Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

“Climate Protection Authority”

Posted by Daniel Hall on April 14, 2008

The President and Congress should handle the most significant climate change agreements as congressional–executive agreements, which require approval by a simple majority of both houses of Congress. Handling climate agreements as congressional–executive agreements would speed the development of a genuinely bipartisan U.S. climate change foreign policy, improve coordination between the executive and legislative branches, strengthen the hand of U.S. climate negotiators to bring home good agreements, increase the prospects for U.S. participation in those agreements, protect U.S. competitiveness, and spur international climate action. More specifically, Congress should enact “Climate Protection Authority,” which would define U.S. negotiating objectives in a statute and require the President to submit concluded congressional–executive agreements to Congress for final approval. This approach should apply both to the new global climate change agreement being negotiated in the United Nations by the United States and the rest of the international community and to other future arrangements with a smaller number of major emitting nations.

The paper is by Nigel Purvis, a visiting scholar at Resources for the Future. Nigel is interviewed today on E&ETV; it is interesting throughout. One advantage of this proposal is avoiding the 2/3 vote required for treaties in the Senate. A bigger advantage is providing negotiators with a credible mandate when negotiating — they can make offers (or threats) that have already been backed up by both of the relevant branches of government.

Note that the proposal is about procedure, not content, although wags might note that any procedure for climate negotiation in the U.S. would necessarily imply more content than at present.

On a tangentially-related note — more on content than procedure — here is Tyler Cowen with skeptical reflections on liberal internationalism:

In game-theoretic terms I would say the key question is what is the “threat point” America adopts when it offers to join international coalitions. Whatever Matt’s answer might be (his book is not written in that sort of lingo) that is now the key question, noting that whatever threat point you specify you have to be willing to live with. One paradox is that the more internationalist your default threat point is, the less effective a country actually will be in leading an international coalition.

A couple of observations:

A threat point is far less useful if it cannot be altered by any action that any other player would take. Other nations must actually believe that the U.S. would do something on climate change before we can credibly threaten to do a weaker version of that something.

I think the paradox Tyler specifies is incorrect, or at the very least incomplete. It should read something like, “the less effective a country actually will be in either leading an international coalition and/or achieving it’s own objectives.” Think of the current comparison between the EU and the US in international climate negotiations. It’s not clear to me that the EU’s effectiveness is being hampered by an internationalist threat point.

UpdateThe Washington Times reports today that President Bush may soon call for Congress to pass a climate change bill.  Environmental Capital muses on the implications for an international agreement.

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