Monday, July 30, 2007

Forget the "Kyoto Protocols" and Get Ready for the "Harvard Protocols" to Mitigate the Threat of Climate Change

Great things are expected from great people and Great ideas are expected from great institutions. Harvard is raising the stakes here promising to deliver a new global climate treaty in return for a payment of $750,000 per year. The authors of this new treaty will need to have a subtle understanding of the political economy of interest group competition in each nation. In particular, how do you design an incentive program such that developed nations, developing nations, and poor nations are all willing to sign it? What international enforcement architecture are individual nations willing to expose themselves to?

Harvard To Help Develop New Global Climate Treaty

Aims to develop 'scientifically sound, economically rational, and politically pragmatic' plan

Published On 7/27/2007 12:13:50 AM


Crimson Staff Writer

The University announced a plan earlier this month to help develop a more effective and inclusive international treaty for reducing greenhouse gases following the expiration of the current treaty in 2012.

The plan, called the Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements, will initially be led by professors in the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard Business School, and the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. It is intended to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which began its agreed-upon 15-year existence in 1997.

The new plan will aim to reach a comprehensive and international alternative solution to the global warming problem by drawing on leaders and scholars from a “variety of venues” in science, academia, business, government, and non-governmental organizations, according to the plan’s co-director, Pratt Professor of Business and Government Robert N. Stavins.

“Although it is a Harvard-housed project, we will be working closely with the United Nations in New York, the European Union in Brussels, and the United Nations Foundation in Washington for the planning and execution,” Stavins said. “It is by no means Harvard preaching to the world.”

But the fact that it is a Harvard-based project does have its advantages, including the large resource pool that is the students, according to co-director Joseph E. Aldy, a fellow at Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C. think tank.

“We do recognize that there is a lot of talent, energy and interest among students,” Aldy said. “We hope to engage the student community and have students help work and contribute to the project.”

Aldy is also a former staff member for the President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, specializing in environmental issues.

The Kyoto Protocol is the current international global climate agreement that sets a carbon limit for its 35 participating industrialized countries. It was signed in 1997 under President Bill Clinton and was later rejected in 2001 by President George W. Bush out of concern that it would damage the U.S. economy.

The recently launched Harvard project, if approved, will work to produce a resolution through 2016.

“The Kyoto Protocol can’t just be renewed,” Stavins said. “Our intention with this project is to come up with a scientifically sound, economically rational, and politically pragmatic plan, and the current protocol, most of us would maintain, is none of these.”

To develop a more effective plan, the flaws of the Kyoto Protocol must be addressed, according to Harpel Professor of Capital Formation and Growth Jeffrey A. Frankel. But Frankel also stressed that many of the current protocol’s problems may not have easy remedies.

“There are shortcomings, such as enforceability, but for these there may exist no fully satisfactory solution,” Frankel wrote in an e-mail.

The two-year, $750,000 project grew out of a workshop held by the Harvard Environmental Economics Project last spring, which brought together 27 leading thinkers from around the world in the fields of economics, law, political science, business, international relations, and the natural sciences, according to a press release by the Kennedy School. Together, they developed six possible “alternative architectures” that would eventually help build the post-Kyoto Protocol international agreement.

According to Stavins, the crux of the agreement and its eventual approval lies in its ability to be credible to and include developing countries, namely China and India. Unfortunately, Stavins said, actually realizing this step remains difficult.

“The greatest challenge will be to bring all the countries in the world together, and eventually for them to agree on a particular policy architecture,” he said. “We can’t predict at all what the international deliberations will be like, but they will most certainly be a challenge because of the magnitude of the problem, the significant cost, and the long-term nature of the problem.”

While an international team to expand the project is still in the works, the project already has a solid steering committee composed of Harvard professors, including Frankel, Black Professor of Business Administration Forest L. Reinhardt ’79, and Daniel P. Schrag of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. Former University President Lawrence H. Summers is also part of the steering committee.

—Staff writer Marie C. Kodama can be reached at