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Belfer Center: The São Paulo Proposal for an Improved International Climate Agreement

Author: Erik Haites, Margaree Consultants Inc.
January 1, 2010


This publication from Harvard University's Belfer Center addresses the challenges in reaching an effective international climate agreement, particularly the cost and uncertainty associated with renegotiating commitments, and offers several suggestions for improving the effectiveness of international climate agreements.

An effective international climate agreement poses formidable challenges. Existing agreements, naturally, have some good features. Further improvements are being discussed in the current negotiations. But the cost and uncertainty associated with regular renegotiation of commitments is not being addressed. The São Paulo Proposal suggests mechanisms that would avoid the need for regular renegotiation of commitments and suggests other ways to make international climate agreements more effective.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) enjoys almost universal participation. The Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC also enjoys almost universal participation, with the notable exception of the United States. Under the Protocol, thirty-eight developed countries take the lead in combating climate change by accepting national emissions-limitation commitments of greenhouse gases (GHG)1 for the period 2008-2012. The Protocol established three emissions-trading mechanisms2 to help developed countries meet their commitments: two mechanisms for trades between countries with commitments and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which allows developed countries to purchase credits generated by emission-reduction projects in developing countries.

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