Discussion Paper

Can an Effective Global Climate TreatyBe Based on Sound Science, RationalEconomics, and Pragmatic Politics?

May 14, 2004 | Robert N. Stavins


The Kyoto Protocol (1997) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change(1992) may come into force without U.S. participation, but its effects on climate change will betrivial. At the same time, the economic and scientific consensus points to the need for a credibleinternational approach. A reasonable starting point is the Framework Convention on ClimateChange (FCCC), which was signed by 161 nations and ratified by 50, including the United States,and entered into force in 1994. In this paper, I remain agnostic on the question of the KyotoProtocol’s viability. Some analysts see the agreement as deeply flawed, while others see it as anacceptable or even excellent first step. But virtually everyone agrees that the Protocol is notsufficient to the overall challenge, and that further, subsequent steps will be required. This is mystarting point for proposing a three-part policy architecture: first, all nations would be involvedthrough the use of economic trigger mechanisms, such as growth targets; second, long-term targetswould be required — in the short-term, firm, but moderate targets, and in the long-term, flexible,but much more stringent targets; and third, market-based policy instruments would be part of thepackage — emissions trading, carbon taxes, or hybrids of the two. This overall approach can bemade to be scientifically sound, economically rational, and politically pragmatic.