We stand at an unusual junction in climate policy. New national and international climate policies are widely expected. Congress is likely to enact some national limit on greenhouse-gas emissions in 2009 or 2010; international negotiators are intent on completing work in 2009 on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which is due to expire in 2012. Among environmental advocates, there is a sense that action is at hand at last. Momentum toward more ambitious national and international action has never been higher--yet success seems as far from our grasp as ever.
Policymakers have struggled to find ways to curtail greenhouse-gas emissions for twenty years, with little to show for their efforts. The Kyoto Protocol has had a negligible effect on global emissions--its targets were unpalatable for the United States, undemanding for energy-inefficient Russia, and impractical for the many countries that are missing them, while also being far too modest to have a meaningful effect on warming--yet the world seems more intent on replicating Kyoto’s failures than on learning from them. Policymakers are eager to take more aggressive action to cut emissions, but there is as much reason as ever to doubt the prospects for success, given the scale and speed of the reductions that would be needed, according to many scientists, to prevent significant warming.
Samuel Thernstrom is a resident fellow at AEI, director of the AEI Press,
and codirector of AEI's geoengineering project. This chapter is featured in Controversies in Globalization: Contending Approaches to International Relations, edited by Peter M. Haas, John A. Hird, and Beth McBratney (CQ Press, 2009).