International Climate Policy Is in a Global Gridlock

On Wednesday of this week, the G8 leaders failed to unanimously pass a climate bill to mandate a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. The group’s failure to agree is further evidence that international agreements on a global climate change policy are stalling. The cause of the gridlock stems from disagreements among national leaders on primarily two fronts: efficacy and equity. History plays a part as well, as exemplified by Obama’s struggle to overcome the legacy of the Bush administration’s inaction on the climate issue.
As progress towards an international agreement stalls, climate change policy critics are gaining a stronger voice in the debate over the issue. In fact, an international group of academics are now encouraging world leaders to simply abandon their current climate change policies. Instead, the authors advocate for the G8 nations and developing countries to emphasize improvements in energy efficiency and to deploy low-carbon technologies.

The report, entitled “How to Get Climate Policy back on Course,” was published on July 7th as a joint publication from the London School of Economics and the University of Oxford. Ultimately, the report claims that there is evidence that carbon trading schemes such as those executed by Kyoto and proposed by the American Clean Energy and Security Act “have no meaningful effect whatsoever.” Instead, the authors claim that effective policies should be based on strategies that have proven to work in the past and that policies should not be based on untested systems that require the creation of bureaucratic systems for oversight.
While some environmentalists have praised the report for acknowledging a lack of urgency in the political arena’s response to climate change, others have harshly criticized the report, claiming that shifting the focus of current climate negotiations would slow down the negotiation process even further.
Advocates for policy-driven improvements in energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies typically look to Japan as evidence of how emissions reductions can be accomplished without complex trading regimes. Japan’s energy policy model, known as “Mamizu” serves as a model for an approach that is based on goals that can clearly be accomplished without relying on indirect initiatives such as trading schemes.
An international team of researchers led by Princeton academics is proposing another alternative approach, which is considered to be a direct strategy to reduce emissions. The focus of this approach moves away from the traditional emphasis on national emissions and instead, targets a global class of roughly one billion individuals who they claim are responsible for a vast portion of the world’s carbon emissions. This strategy is derived as a means of avoiding the disagreements among nations as to what nation-based targets are fair and effectual. (Ed note: Check out 3P coverage on this study as well.)
Either way, a catalyst is needed to spark forward progress on the talks leading up to the Copenhagen climate conference. As mentioned earlier, one cause of the current gridlock is the issue of equity. Governments are unwilling to agree to ambitious reductions targets because it could mean high costs to their taxpayers and because leaders are afraid of losing market advantages to countries with weaker reductions targets. Typically, countries with weaker targets would be developing economies that don’t have the financial strength to invest in clean technologies to the extent that industrialized nations are able to.
As a result, we now have a political conversation where industrialized nations are seeking equitable reductions targets across all nations as a means of protecting their competitive advantages. Conversely, developing nations argue that they should have weaker targets because per capita, they contribute less GHG emissions and because the industrialized nations have been polluting carbon for longer periods of time. As a result, equity is at the heart of the stalled progress.
Debate over the efficacy of proposed targets is also a central factor in the mired talks as nations differ on what reductions levels will make a meaningful difference in mitigating human-induced climate change.

David received his undergraduate degree in Geographic Information Sciences from James Madison University and completed an M.A. in International Development at Clark University. With over 10 years of experience in the field of environmental sustainability, David has worked for organizations such as Environmental Defense Fund, USDA, USGS and the Smithsonian Institute.Currently, David is a NetImpact member and an MBA candidate at the Presidio School of Management where his research focus is on developing market incentives for investment in environmental sustainability.

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