A Portfolio System of Climate Treaties

Belfer Center, Kennedy School, Harvard University / by Scott Barrett

[Introduction] “Climate change is so fundamental a challenge that it must be addressed from a multiple of perspectives, using a multiple of approaches.

This is a radically different concept from the arrangement developed thus far. The current regime strains to develop a unified approach to addressing climate change. It focuses on net emissions — flows that both add to and subtract from the stock of atmospheric concentrations. Under the Kyoto Protocol, reforestation (which sequesters and therefore removes carbon dioxide or CO2 from the atmosphere) can substitute for abatement (which reduces additions to the atmosphere, relative to “business as usual”); the emissions of different countries can be traded; and reductions in the emission of one gas can offset increases in the emission of another. This approach has one great virtue: it promotes cost-effective abatement.

Unfortunately, this approach has so far failed to address the more important objective, which is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately to stabilize atmospheric concentrations. In this paper I explain why a strategy of breaking up the different sources and types of gases and addressing many of them separately may succeed better at reducing emissions overall….”


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