Yale Economist Analyzes Protocol to Reduce Global Carbon Emissions

In the November 16 issue of Science magazine, William D. Nordhaus, the Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale University, provides the first published economic analysis of the Kyoto-Bonn protocol to slow global warming.

The protocol, signed by 178 of 179 countries in July 2001, is a revision of the 1997 Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The United States was the sole country that refused to sign the protocol in Bonn this summer. Without the participation of the United States, the Kyoto-Bonn protocol will be virtually ineffective, Nordhaus concludes.

“The plan as now proposed by the group of 178 will do little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he says.

Nordhaus explains that the original protocol of 1997 was skewed against the United States, which would have had to pick up almost all its implementation costs. The United States did sign the 1997 protocol, but the details needed to be worked out and the treaty required ratification before it could be implemented. By refusing to participate in the 2001 revision that came out of the meeting in Bonn this summer, the United States will incur no costs at all.

“The protocol is badly designed,” Nordhaus says, “because it focuses only on emissions reduction without looking at costs.” While the Kyoto-Bonn protocol will have little or no appreciable effect in reducing carbon emissions, it nonetheless has value as an “experiment” in global environmental management. In the long run, it might show that it makes more sense economically to levy a carbon tax than to try to enforce rigid controls on emissions, according to Nordhaus.

He cautions that we won’t know for many years what the outcome of the experiment will be. “We’re not on a fast track,” he says. “We should be patient until we get it right.”

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Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345