New Paper Highlights Opportunity for a New and Improved International Climate Change Agreement

August 30, 2012
by Doug Gavel

CAMBRIDGE, MA -- The challenges standing in the way of an effective international climate change agreement are many, but the prospects for a meaningful deal may be better now than in the past decade or more. That is the prevailing theme in a new research paper co-authored by Harvard Kennedy School Professors Joseph Aldy and Robert Stavins, published in the August 31 edition of Science.

"The 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) launched a process to confront risks posed by global climate change. It has led to a dichotomy between countries with serious emission-reduction responsibilities and others with no responsibilities whatsoever," the authors argue. "This has prevented progress, but recent talks suggest the prospect for a better way forward and an openness to outside-the box thinking."

Aldy and Stavins argue that both scholars and practitioners have a unique opportunity over the near term to build upon the momentum achieved at recent Conference of the Parties (COPs) meetings to help lay the foundation for a comprehensive climate-policy regime by 2020. The trigger for such a regime, the authors contend, may lie in the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (DPEA), an agreement reached in Durban, South Africa, at the 17th COP meetings last December, outlining a plan for eliminating key distinctions between developed and developing nations, while remaining true to the principles laid out in the over-arching United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

"The outcome of the Durban negotiations has increased the likelihood that a sound foundation for meaningful long-term action can be developed. With the DPEA, there is a mandate for change. Governments around the world need fresh ideas, and they need those ideas over the next 2 to 3 years. Indeed, they have begun to solicit such ideas as the negotiators begin to frame the implementation of the DPEA," Aldy and Stavins write.

"This is a time for innovative proposals for future international climate-policy architecture, not for incremental adjustments to the old pathway," the authors conclude. "We hope this call will be heard by researchers in universities, think tanks, and advocacy groups around the world."

Joseph E. Aldy is an assistant professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School. His research focuses on climate change policy, energy policy, and mortality risk valuation. In 2009-10, he served as the Special Assistant to the President for Energy and the Environment, reporting through both the National Economic Council and the Office of Energy and Climate Change at the White House.

Robert N. Stavins is Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government, and Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. He is a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, a University Fellow of Resources for the Future, and former Chair of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Economics Advisory Board.

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Photo of Joseph Aldy

Assistant Professor Joseph Aldy

"The outcome of the Durban negotiations has increased the likelihood that a sound foundation for meaningful long-term action can be developed. With the DPEA, there is a mandate for change. Governments around the world need fresh ideas, and they need those ideas over the next 2 to 3 years. Indeed, they have begun to solicit such ideas as the negotiators begin to frame the implementation of the DPEA," Aldy and Stavins write.

Photograph of Professor Robert Stavins

Robert Stavins, Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government