology, could serve this purpose, but there is a mysterious lack of plots, at least as of 1985. Lack of time/interest?
    I am a perfectionist. Sometimes, do to all or nothing negative thinking, I give up, overwhelmed, and just survive day-to-day, maintaining my health. As my Mom says, “Charity begins at home.” But, fortunately, HOME IS THE WORLD.
    2. There was a comment in an issue of CONSERVATION BIOLOGY(?) saying people do not read as much anymore. They get their news from TV, and join gangs that use our technology, like cell phones, whose towers kill birds. One commentor went so far as to say that Bush is resembling an authoritarian president, whose purpose is to preserve himself, or a totalitarian government, which attempts to preserve itself. All rightists have to say is THREE WORDS: “Homeland Security”. It was the British international relationist Barry Buzan who said, I believe, that “Paronoia is the logical result of obsession with security.” Indeed, we are in the middle of the “Age of Obsession.”

  2. David B. Benson Says:

    While there is resistance when “carbon tax” is mentioned, what about “fossil fuel dividend”? The only change is that the tax revenues on fossil fuel consumption are returned equally to all, under the guise that the atmosphere belongs to everybody.

    Economists would likely prefer this to ‘cap and trade”?

  3. 2012 movies Says:

    I just found this post and I agree that the big polluting countries should be included. I’m from Canada and knew it was bad but “64% above its Kyoto target”, that’s not a good news.

    This year 2007-2008, our city got around 563cm of snow. The normal is 300 with the old record of 458cm. 100+ cm above the record is what climate change could do. I was expecting less snow. 😉

  4. Sreeman Mishu Barua Says:

    Sub: A Plan on tackling global CO2 rise & Global Carbon Trade; (dissemination, research & Action needed)

    A CO2 reduction plan was envisaged during my M.Sc. in Environmental Technology, as a class-assignment in 1999-2000. It was a low tech plan which could easily be put into practice where the whole world could come to play. The plan offered a new dimension to carbon trade for businesses. The outline was as below-

    Fast-growing trees assimilate CO2 out of air fast (4 times faster than natural forests). We need to harvest these trees for their fast growing period in selected areas around the world. The harvest (dry hard wood is >50% carbon and very slow degrading; about 25% of fresh wood is carbon) will be put away into caves, empty mines and natural faults- thus putting away atmospheric CO2 safely and cheaply for a very long time. After all, thousands of years old similar fossilized trees we use (oil, coal and gas) cause air CO2 to rise. Why not put back some?

    A Chinese saying is “Catastrophe = Opportunity”. Could we not witness the CO2 rise as an opportunity to store some energized Carbon (similar to currency?) for foreseeable future use? Businesses may choose to ‘grow & bury’ calculated numbers of trees each year to compensate for their extra carbon emission need. This plan will help developing countries come to terms with the world’s Carbon Trade agreement where they can even keep the harvest for themselves. The plan allows a proportionate trade between businesses and the earth, which is only apt.

    This act means no offense to tree-lovers, forest-lovers or nature lovers. Only newly grown, purposefully, commercially harvested trees will be used, leaving natural forests alone. Scientists will calculate the numbers of trees required each year and decide types of trees to harvest for total sustainability.

    Desperate time calls for desperate measures. I know this is not ‘The’ solution, but as an Environmental Technologist I believe it has the signature of being a substantial part of it.

    Here I urge all Environmental Action Groups and scientists to commission the plan as good enough to counter any other CO2 reduction plan (if not better), and press world’s policymakers to acknowledge the same so that carbon traders may get this plan as a choice.

    Unique Advantages of the Plan:
    • Fast growing trees assimilate Carbon out of air 4 times more than regular grown up forest trees. More than 2 tons of carbon can be assimilated per acre per year with such trees. It is estimated that 6 million sq. miles of world’s cultivable but not cultivated land can sequestrate 7.8 billion tons of carbon per year whereas total fossil fuel & cement production account for 5.5 billion tons. Yet, this plan is proposed only to be a part solution.

    • Commercially harvesting of fast growing tree means new business throughout the world and support from Nature activists (no antagonism socially).

    • Industries/ businesses may choose to ‘grow & bury’ required No.s of trees (a carbon mass) as direct carbon trade (for the excess carbon emission they may do each year; can be seen as ‘secondary allowance’?). Governments throughout the world can ‘grow & bury’ against their ‘primary allowances’ to businesses/ industries for their ‘right to emit a specific amount’. Direct, proportionate carbon trade between businesses and the earth is seen as the best here. The plan will keep a cap on totally undesirable secondary, tertiary profit-selling of carbon credits in the trade market.

    • Energy cost (financial burden) to execute the plan is minimal. Monitoring is easy.

    • Bigger, fast developing countries who are unwilling to sign an International Carbon Trade Agreement may find this plan most suitable.

    • Same land can be used over and over again to harvest fast growing trees on a 10 -12 year basis (since our cultivable land is limited and we cannot create unlimited forest). The cost to keep the land fertile comes into account.

    • Caves, empty mines, natural faults are there to store huge quantities of logs & chips- without interfering into any other natural & human activity.

    • With Safest & longest storable way and an energy source, the opportunity to use logs when in desperate need is always there (or when sustainable environmental friendly ways of energy extraction from wood will be invented in future).

    • No shortages of micro & macro nutrients needed to harvest such vast quantities of wood.

    • Easily calculable, executable and easy to monitor.

    • Biotechnology may invent trees of even higher CO2 assimilation capacity (harvest can be grown in isolation, no interference with natural progeny).

    Why Policy makers and decision-making, implementation centrally?
    There are influential players in the market who are trying to impose their kind of solutions- defective and costly, which will only benefit them at the expense of everyone’s misery. Do we not find the idea of carbon sequestration through burial of wood is a simple enough & reliable enough idea to propose to the topmost level (UN & World leaders)? Maths are all there; the plan is viable and simple! Only a unified action from a country (or From the World) can make a plan as big as this a success. You will never get it done (forget doing it in time!) disseminating the idea up for grabs at grass-root level. It is the vision, willingness and understanding of the policymakers we need to pursue. Our present vision has ended at growing more trees but cannot dread to think what we are going to do with those trees, especially when we need long-term carbon-sequestration and our arable land is limited?

    We need to focus the world’s vision towards this plan and research along if needed. Each Log/ Wood/ Chip is to be seen as a cell of stored carbon & Energy. And ‘Grow & Bury’ wood in every sense is ‘the single best way’ to put away enough carbon to save our planet. Some would argue (those who see burying wood is a waste), let’s use the wood as energy and bury the char it produces. There could be a debate on it and if found totally sustainable, and does not backstab our primary goal (Long term carbon sequestration) – then by all means let’s do it!

    Let me tell you of a Bangladeshi Multi-million dollar MLM (multi-level marketing) company, the only product of which is tree plantation. About 2.5 million Bangladeshi national invested into it (it is popular!). The company is a lease-holder of thousands of acres of land (giving no heed to social antagonism against its own ideologies & involvements, often misusing legal & poor governmental administrative systems; because the more it grows, further it needs to grow). It plans to grow & sell trees on a 12 year cycle & profit its investors 4 times more then national banks. And it’s getting government support because it’s helping create green!(??) Country basis/ community basis plans as such (one which is bound to economic profit) to grow forests will never work. Our prime goal will have to be long-term CO2 reduction.

    We know what will happen to those trees within a quarter of a century. All may be acting as temporary sequesters today but ultimately will be thrown to the nature as CO2. You do not keep using 10-15 year old wooden furniture/ materials, do you? In good’s disguise this is a bad making worse scenario. What we need is a unified plan from world’s governments keeping the end goal in mind. We are getting rid of harm from 6 billion people- that should be beneficial enough for us. Let’s not complicate the plan with seeking economic gain out of it further.

    A Related Issue:
    Now, so far we taxed the players at the outskirts of the carbon problem (those who are using carbon minerals). What about those who are at the centre; who are producing them? I believe countries unearthing carbon minerals must be ‘environment-taxed’ for the amount they take out yearly. Since the ill-effects of carbon mineral’s use are global and the producers benefit financially at the cost of those ill effects, however necessary the commodity may be, they cannot deny environmental responsibility.

    Since buyer’s demand cause producers to unearth in vast amount; hypothetically, producers could share the proposed environment tax with primary buyers in proportion to their demand. Never the less, there has to be adequate taxation, the amount needed to reverse the incurring ill-effects in the environment.

    Sreeman Mishu Barua, MSc(UK), REHS(USA)
    BaruaEnviro Consultancy,
    Plot: X-50, Block: A,
    Chandgaon R/A,
    4212 CTG,
    +88 (0)31 672678
    +88 (0)183 0183 777

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