The Collapse of the Kyoto Protocol and the Struggle to Slow Global Warming

The Collapse of the Kyoto Protocol and the Struggle to Slow Global Warming

DAVID G. VICTOR
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7t8pq
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  • Book Info
    The Collapse of the Kyoto Protocol and the Struggle to Slow Global Warming
    Book Description:

    Even as the evidence of global warming mounts, the international response to this serious threat is coming unraveled. The United States has formally withdrawn from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol; other key nations are facing difficulty in meeting their Kyoto commitments; and developing countries face no limit on their emissions of the gases that cause global warming. In this clear and cogent book-reissued in paperback with an afterword that comments on recent events--David Victor explains why the Kyoto Protocol was never likely to become an effective legal instrument. He explores how its collapse offers opportunities to establish a more realistic alternative.

    Global warming continues to dominate environmental news as legislatures worldwide grapple with the process of ratification of the December 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The collapse of the November 2000 conference at the Hague showed clearly how difficult it will be to bring the Kyoto treaty into force. Yet most politicians, policymakers, and analysts hailed it as a vital first step in slowing greenhouse warming. David Victor was not among them.

    Kyoto's fatal flaw, Victor argues, is that it can work only if emissions trading works. The Protocol requires industrialized nations to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases to specific targets. Crucially, the Protocol also provides for so-called "emissions trading," whereby nations could offset the need for rapid cuts in their own emissions by buying emissions credits from other countries. But starting this trading system would require creating emission permits worth two trillion dollars--the largest single invention of assets by voluntary international treaty in world history. Even if it were politically possible to distribute such astronomical sums, the Protocol does not provide for adequate monitoring and enforcement of these new property rights. Nor does it offer an achievable plan for allocating new permits, which would be essential if the system were expanded to include developing countries.

    The collapse of the Kyoto Protocol--which Victor views as inevitable--will provide the political space to rethink strategy. Better alternatives would focus on policies that control emissions, such as emission taxes. Though economically sensible, however, a pure tax approach is impossible to monitor in practice. Thus, the author proposes a hybrid in which governments set targets for both emission quantities and tax levels. This offers the important advantages of both emission trading and taxes without the debilitating drawbacks of each.

    Individuals at all levels of environmental science, economics, public policy, and politics-from students to professionals--and anyone else hoping to participate in the debate over how to slow global warming will want to read this book.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2406-9
    Subjects: Political Science, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Crisis and Opportunity
    (pp. 3-24)

    Worldwide, legislatures are beginning the long process of deciding whether to ratify and implement the December 1997 "Kyoto Protocol." Widely hailed as a first serious step towards slowing greenhouse warming, the protocol requires each industrialized nation to cap its emissions at specific target levels. Those targets apply to the "budget period" of 2008-2012, and the protocol also envisions that nations will agree on caps for future budget periods. Although public pressure to do something about global warming is growing, legislators will weigh the cost of compliance before they ratify the Kyoto deal. One factor will loom large in the debate:...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Kyoto’s Fantasyland: Allocating the Atmosphere
    (pp. 25-54)

    By far the most difficult problem for emission trading is distributing the permits. Nearly all studies on the economics of emission trading have treated the political problem of allocation as the proverbial economist's can opener. Assume an omnibus negotiation that distributes emission permits across 190 countries and several generations. Then wonder at the efficient market that can result. Is the assumption valid?

    The standard critique of trading is that there exists no consensus on what formula can be used to govern the allocation of permits.¹ Emission trading enthusiasts—especially the Clinton Administration, which pushed hardest for emission trading in Kyoto—...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Monitoring and Enforcement
    (pp. 55-74)

    Once permits are allocated, emission trading requires monitoring and enforcement. A permit that allows one ton of C0₂ emission per year might cost approximately $10 to $20 per year.¹ The average American, directly or indirectly, would need permits to cover about 20 tons of emissions annually. Who would purchase such costly permits unless they were sure that a permit was needed to cover every ton?

    Because monitoring and enforcement of international legal obligations are such difficult and perennial problems, one school of legal thinking deserves special attention before we begin. It argues that compliance with international agreements is often high,...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Rethinking and Architecture
    (pp. 75-108)

    When viewed in totality, the challenges to building an effective emission trading system are overwhelming. Those difficulties are multiplied by the Kyoto time frame, which requires that nations agree on essentially all the rules that would govern trading no later than approximately 2001. That will allow time for nations to assess and ratify the Protocol and implement the necessary national policies to direct their economies towards compliance by the 2008-2012 budget period.¹ Even 2001 may be too late for some countries.

    Technically simple solutions to some of Kyoto's troubles are available, but conventional wisdom and the Kyoto agreement itself prevent...

  8. CHAPTER 5 After Kyoto: What Next?
    (pp. 109-116)

    It is perhaps most important for governments and pressure groups to ensure that, when the Kyoto Protocol fails, the public learns that the failure was clue, in large part, to the mechanisms chosen. The problems with Kyoto are not merely a matter of mustering the "political will" to swallow a bitter pill. Rather, Kyoto's troubles originate with its architecture—strict emission targets and trading—which is especially ill suited to the fact that the level ol emissions for the most important greenhouse gases is inherently unpredictable. Policy makers cannot credibly set targets; international law is a poor mechanism for allocating...

  9. APPENDIX The Causes and Effects of Global Warming: A Brief Survey of the Science
    (pp. 117-122)
  10. Afterword
    (pp. 123-144)

    The hardcover edition of this book appeared early in 2001, on the heels of two events that would prove important for the fate of the Kyoto Protocol. One was the sixth session of the Conference of the Parties held in The Hague. COP-6, as it was known, had been billed as the capstone to a long diplomatic process of filling in the details of the Kyoto Protocol. Back in 1997 when diplomats had inked the protocol, they had gone right to the wire—actually a few hours past—just in their efforts to frame the broad contours of the Kyoto...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 145-178)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 179-196)
  13. Index
    (pp. 197-203)