Protocol negotiating difficulties
Protocols to the Convention that deal with carbon dioxide, methane and other
greenhouse gases must address and resolve much more difficult and complex issues
than the Vienna Convention that covers ozone depleting gases. Relative to ozone
depleting gases, for example, these gases are far more integral to lifestyles.
Take, for example, methane emitting rice paddies in Indonesia, carbon dioxide
spewing automobiles in cities such as Melbourne, or slash and burn agriculture
in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Moreover, the number of producers and
consumers of these greenhouse gases is far greater than was the case for ozone
destroying gases which created a trading cartel devoted to eliminating its major
product. In comparison, climate change presents many novel negotiating
difficulties to the international community (see Table 1.1) which have not been
overcome in the Convention.
First, free riding on a greenhouse gas reduction regime is likely and
attractive at all levels of human society - international, regional, national,
and local. Second, a successful agreement will be based on measures that are in
national self-interest, are normatively self-policing or are economically
selfregulating. Third, greenhouse polluters are separated in time
(crossgenerationally) and space (due to global mixing rates relative to mean
residence time of greenhouse gases) so that liability is difficult to determine.
Fifth, responsibility is clouded further by uneven regional climate impacts.
Sixth, institutional change within states to implement greenhouse reductions
will also be major compared with those entailed by past environmental
Finally, the economic costs of reducing greenhouse gases may be large,
concentrated on existing interests at the national or subnational level, and may
involve restrictions on existing resources rather than the allocation of new
resources as in the Law of the Seas negotiations. These costs are given a great
deal of attention in this book due to their importance in determining who should
pay what to whom in a global greenhouse regime (see Chapters 5-13).
Table 1.1 Greenhouse gas negotiating novelties
1 The atmosphere is a true global commons precluding appropriation
dispersed users of the atmosphere and the huge number of dispersed sources of
GHGs mean that:
monitoring is difficult
free riding is easy
self-policing is based on selfinterest
3 Liability for damages is difficult to allocate
4 There are big costs
now, potent blocking coalitions versus uncertain benefits later, weak promoting
5 There are unconventional negotiating axes
6 Discounting of
GHG damage is controversial
7 Prudence may delay validation of models
There is uncertainty about the benefits of GHG abatement due to frequent' rapid,
and unforseeable changes in scientific assessment of climate change
Treatment of sinks 10 GHG equivalencies are controversial; GHGs are largely
GHG: greenhouse gases
Admittedly, the economic benefits of curtailing greenhouse gases may be also
large because damages from climate change may be immense. But the realization of
the benefits of avoiding climate change is uncertain, will likely come later
rather than sooner, and will be distributed diffusely. Moreover, the benefits of
using current emissions are widespread; and stakeholders in the status quo are
well organized and powerful.
As was evident in the negotiations leading up to the Climate Change
Convention (see Chapter 14), the size and ranking of greenhouse gas polluters
(depending on how emissions are measured) cut across virtually all prior axes of
interstate negotiation on security, economic, or environmental grounds. Simple
targets make little sense as the energy intensities of economies vary
internationally by an order of magnitude. Other simple criteria such as
population, per capita GDP, fuel mix, energy reserves, and industrial patterns
greatly complicate emission reduction or energy efficiency targets.
Determining the net emissions of greenhouse gases is also more difficult than
for ozone depleting gases. Ozone depleting gases come from a relatively small
number of human sources, and the gases remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of
years before they decompose. In contrast, the major greenhouse gases have large
natural sources and sinks, and have much shorter lifetimes in the atmosphere.
States may claim that nationally controlled sinks for greenhouse gases should be
subtracted from national emissions of greenhouse gases in determining emission
quotas. Others may object strongly on grounds of scientific uncertainty (nearly
a quarter of the carbon sink is currently unexplained by scientific models) or
to the allocation of sink property rights. The concept of sink itself is a
shifting sand on which to base target emissions and allocations (see Chapter 2).
The IPCC has already produced an index of heating equivalence across
greenhouse gases and normalized to carbon dioxide, as was done in the Montreal
Protocol across ozone depleting gases. However, many of the ozone depleting
gases were close technical substitutes. It may be more difficult to apply the
scientific equivalencies that might be used to evaluate control activities
within an overall weighted emission quota for greenhouse gases than it was in
the Montreal Protocol. Either a CO2-only or a separated, gas-by-gas
protocol is therefore more likely under the Convention than an integrated,
multiple-gas protocol implied by the ozone precedent.
Faced with such vast uncertainty, many scientists suggest that a 'no regrets'
policy should be implemented now by incurring short run costs of emission
reduction in anticipation of uncertain, long-run benefits. Incontrovertible
validation of scientific simulations of climate change may not be available
until (if the models are right) massive climate change may be irreversible. By
reducing climate change, prudent behaviour now may deny positive evidence that
the scientific models were correct. Relatedly, frequent, rapid, and
unforeseeable changes may occur in scientific assessments of climate change,
making negotiations on protocols to the Convention crisis-ridden and fraught
In this book, the authors explore the implications of a 'no regress' policy
in which emissions-reduction measures are chosen along a 'least-cost' pathway.
These measures consist of energy efficiency projects and other actions that will
have many other benefits even if present climate change concerns should turn out
to be unwarranted. This policy option entails radical reductions in carbon
emissions to about 50-60 per cent less than those in 1990. This stringent
reduction goal therefore poses an unambiguous and measurable challenge to
today's decision makers that must be met if they are to fulfil their obligations
to future generations.