Issue Brief

The Climate Has Changed — So Must Policy

Mar 28, 2011 | Raymond J. Kopp

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). However, few would argue the treaty has helped to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As a matter of fact, global emissions of carbon dioxide have increased almost 50 percent in the past 20 years. Given this lack of progress, and a continually changing climate, it seems that the likely path forward will involve integrating climate policy into the broader economic and political considerations of major nations.

In a new RFF Issue Brief, “The Climate Has Changed—So Must Policy,” author Raymond J. Kopp, senior fellow and director of RFF’s Center for Climate and Electricity Policy, explores the evolution of international efforts to formulate global climate policy and speculates about what shape an alternative to the UNFCCC treaty might take.

Reviewing efforts leading up to the UNFCCC (and the Kyoto Protocol)—starting with the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm and ending with the Obama Administration’s continuance of the meetings of the Group of 8—Kopp notes that, “The bulk of global GHG emissions are due to a handful of countries that together must reach a deal, and part of that deal must be acceptable levels of economic growth.”

So what will the path forward look like? Kopp concludes that each country’s economic and political forces will drive, and ultimately determine, its individual commitments. One option would be to develop a “pledge and review” process where each country pledges its climate mitigation actions, and pledges are reviewed (and new pledges are made) at a future date. Countries’ commitments would be inevitably linked because their competitive positions and prospects for economic growth are interrelated.