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.
The possibility of “no cost” emission reductions has been raised by research on California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. Here is a more sober assessment. Overly optimistic findings leave policymakers with inadequate appreciation of the stakes, and provide little insight into the relative cost of policy design alternatives.