NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Time to Rethink Kyoto

May 29, 2002

The Kyoto Protocol for the reduction of greenhouse gases to avoid climate change was unachievable when it was adopted in 1997, according to distinguished economist Thomas Schelling, and more recent negotiations and modifications to the treaty have done nothing to change that. Since the Senate, prior to the Kyoto negotiations, had gone on record as rejecting any treaty that did not include full participation by developing countries, and the Kyoto Protocol did not require such participation, neither President Clinton nor President Bush submitted the treaty to the Senate for ratification.

Schelling notes several flaws with the treaty, including:

  • The emission reduction goals in the treaty are too high for the short-term and few if any developed countries will make the economic sacrifices necessary to meet them.
  • There is no legitimate enforcement regime.
  • The emission reduction goals were set despite there being no consensus concerning what concentration of greenhouse gases would constitute unacceptable damage.
  • The treaty sets unfeasible short-term goals rather than focusing on the reasonable pace of technological change which might actually produce emission reductions over the long-term -- and the problem is a long-term one.

Schelling argues that rather than requiring mandatory emission reduction goals that won't be met or attempting to establish a complex and ultimately unworkable emissions trading scheme, that developing countries "spread the wealth" to get developing nations to reduce their future emissions in the most economically efficient manner. This might take the form of transferring energy efficient technologies to developing countries or funding the building of less polluting power plants in them. He recognizes that such foreign aid might be difficult to sell politically in developed countries but that it would be cheaper and more effective than the solutions proposed in the Kyoto Protocol.

Source: Thomas C. Schelling, "What Makes Sense?; Time to Rethink the Kyoto Protocol," Foreign Affairs, May-June 2002.


Browse more articles on Environment Issues