A meaningful discussion of international climate policy agreement needs to begin by asking the question, what is the goal of the international agreement? What defines success? One way to answer this question is to view the problem through the eyes of a stylized grouping of experts and stakeholders engaged in the issue: economists, environmental advocates, and technologists. Economists would likely describe the goal as maximizing welfare; that is, setting a global policy that balances expected costs and benefits of mitigation. Environmental advocates, and indeed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), describe a goal of preventing dangerous interference with the climate system. Like the Clean Air Act in the United States, it suggests first consulting the science to establish a safe standard, then following up with a cost-effective (i.e., least-cost strategy) to achieve it. Alternatively, the goal might be described by technologists as the need to develop and deploy climate friendly technology at a global level, without a heavy emphasis on near-term emission reductions.
Such stylized views typically lead to straw-man conclusions about the design of an agreement – agreements that are easily knocked down by practical critiques. Yet considering these straw men can help point us to an alternate, more practical goal. That is, the goal might be to encourage some balance of domestic mitigation and technology development across individual countries in the near term – embracing a fairly wide range of efforts driven by domestic capacity in each nation – while laying the groundwork for a more coordinated international mitigation effort in the future.
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