Op-Ed: Defining an Agenda for Global Action

"Defining an Agenda for Global Action"

By Eileen Claussen, Executive Director for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change

Appeared in the Washington Post

November 2, 1998

As the world focuses on this week's meeting in Buenos Aires, it is important to set a global agenda that will spur action and help us meet the aim of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC): stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases at levels that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.

This global agenda should be based on concerted action on three fronts, in the view of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. We need to:

  1. Take Action Now. One of the core beliefs of the Pew Center is that we accept the views of most scientists that enough is known about the science and the environmental impacts of climate change for us to take action to address its consequences. The challenge for our generation is to do this while sustaining a growing world economy. To meet this challenge, the nations of the world must take concrete steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The sooner we begin, the more likely we will be to succeed in meeting the overall goal of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. What is needed is a framework that will encourage companies to act sooner rather than later.

    In the United States, we believe that the appropriate framework is an early action crediting program that will reward companies for actions they take to reduce emissions before the Kyoto Protocol starts providing international credit for emission reductions in 2008. This framework must be delineated by law, be clear and predictable, reward real and verifiable reductions, and be principally but not exclusively based on actions taken here at home.

  2. Develop Market Mechanisms. There is a growing body of evidence that market-based incentives can prompt individuals and companies to take action to protect the environment. These market mechanisms also have been proven successful in spurring technological innovation. As part of the Kyoto Protocol, countries have agreed to use several of these mechanisms in implementing greenhouse gas reductions - from emissions trading to the "clean development" framework that allows industrialized countries to get credit for financing emission-avoiding projects in developing nations.

    What is needed, however, is to go beyond the language of the Kyoto Protocol and to design the rules and operating procedures that will turn its words into reality. Our goal must be to insure that climate-friendly actions make economic sense for companies, and to make sure companies are confident that their actions will be accounted for.
  3. Create a Fair Global Framework. What constitutes a fair response to climate change is the major question underlying many unresolved issues in the global debate on this topic. The "fairness question" drives the levels of commitment of industrialized countries and is a deciding factor in the discussion of developing country participation, the structure of market-based mechanisms, and the nature and magnitude of different countries' financial commitments to the goals of the Protocol.

    We believe that three criteria should be considered in differentiating country obligations. They are: a country's responsibility for emissions that can cause climate change; a country's standard of living (or the ability to pay for efforts to reduce emissions); and a country's opportunity to reduce emissions. Based on these criteria, we can divide countries into three groups: those that must act now; those that should act now, but differently; and those that could act now if it were feasible.

Resolving these three issues is critical to the success of the Kyoto agreement, and it is our hope that they are the focus of the conversations in Buenos Aires and in the international negotiations to come.