With the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) having concluded less than two months ago in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, this is a good time to step back, and reflect on the history and evolution of these annual international negotiations, which began with COP1 in Berlin in March of 1995, following on the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. To do this, there’s no one I know who is better positioned to provide such perspective than Daniel Bodansky, the Regents’ Professor of Law at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. This is included in the latest episode of “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program,” a podcast produced by the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. I hope you will listen to the complete interview and conversation here.
Bodansky, who served as Climate Change Coordinator for the U.S. State Department during the Clinton Administration, is the author of the 2010 book, Art & Craft of International Environmental Law. Note that a second edition of the book will be published later this year by Oxford University Press.
Dan says that the 2015 Paris Agreement was a promising step forward, but domestic political concerns have subsequently hindered international efforts to achieve meaningful action on climate policy.
“There’s … been an inability to really come up with a structure that everybody is on board with sufficiently, [so] that we can move from negotiations to an implementation phase. And I think that’s because the climate change issue is just a much, much bigger issue [than other environmental problems] in terms of its implications for a country’s economy, for the entire way it’s organized domestically, because virtually everything contributes to climate change. Virtually everything is affected by climate change. So, it has just a much, much, much bigger impact on a country’s domestic policies.”
Bodansky remarks that he considers himself “realistic” when contemplating the future of climate policy.
“I think that there has been progress, but it’s not nearly enough. I guess I’m doubtful that the Paris Agreement will be able to deliver on its expectation or hope of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees,” he says. “That’s why I’m actually quite interested in some of the other kinds of policies that might be able to be used to address climate change, including things like carbon dioxide removal, trying to reflect sunlight from the earth, because I think we may ultimately need them to avert catastrophic climate change. I hope that the Paris Agreement is enough, but I wouldn’t want to bet on it. So, I think we also need to be thinking about if it’s not enough, what are the other options that we could potentially try to use?”
Dan notes that climate clubs, in which countries voluntarily cooperate to combat the problem of “free riders,” could be an additional tool to slow the spread of global warming, but they too have their limits.
“I think if countries want to go further than other countries, then carbon border adjustments can be important in trying to protect their position to prevent carbon leakage to countries with weaker standards. But I think ultimately the carbon clubs aren’t going to be enough, because the biggest emitter right now is China,” he says, intimating that the world’s most populous country isn’t likely to participate.
Daniel Bodansky, Coral Davenport, Zou Ji, and Robert Stavins participate in a Harvard University Forum Event in November 2015 focusing on that year’s Conference of the Parties in Paris.
Bodansky expresses optimism, however, that the youth climate movements taking place in many parts of the world will help keep the pressure on policymakers to take action.
“One of the functions of the climate conferences like the one that wrapped up in Sharm El-Sheikh in November is to focus attention on the issue, and put pressure on countries and leaders to do more to deal with the question. And so, I think the youth movement is an important part of that equation of trying to motivate countries to do more both at the international level and … also within the domestic political scene,” he says.
I encourage you to listen to this 43rd episode of the Environmental Insights series, with future episodes scheduled to drop each month. You can find a transcript of our conversation at the website of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. Previous episodes have featured conversations with:
- Gina McCarthy, former Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Nick Stern of the London School of Economics discussing his career, British politics, and efforts to combat climate change
- Andrei Marcu, founder and executive director of the European Roundtable on Climate Change and Sustainable Transition
- Paul Watkinson, Chair of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
- Jos Delbeke, professor at the European University Institute in Florence and at the KU Leuven in Belgium, and formerly Director-General of the European Commission’s DG Climate Action
- David Keith, professor at Harvard and a leading authority on geoengineering
- Joe Aldy, professor of the practice of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, with considerable experience working on climate change policy issues in the U.S. government
- Scott Barrett, professor of natural resource economics at Columbia University, and an authority on infectious disease policy
- Rebecca Henderson, John and Natty McArthur University Professor at Harvard University, and founding co-director of the Business and Environment Initiative at Harvard Business School.
- Sue Biniaz, who was the lead climate lawyer and a lead climate negotiator for the United States from 1989 until early 2017.
- Richard Schmalensee, the Howard W. Johnson Professor of Management, and Professor of Economics Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
- Kelley Kizier, Associate Vice President for International Climate at the Environmental Defense Fund.
- David Hone, Chief Climate Change Adviser, Shell International.
- Vicky Bailey, 30 years of experience in corporate and government positions in the energy sector.
- David Victor, professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego.
- Lisa Friedman, reporter on the climate desk at the The New York Times.
- Coral Davenport, who covers energy and environmental policy for The New York Times from Washington.
- Spencer Dale, BP Group Chief Economist.
- Richard Revesz, professor at the NYU School of Law.
- Daniel Esty, Hillhouse Professor of Environment and Law at Yale University.
- William Hogan, Raymond Plank Research Professor of Global Energy Policy at Harvard.
- Jody Freeman, Archibald Cox Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.
- John Graham, Dean Emeritus, Paul O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University.
- Gernot Wagner, Clinical Associate Professor at New York University.
- John Holdren, Research Professor, Harvard Kennedy School.
- Larry Goulder, Shuzo Nishihara Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics, Stanford University.
- Suzi Kerr, Chief Economist, Environmental Defense Fund.
- Sheila Olmstead, Professor of Public Affairs, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas, Austin.
- Robert Pindyck, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi Professor of Economics and Finance, MIT Sloan School of Management.
- Gilbert Metcalf, Professor of Economics, Tufts University.
- Navroz Dubash, Professor, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.
- Paul Joskow, Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics emeritus, MIT.
- Maureen Cropper, Distinguished University Professor, University of Maryland.
- Orley Ashenfelter, the Joseph Douglas Green 1895 Professor of Economics, Princeton University.
- Jonathan Wiener, the William and Thomas Perkins Professor of Law, Duke Law School.
- Lori Bennear, the Juli Plant Grainger Associate Professor of Energy Economics and Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University.
- Daniel Yergin, founder of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, and now Vice Chair of S&P Global.
- Jeffrey Holmstead, who leads the Environmental Strategies Group at Bracewell in Washington, DC.
- Daniel Jacob, Vasco McCoy Family Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry & Environmental Engineering at Harvard.
- Michael Greenstone, Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor of Economics, University of Chicago.
- Billy Pizer, Vice President for Research & Policy Engagement, Resources for the Future.