I recently wrote about state-level attempts to regulate the greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change. (See my blog of June 14) In an editorial in the New York Times over the weekend, the former US chief negotiator proposed a new approach to addressing these emissions, even if the US can't bring itself to endorse the Kyoto Treaty.
As Mr. Eizenstat and his co-author point out, the Kyoto Treaty only covers the years 2008-12, while climate change is expected to be a major concern for the next century. The Kyoto reductions are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases; something further will be needed in the longer-term. Without some sort of global consensus, this could take the form of a patchwork of competing and conflicting regional, national, and subnational programs. Mr. Eizenstat suggests an intriguing alternative that would put greenhouse gases in the same context as trade issues.
Just as international trade includes groupings such as NAFTA and bilateral arrangements, as well as supranational organizations like the WTO, the mechanisms to address climate change might include the global Framework Convention on Climate Change, as well as useful regional and nation-to-nation agreements. It is easier to imagine the US working within this kind of framework than in a purely Kyoto-centric system, particularly if the current administration is reelected.
But as the editorial rightly points out, there are threshholds below with independent approaches are not as helpful. US companies should be covered by rules that are consistent from coast to coast, rather than having to make their way through fifty different regimes.
This approach also requires some realism. The US is not going to meet its targets under the Kyoto Treaty, even if it were ratified by the Senate tomorrow. We are on a path to exceed that target by as much as a third, and trying to hit it even by the end of the 2012 first monitoring period would bring the economy to its knees. But that does not mean that we cannot be planning how we will get onto a path to greenhouse emissions stabilization and eventual reduction, in line with the other major industrial countries, even if that takes another decade.