Climate

If the world is very far from a 'global' regime for energy, significant progress has been made in creating the framework for managing climate change. Moreover, just as at other levels of policy, that framework may facilitate a more coherent approach to energy issues in terms of managing supply and demand, encouraging technological innovation and addressing equity and development concerns. Even so, while there is the potential for global action and some of the mechanisms are in place, the commitment of the international community to follow-up on what it has agreed is less robust. Ironically, the other priorities of energy policy (supply security from existing energy sources, whatever their adverse impact on the climate) and economic policy, more generally economic growth, may work against effective implementation. It is clear that for many countries, the attractions of using large domestic reserves of relatively cheap coal are likely to take priority over the consequences of using such resources in terms of carbon emissions.

The success seen in setting the terms of an agreement to address climate change is probably due to a relatively well established interest in addressing environmental problems at the global level. The environment has been a focus for international agreements for many decades but it has been particularly the case since the 1970s. The 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Environment was a response to growing concerns about a wide range of environmental problems, and was the catalyst for a more concerted multilateral approach. The UN Environment Programme was launched in the wake of Stockholm, and work on a variety of conventions also accelerated. Subsequently, concerns about how to reconcile the environment and economy intensified. In 1987, a UN sponsored Commission on Environment and Development highlighted the global importance of sustainable development and paved the way for the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development at Rio (Greene, 2004; Chasek et al., 2006; Strong, 2003).

While the 'sustainable development' debate was concerned with a wide range of economic-environmental interactions, climate change rapidly emerged as one of the most serious manifestations of how energy intensive development could affect the global environment. The Rio Summit saw the signing of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), setting out the general objectives of how the international community would address global warming. However, it made few commitments beyond a non-binding objective of reducing emissions of GHGs and setting the industrialised countries the goal of stabilising emissions at 1990 levels by 2000. A follow-up protocol agreed at Kyoto in 1997 set the commitment for industrialised countries of reducing GHG emissions by an average of 5.2 per cent over the period 2008-12 (the EU's commitment was eight per cent relative to 1990 levels). The protocol also outlined a series of additional 'flexibility' mechanisms to facilitate meeting these objectives, notably emissions trading (Grubb et al., 1999).

The Kyoto Protocol only entered into force in 2005 once ratification had met the set requirements (at least 55 countries responsible for at least 55 per cent of industrialised countries' emissions). However some countries, most notably the US, have yet to ratify the protocol or to make any commitment to reduce their emissions along even the modest lines envisaged in the agreement negotiations on climate change continue, but the failure to engage all the major emitters in even the modest reductions envisaged by Kyoto does not set a particularly promising precedent (Depledge, 2006).

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