"Getting It Right: Climate Change Problem Demands Thoughtful Solutions"
By Eileen Claussen, Executive Director for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Appeared in the Washington Post
November 14, 2000
Many of the government officials gathering this month for the climate change negotiations in The Hague are hoping to put the finishing touches on rules to implement the Kyoto Protocol. But getting those rules right is more important than getting them all completed.
Still unresolved on the eve of the meeting are a range of very complicated political and technical issues that will play a decisive role in determining whether we achieve our goal of stabilizing the earth's climate system. It is not a stretch to say that how we decide these issues will determine how we are judged by future generations.
Decision-makers in The Hague should remember that the Kyoto Protocol was designed as both a first step in reducing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and as a framework for long-term, cost-effective action. In other words, this is a treaty that will have to stand the test of time. Short-term political considerations-including the desire to resolve all remaining issues this year-should therefore take a backseat to the goal of creating a global system that is transparent, fair, environmentally effective, economically efficient, and as simple as possible.
The Remaining Issues
Four key sets of issues remain in play as the negotiators come together:
As if resolving these immediate questions were not enough of a challenge, everyone concerned with this issue must also give serious thought to the future. After all, the 2008-2012 deadline for achieving the first round of emissions reductions under the Kyoto Protocol is fast approaching. And, even if these initial targets are met (an unlikely prospect), they represent only a first step toward the sustained and significant reductions in emissions that will be necessary to reduce the threat of climate change throughout the 21st century.
A crucial issue for the future, then, is to think about what kind of targets we will have to establish in the years after 2012. At the same time, we need to think about how to involve developing countries in these future global efforts in a more active way. Developing countries are struggling to lift their people to a higher standard of living, and doing so will mean absolute increases in energy use and emissions.
We will accomplish very little, if anything, by requiring developing countries to achieve short-term emissions reductions. The better approach is to craft an equitable and effective framework for future targets for all countries, bearing in mind that we face a common challenge: maximizing the environmental benefits we are able to achieve while minimizing the costs of reducing and limiting our emissions.
Meeting the challenge of global climate change calls for no less than a second industrial revolution. We need to promote new technologies and new investments that will put the entire world on a path to clean economic development. And, in creating the global legal framework to make this happen, we need to make absolutely certain that we get it right.