Report - Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, Belfer Center

Designing the Post-Kyoto Climate Regime: Lessons from the Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements

| November 24, 2008

An Interim Progress Report for the 14th Conference of the Parties, Framework Convention on Climate Change, Poznan, Poland, December 2008


From the Executive Summary:

A way forward is needed for the post-2012 period to address the threat of global climate change. The Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements is an international, multi-year, multi-disciplinary effort to help identify the key design elements of a scientifically sound, economically rational, and politically pragmatic post-2012 international policy architecture. Leading thinkers from academia, private industry, government, and non-governmental organizations around the world have contributed and will continue to contribute to this effort. The foundation for the Project is a book published in September 2007 by Cambridge University Press, Architectures for Agreement: Addressing Global Climate Change in the Post-Kyoto World (Aldy and Stavins 2007). From that starting point, the Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements aims to help forge a broad-based consensus on a potential successor to the Kyoto Protocol. The Project includes 28 research teams operating in Europe, the United States, China, India, Japan, and Australia.

The work of the Project is being carried out in three stages. The first stage featured meetings with key domestic and international policy constituencies to discuss considerations regarding potential successors to Kyoto. The second stage focused on policy analysis and economic modeling to develop a small set of promising policy frameworks and key design elements. In the third stage, Project researchers are exploring key design principles and alternative international policy architectures with domestic and international audiences, including the new administration and Congress in the United States. This interim report identifies some of the key principles, promising policy architectures, and guidelines for essential design elements that have begun to emerge, building upon lessons learned from the 28 research initiatives.

Learning from Kyoto

Among the strengths of the Kyoto Protocol is its inclusion of provisions for market-based approaches — the three so-called flexibility mechanisms. A second feature of the Protocol is that it provides freedom for nations to meet their national targets and commitments in any way they want. Third, the agreement has the appearance of fairness in that it focuses on the wealthiest countries and those most responsible for the current stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, consistent with the principle — first enunciated in the Framework Convention on Climate Change — of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Fourth, the fact that the Protocol was signed by more than 180 countries and subsequently ratified by a sufficient number of Annex I countries to come into force may be taken as an indicator of its political viability.

The weaknesses of the Kyoto Protocol also provide valuable lessons. First, some of the largest emitters are not constrained by Kyoto. The Protocol has not been ratified by the United States, and it does not include emissions targets for some of the largest and most rapidly growing economies in the developing world. Second, a relatively small number of countries are asked to take action, which has resulted in concerns about emissions leakage and competitiveness. Third, the nature of the Protocol's emissions trading elements has caused concern. The provision in Article 17 for international emissions trading among nation-states is unlikely to be effective, if it is utilized at all. And the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is plagued by criticisms that it is crediting projects that would have happened anyway (commonly known as the problem of "additionality"). Fourth, the Kyoto Protocol — with its five year time horizon (2008 to 2012) — represents a relatively short-term approach for what is fundamentally a long-term problem. Finally, the agreement may not provide sufficient incentives for compliance....

For more information on this publication: Please contact Harvard Project on Climate Agreements
For Academic Citation: Aldy, Joseph E. and Robert N. Stavins. “Designing the Post-Kyoto Climate Regime: Lessons from the Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements.” Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, Belfer Center, November 24, 2008.

The Authors

Robert N. Stavins