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Robert Stavins


A Challenge for Climate Negotiators, and an Opportunity for Scholars

Posted: 09/04/2012 8:14 pm

As I have written in many previous essays at this blog, the challenges standing in the way of an effective international climate change agreement are numerous and severe. It is also true that the prospects for a truly meaningful deal may be better now than at any time in the past decade or more. That is the theme of a new article I've co-authored with my Harvard Kennedy School colleague, Joseph Aldy. The article, "Climate Negotiators Create an Opportunity for Scholars," was published in the August 31st edition of Science.

Changes emerged gradually from the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in 2009, the Copenhagen Accord (2009), the Cancun Agreements (2010), and — most important — the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (2011). Together these have now increased the likelihood that the ongoing negotiations can move beyond the debilitating Annex I/non–Annex I dichotomy of the Berlin Mandate (1995), as codified in the Kyoto Protocol (1997); and instead develop a comprehensive legal regime for implementation in 2020 that includes all key countries, based upon a more nuanced and effective interpretation of the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities" from the original United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, 1992).

In our Science article, Joe Aldy and I trace this history and describe several potential international climate policy architectures that could be consistent with the process and principles laid out in both the Durban Platform and the UNFCCC. Our article is very brief, and so rather than trying to summarize it here, I encourage you to follow this link to read the essay in its entirety.

The negotiating teams are now tasked under the Durban Platform with identifying a new comprehensive policy architecture by 2015 (for 2020 implementation). The negotiators are therefore hungry for new ideas, in particular for outside-the-box thinking. This presents an important opportunity for researchers in universities, think tanks, and advocacy groups around the world.