How to Gain A Climate Consensus

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By George P. Shultz
Wednesday, September 5, 2007

We in the United States -- and we as global citizens -- live in what is, in many respects, a golden moment. Economic growth is globally strong, and, if security threats can be contained, this expansion, with some ups and downs, can be sustained.

Strong growth means increased use of energy at a pace that can strain the capacity to supply what is needed at a reasonable price. This highlights two urgent questions: how to use energy without producing excess greenhouse gases that create disruptive conditions on a global scale; and how to reduce the threat to national security from excess dependence on oil.

The greenhouse gas problem is more broadly recognized today than it was during the Kyoto Protocol negotiations. Moreover, the protocol is running its course, so a new treaty is needed. That treaty should have a different structure -- one that ultimately achieves universality.

During the Reagan administration, we faced the problem of depletion of the ozone layer, and negotiations resulted in the Montreal Protocol. To be sure, the problem then was less complex than that of today. However, there are parallels, and lessons from the Montreal Protocol can be useful.

The reductions called for in ozone-depleting substances were aggressive but realistic in that they could be undertaken without severe economic damage, in part because demand triggered the development by private industry of needed chemicals and appliances.

Because we in the United States were ready to take action, we could ask others to act as well.

The protocol also recognized the importance of a little wiggle room, so provision was made for the possibility of special arrangements among countries.

The countries with low per capita incomes were integral to the process and were given special treatment in terms of trading rules and the establishment of a fund that could help them meet their obligations.

What can we learn from this? Here are some guiding principles:

? The process benefited greatly from strong U.S. leadership. We were the science leader, the moral leader and the diplomatic leader. Yes, those of us working for an agreement, notably John Negroponte, now deputy secretary of state, faced internal opposition; there were doubts about the reality of the problem and that reasonable solutions could be identified and implemented. But at all the crunch points, Ronald Reagan was there for us. The president cleared the way, and in the end he called the result a "monumental achievement." The Senate readily gave its consent to ratification.


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