Science & Tech

Harvard launches major initiative to help design international climate agreements

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Project will aid development of a successor to the Kyoto Protocol

Harvard University announced in early July a two-year project to help identify key design elements of a future international agreement on climate change, drawing on the ideas of leading thinkers from academia, private industry, government, and advocacy organizations, both in the industrialized world and in developing countries.

The initiative, called the Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements, aims to help develop a “scientifically sound, economically rational, and politically pragmatic” plan to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, the current global climate agreement whose first commitment period ends in 2012. The project is funded by a $750,000 grant from the Climate Change Initiative of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and is a joint effort between the University-wide Harvard Environmental Economics Program and the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, both housed within the Kennedy School of Government.

The project stems from a workshop last year hosted by the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, which brought together 27 leading thinkers from around the world from economics, law, political science, business, international relations, and the natural sciences. Together, they developed and refined six policy frameworks — each an idea that could form the backbone of a new international agreement. These range from a stronger version of the Kyoto Protocol to entirely new recommendations.

The six plans are the subject of a forthcoming book, “Architectures for Agreement: Addressing Global Climate Change in the Post-Kyoto World,” which Cambridge University Press will publish this fall. The book forms the underpinnings of the first phase of the project. Its co-editors — Harvard Professor Robert Stavins and Joseph Aldy, a fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Resources for the Future, an environment and energy research group — also are the leaders of the project.

The project consists of three stages: (1) Discuss among key domestic and international policy constituencies the proposition that the nations of the world ought to explore alternatives to Kyoto. (2) Conduct economic modeling and policy analysis to develop a small set of promising policy frameworks and key design elements. (3) Explore the key design principles and alternative international policy architectures with domestic and international audiences, including the new U.S. administration and Congress in spring 2009.

Stage One (July to December 2007): Establishment of the legitimacy of considering alternative policy agreements

The first stage features wide-ranging and inclusive discussion of all six proposed alternatives, as well as others not addressed in “Architectures for Agreement,” including meetings with Congress and congressional staff, the European Union (Brussels), news media, business, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and academics. This will lead up to the most important event in Stage One, a “sidebar session” at the Conference of the Parties of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, scheduled to take place in Bali, Indonesia, Dec. 3-14. Representatives of every country in the world, including the climate negotiation delegations, will be present, as well as representatives of major NGOs, trade associations, and businesses.

Stage Two (December 2007 to August 2008): Development of key design principles and post-Kyoto frameworks

The second stage consists of the development of a small menu of promising frameworks and key design principles, based on analysis by leading academics from a variety of disciplines — including contributions from economists, political scientists, legal scholars, and experts in international relations — as well as commentary from leading practitioners from NGOs, private industry, and government. In this stage, all proposed architectures will be subject to rigorous economic analysis, including modeling, to determine their potential effects on economies of countries that sign on. Also included will be political analysis of the implications of alternative approaches, and legal examinations of the feasibility of respective proposals.

There are no constraints for what may emerge from Stage One or from the analytical and deliberative process of Stage Two. Anything is possible — from highly centralized Kyoto-like architectures for all countries, to proposals that are outside of the context of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, such as proposals for G8+5 or G20 agreements. This phase of the project will yield a wide range of technical and policy papers by various contributing authors.

Stage Three (September 2008 to June 2009): Discussion and dissemination of post-Kyoto frameworks and design principles

The third stage features discussion of the recommendations regarding key design elements and the most promising international policy architectures with domestic and international audiences. This includes meetings with Congress and congressional staff, the news media, the European Union, the United Nations, developing countries, and NGOs. Following the November 2008 U.S. election, the project will seek a forum with the environmental and foreign policy advisers of the president-elect’s transition team to brief them on the work that has emerged from the project, including the alternative frameworks and design principles. These meetings with Congress and the administration are intended as educational; the project and its principals will not engage in any lobbying activities.

This will lead up to the penultimate element of Stage Three, a sidebar session at the 2008 Conference of the Parties of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is likely to take place in Europe. The sidebar session will feature further exploration of international climate policy proposals identified through analysis and modeling in Stage Two. In the winter and spring of 2009, the project will also consult with the new presidential administration and Congress in the United States regarding international post-Kyoto policy frameworks.