Science & Tech

Workshop ponders: Post-Kyoto, what next?

3 min read

With the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period expiring in 2012, the Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements hosted a workshop of leading thinkers Friday (March 14) to help determine what comes next.

The workshop brought together key scholars and other thinkers working on international climate change policy from a variety of disciplines, including economics, political science, and law.

Together, they addressed issues such as how to persuade developing countries — among them China and India — to sign on to an international agreement, how to link climate policy with international trade, and how to effectively address deforestation, which accounts for 20 percent of global emissions.

The workshop is part of a larger effort by the Harvard Project to draw on the ideas of key stakeholders — including academics, business, government, and non-governmental organizations — to help inform global climate policy architecture. It’s no small task: Though the Kyoto Protocol tried to forge international consensus, four of the five largest emitters — the United States, China, India, and Russia — either did not ratify the agreement (the United States) or were not required to take on binding requirements (China, India, and Russia).

Even so, most who follow this issue agree that, this time around, all those countries will have to take more aggressive actions.

“We really have to get emissions reductions in developing countries very soon,” said Joe Aldy, co-director of the Harvard Project with Kennedy School Professor Robert N. Stavins, director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program and Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government.

The project is examining ideas that are similar to Kyoto’s top-down approach, though stronger, as well as approaches that are substantially different. Key ideas in play range from indexing emissions targets to economic growth, to bottom-up approaches, such as linking together the actions of a number of countries. One of the project’s key goals is to persuade the countries of the world not only to look at ideas similar to the Kyoto Protocol, but also to look at ideas that are very different in structure.

“At the end of two years, if we help countries of the world be open to better, more progressive policy approaches, we will have succeeded,” Stavins said.

The project’s research agenda closely parallels the world political process. The “Bali Roadmap,” decided at the Conference of the Parties in Bali, Indonesia, in December 2007, lays out a two-year plan toward reaching an agreement in 2009, a similar timetable as the project. The Bali plan calls for long-term efforts to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, increase transfer of clean energy technologies, and address the problems of deforestation — all issues the Harvard Project is addressing.

Researchers come not just from the United States, but also from Europe, India, Japan, and China. The project is also hosting an open paper competition in order to find the best research from around the world.

In addition to academic research, the project contains a strong outreach component. In the past several months, project directors have traveled to Brussels, Bali, Rome, Paris, Warsaw, Tokyo, New York, and Washington, D.C., to solicit ideas and discuss policy options. They also have plans to visit Beijing and Denmark, the site of the 2009 Conference of the Parties.

Sasha Talcott is the director of communications at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.