It is exceptionally challenging to conclude a comprehensive and effective multilateral agreement to address global climate change among nations with divergent interests. This is true for many international issues. However, largely because any domestic policy or set of policies to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (whether intended to implement an international agreement or not) extend so deeply into the economic fabric of a nation, climate change negotiations have proven to be exceptionally difficult. The Fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-15) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reinforced doubts about whether the UNFCCC should continue to be the primary institutional venue for global climate change negotiations. This issue brief assesses some other institutions that might serve to supplement or partially replace the UNFCCC.
We describe three essential elements of an effective post-2012 international global climate policy architecture: a means to ensure that key industrialized and developing nations are involved in differentiated but meaningful ways; an emphasis on an extended time path of targets; and inclusion of flexible market-based policy instruments to keep costs down and facilitate international equity. This architecture is consistent with fundamental aspects of the science, economics, and politics of global climate change; addresses specific shortcomings of the Kyoto Protocol; and builds upon the foundation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
International negotiations are focused on developing a climate policy framework for the post-2012 period, when the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period will have ended. In addition to negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), other intergovernmental outlets, including the G20 and the Major Economies Forum, are trying to reach common ground among the world's major emitters of greenhouse gases. To date, these efforts have not produced a politically, economically, and environmentally viable structure for a future climate agreement. An effective, but more flexible and politically palatable approach could be an international agreement on a "portfolio of domestic commitments." Under such an agreement, nations would agree to honor commitments to greenhouse gas emission reductions laid out in their own domestic laws and regulations. A portfolio of commitments may emerge from a global meeting such as the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties, or a smaller number of major economies could negotiate an agreement among themselves, and then invite other countries to join. Despite the obvious differences between such a system and the conventional "targets and timetables" in the Kyoto Protocol, negotiators should not dismiss this new approach out of hand. There are several ways to construct a portfolio of domestic commitments, and negotiators have numerous levers available to tailor an agreement to meet their political, economic, and environmental goals. This Viewpoint outlines some basic features of a portfolio approach, highlights a few major issues and concerns, and discusses the potential feasibility of this approach.