Global Climate Policy: An Agenda For Effective Action

Climate Policy A New Agenda (pdf), by Stephen Stretton


 “Rules must be binding; Violations must be punished; Words must mean something.”

(US President Barack Obama)

The negotiations currently taking place at Copenhagen at the fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-15) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) aim at the fundamental objective of the UNFCCC, namely to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at non-dangerous levels. It is argued that the existing institutional tools at our disposal – international treaties and in particular the Kyoto protocol – are insufficient to achieve this goal. Furthermore, the framework put in place at Kyoto suffers multiple and fundamental flaws which fatally undermine its effectiveness; any new treaty must have a structure which mostly evades these flaws if it is to be effective. Treaties, legal structures, and other institutions more commensurate with the scale of the climate change challenge are suggested to inform discussions around the structure of any future climate agreement. An agenda for effective global action is outlined here:

  1. Strong global institutions – e.g. a world environmental agency – including an agreed framework (such as coordinated carbon taxes) for collective policy, to replace national commitments.

  2. A framework action plan to eliminate carbon emissions sector-by-sector, region-by-region, over the next two to three decades. In particular a plan to develop, transfer and deploy the safe, responsible, and very large-scale use of enhanced energy efficiency, renewable-electric, nuclear, and carbon capture and storage energy technologies; and to encourage responsible land use and agriculture, including the sustainable use of water1.

  3. A significant ($100-$200/tCO2e), sectorally complete, substantially geographically complete, agreed, and guaranteed minimum carbon price, levied upstream at the national level (including embodied carbon from any regions not otherwise carbon-constrained), with revenues used at national discretion. It is possible that a carbon tax may have net economic benefits at the national level if used to replace taxes with higher ‘deadweight’ costs. The removal of fossil fuel subsidies has already been agreed as part of the Kyoto protocol, but has not been fully implemented.

  4. A plan to protect forests and other natural carbon stores.

  5. A plan to keep high carbon fuels in the ground (following Hansen et al. 2008).

  6. An enabling framework for enforceable state-corporation climate contracts (e.g. guaranteeing the carbon price for investors) (Ismer & Neuhoff 2006).

  7. An enabling framework for the use of trade sanctions to enforce state-state climate commitments, such as border tax adjustments (Ismer & Neuhoff 2007).

  8. Unimpeachable monitoring and verification of all commitments.