In this column for National Journal I argue that (supposedly) binding quantity caps for GHG emissions are not the most productive way to co-operate on climate change. Converging on a gradually rising carbon price would get better results.
We need a form of cooperation that economizes on momentous international treaties and cross-border obligations — which are difficult to frame in the first place and impossible to enforce once they exist. Instead, we need policies that can be sold to voters country by country, and that conform to a broad international effort, instead of seeming to be dictated by multinational (i.e., other people’s) goals.
Curbing global warming does need to be an international effort — because it is the stock of global gases that drives the process. There is no point in one country cutting its emissions if others do not. But this does not mean that a Kyoto-type approach — a global treaty specifying exact binding limits on emissions, regardless of the consequences — is the way to go. The difficulties in that method are obvious and have been amply demonstrated.
For one thing, achieving equity across countries is difficult. In setting hard targets, allowance has to be made for the fact that poor countries such as India and China emit less per capita than the United States. But how? Putting the political focus on questions like that, and trying to answer them once and for all at events like the Copenhagen conference — then holding the entire process hostage to the answers — is not the way to get things done.