The decision by the Bush administration to abandon the Kyoto Protocol and go its own way on climate change is not necessarily the disaster for climate policy often portrayed by environmentalists. Because Kyoto's success is far from assured, having alternative approaches is a prudent hedging strategy. The real disappointment has been the failure of the United States to develop a credible climate change policy of its own.

In contrast to Kyoto—which tries to construct a comprehensive global architecture all at once—the United States should proceed step by step, starting with domestic action and then moving outward, beginning with like-minded states. It should initially address fewer greenhouse gases and use relatively simple procedures. And it should employ a safety valve that caps costs to provide economic predictability and prevent unexpectedly high costs that would tempt countries not to comply. In the long run, the race to combat climate change will go to the most durable policy, not the speediest.

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About the Author
Daniel Bodansky
is professor of law at the University of Washington. From August 1999 to June 2001, he served as the climate change coordinator at the U.S. Department of State, where he played a central role in formulating and negotiating U.S. climate change policy. He has followed the climate change negotiations closely since they began in 1991, and he has worked as a consultant for the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. He has published widely on the United Nations climate change regime, including a comprehensive commentary on the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Related resource: Managing Global Issues: Lessons Learned, edited by P.J. Simmons and Chantal de Jonge Oudraat

The Endowment's Global Policy Program addresses the challenges arising from the globalizing processes of economic, political, and technological change. It seeks to integrate the emerging global policy agenda with traditional security concerns and to advance new responses to specific transnational issues.