The Politics of Climate Change

Dweep at the Indian Economy blog points to this article on FT by Eric Posner and Cass Sunstein.

Although most nations now consider climate change a serious problem, they cannot agree on how to tackle it.

The US has been made out as the chief bad guy, but here is an open secret: most of the world’s significant operators have been motivated by self-interest. The US would have had to bear up to two-thirds, or more, of the cost of Kyoto – probably more than all other nations combined. According to current projections, the biggest losers from a warmer planet, in terms of economics and health, will be Europe and developing nations; hence the stronger stands in those parts of the world.

China and the US appear to be less vulnerable, and Russia might even gain from increased agricultural productivity. Russia did ratify Kyoto, but only because it was essentially paid off with rights to emit greenhouse gases that are worth a fortune.

Nations usually enter treaties to help themselves, not others. In 1987, the US pushed hard for the Montreal Protocol, which restricted ozone-depleting chemicals. It did so not out of altruism but after a cost-benefit analysis convinced President Ronald Reagan that the US would gain far more than it would lose. Bans on ozone-depleting chemicals were not burdensome for US companies. By contrast, developing nations strongly resisted the protocol. They demanded and received a large side payment from the rich nations.

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