Confronted with the Challenge of How Best to Address Climate Change in Post-Kyoto World

Confronted with the Challenge of How Best to Address Climate Change in Post-Kyoto World

A Multitrack Climate Treaty System

Scott Barrett, Johns Hopkins University

SUMMARY: Scott Barrett offers a multi-pronged policy approach to address global climate change. He calls for pledges of “appropriate measures” such as emission mitigation actions with subsequent multilateral reviews. Such a pledge and review system would not carry binding consequences for non-compliance, but instead rely on moral suasion and naming and shaming in the international arena. To promote the development and deployment of climate-friendly technologies, Barrett recommends an R&D protocol coupled with a technology standards protocol. In the R&D agreement, countries would contribute funds to a coordinated international R&D program. After the development of new technologies through this R&D program, their deployment would be mandated through international technology standards. International negotiations among at least the largest economies would determine specific technologies that would need to be employed in specific industries. Rich countries should also finance technology transfer to developing countries. Barrett proposes more substantial adaptation assistance for developing countries. The adaptation program should focus on the investment of global public goods for development, such as investments in malaria prevention and control. He also advocates for R&D in various geo-engineering responses as an insurance policy.

PROS: The suite of policy measures advanced by Barrett aim to mitigate the risks of climate change through emission mitigation, adaptation, and geo-engineering. The marginal cost of mitigating climate change risks could be equilibriated among these three types of interventions and lower the cost of a climate change policy relative to a Kyoto-like emission mitigation agreement. Mandating technology standards could yield adoption of climate-friendly technologies through a “tipping treaty” effect – so long as enough countries coordinate on adoption of a given technology, then it will become the de facto world standard. This would effectively secure emission mitigation in countries that would not otherwise take on a quantitative emission commitment.

CONS: Several components of this proposal require developed countries to finance R&D, technology transfer for developing countries, and adaptation assistance. There may not be incentives for these governments to appropriate sufficient funds for these efforts. The technology standards protocol may be difficult to implement through international negotiations on specific technology mandates in specific industries. It may also be much more costly to impose uniform standards across all sources within an industry, relative to more cost-effective cap-and-trade or tax proposals. While geo-engineering may be considered a complimentary, insurance-like measure, some may perceive it instead as a substitute for emission mitigation.