IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change

13.3.1 Evaluations of existing climate change agreements

In contrast, the more recent publications have devoted considerable attention to the limitations of existing international agreements in addressing the climate change. In fact, there are no authoritative assessments of the UNFCCC or its Kyoto Protocol that assert that these agreements have succeeded – or will succeed without changes – in fully solving the climate problem. As its name implies, the UNFCCC was designed as a broad framework, and the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period for 2008–2012 has been its first detailed step. Both the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol include provisions for further steps as necessary.

A number of limitations and gaps in existing agreements are cited in the literature, namely:

  • The lack of an explicit long-term goal means countries do not have a clear direction for national and international policy (see, for example, Corfee-Morlot and Höhne, 2003);
  • The targets are inadequately stringent (Den Elzen and Meinshausen, 2005, who argue for more stringent targets);
  • The agreements do not engage an adequate complement of countries (see Baumert et al. 1999, who suggest a need to engage developing as well as developed countries, or Bohringer and Welsch 2006, who suggest that with the US withdrawal, the Kyoto Protocol’s effect is reduced to zero);
  • The agreements are too expensive (Pizer, 1999, 2002);
  • The agreements do not have adequately robust compliance provisions (Victor, 2001; Aldy et al., 2003);
  • The agreements do not adequately promote the development and/or transfer of technology (Barrett, 2003);
  • The agreements, as one consequence of failing to solve the problem, do not adequately propose solutions that will facilitate adaption to the forthcoming changes (Muller, 2002).

Reviews of the current agreements take several forms. Some (e.g. Depledge, 2000) provide detailed article-by-article reviews of the existing agreements, seeking to interpret the legal language as well as to provide a better understanding of their historical derivations. In this manner, they offer insight into how future agreements might be developed. Other studies assess the effect of the emission reductions required by the Kyoto Protocol on global GHG concentrations and conclude that although the effect is currently small (Manne and Richels, 1999), it may be large in the future as present-day emission reductions set the stage for future reduction efforts, which would not have happened otherwise (Höhne and Blok, 2006). Some researchers (e.g. Cooper, 2001; Michaelowa et al., 2005a) evaluate the basic underpinnings of the two climate agreements, looking at problems associated with establishing binding targets and differentiating between countries as well as difficulties in operationalizing the concept of emissions markets. These kinds of assessments – by far the most common – not only assess current limitations but usually proceed to put forth counter-arguments, outline improvements that should be made and propose alternative mechanisms for addressing the climate problem. See the following sections for responses and alternatives to solving the climate problem.