International Climate Efforts Beyond 2012: A Survey of Approaches

With the prospect of new climate negotiations starting in 2005, experts, stakeholders, and governments have begun to assess a range of options for advancing the international climate change effort beyond 2012. This paper offers a broad survey of alternative approaches proposed thus far.

While not fully comprehensive, this survey encompasses more than 40 proposals either published or publicly presented in recent years. Section I provides an overview of core issues in designing and negotiating future international climate efforts. Section II suggests criteria that could be used in assessing alternative approaches. Section III describes how the different proposals seek to address the core issues identified earlier. Section IV provides summaries of each proposal, in alphabetical order. (In some cases, titles are the proponent’s original. Others have been assigned for ease of description.)

Any proposal for advancing the international climate effort comes against the backdrop of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol. The 1992 Framework Convention, ratified by 189 nations, establishes the basic structure of the existing climate change regime. This includes: the ultimate objective of stabilizing greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations at safe levels; general principles such as precaution, cost-effectiveness, and common but differentiated responsibilities; obligations to report on GHG emissions and national measures to combat climate change; and commitments for assistance and technology transfer to developing countries. The Kyoto Protocol sets forth quantitative commitments by developed countries to reduce their GHG emissions. These commitments take the form of absolute emissions targets, applicable to a basket of six greenhouse gases for a five-year commitment period. The Protocol employs market mechanisms such as emissions trading and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and allows parties to achieve their target in part through sinks activities such as reforestation and forest management.

Some of the proposals considered here build on the basic architecture of Kyoto—for example, by extending the CDM or by articulating a pathway towards broader participation. Others depart by varying degrees from the existing architecture—for example, by articulating a different type of commitment (policies and measures rather than quantitative emissions targets); a different negotiating process (national pledges rather than internationally-negotiated commitments); or a different forum (a smaller group of countries rather than a global process).

The proposals differ widely in their scope. Some are comprehensive in nature, setting forth a complete picture of a possible future regime. Others address a particular issue in the negotiations—for example, the type of emissions target that should be used or the criteria for differentiating commitments. Although this paper does not explore ways in which different proposals might be combined, it is important to recognize that, to the extent different proposals address different issues, they could be complementary rather than mutually exclusive.