UN Climate Talks and the Power Politics: It's Not about the Temperature

Chairman Rohrabacher, Ranking member Carnahan, and members of the committee:

I will begin with my contentious conclusion, which is that the international diplomacy of climate change is the most implausible and unpromising initiative since the disarmament talks of the 1930s, and for many of the same reasons; that the Kyoto Protocol and its progeny are the climate diplomacy equivalent of the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 that promised to end war (a treaty that is still on the books, by the way), and finally, that future historians are going to look back on this whole period as the climate policy equivalent of wage and price controls to fight inflation in the 1970s.

The diplomatic approach—the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC)—first set in motion formally at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 has reached a dead end. I think the dead end of what might be called "first generation climate diplomacy" was tacitly on view at the last major climate summit in Cancun a few months ago. It is important to understand the deeper reasons why if we are going to chart a new course on climate that has a better chance of making real progress.

When the issue of climate change came to the fore in the late 1980s, the diplomatic community approached it in a way that seemed eminently sensible on the surface: what diplomatic frameworks have worked before for similar kinds of global problems? In other words, diplomats reached for what was on the shelf. There were basically three models for problems of global reach that had shown varying degrees of success: the arms control and anti-proliferation regimes; the long-running and painstaking trade liberalization process; and third and perhaps most applicable, the Montreal Protocol that facilitated the organized phase out of chloroflourocarbons. The last two, especially the Montreal Protocol, are the precedents that former Vice President Gore liked to cite as reasons for his support and enthusiasm for the Kyoto Protocol. And on the surface the comparative logic seems plausible: if we can reach a binding and enforceable agreement to phase out chloroflourocarbons, why not a similarly-structured agreement to phase out hydrocarbons?

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Steven F. Hayward is the F.K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow at AEI.

 

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About the Author

 

Steven F.
Hayward
  • Steven F. Hayward was previously the F.K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow at AEI. He is the author of the Almanac of Environmental Trends, and the author of many books on environmental topics. He has written biographies of Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and of Winston Churchill, and the upcoming book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Presidents. He contributed to AEI's Energy and Environment Outlook series. 

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