KYOTO’S FOLLY

Of course, Weisbach is adamant that ethics will lead us astray. His prime example comes from a 2004 article in which I noted a surprising consensus among climate ethi- cists that developing nations should not face emissions limits in the “foreseeable future.” Unfortunately, this example strikes me as a red herring.

First, the remark is taken out of context.7 The 2004 piece surveyed the (very small) literature of the 1990s and early 2000s. Back then, discussion focused on the fight to create and implement the Kyoto Protocol. Consequently, the policy-relevant “foreseeable future” was the first commitment period under the UNFCCC, which was negotiated through the 1990s, came into effect in 2004, and expired in 2012. Negotiations are now far beyond this context. From 2005 onwards, the second commitment period was negotiated, culminating in 2009’s Copenhagen Accord, which covers emissions to 2020. Recent negotiations concern a third commitment period, to be agreed in Paris in 2015 and expected to run until 2030 and perhaps beyond.

Second, in negotiations for the first commitment period, the emissions exemption had many advocates, and Weisbach seems sympathetic to their reasons. Proponents not only tended to argue that it was infeasible to impose immediate restrictions on the emerging economies, but that it would be politically necessary for the developed countries, and especially the United States, to demonstrate their seriousness about cuts by going first. Such views explicitly assumed that developing countries would accept cuts in later periods (often post- 2020). Weisbach acknowledges and appears to approve of this strategy.8

Third, ironically, my own position was much more critical. Anticipating Kyoto’s failure, in 2001 and 2004 I argued that “all countries should be explicitly included in the regime,” that “combating climate change requires full cooperation of at least all countries of significant size, including the United States, China, and India,” that “costs must be borne by almost everyone,” and climate policy should be linked to other global cooperative ventures, such as trade.9 Consequently, I rejected the Kyoto approach, calling it a “dangerous illusion” predictable within the perfect moral storm.

Moreover, whereas Weisbach takes Kyoto to be flawed because of a preoccupation with justice, I agreed with those critics interpreting it as dominated by concerns for efficiency and a “two-track” approach, elements Weisbach continues to argue are central to future success. More broadly, his account sits awkwardly with the irony expressed by many negotiators, that ultimately “the [Kyoto] system is made in America, and the Americans aren’t part of it.”10

 
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