Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Signed and Sealed

Environment \& Statecraft by Scott Barrett

The North Pacific Seal Fur Treaty of 1911 is seldom counted among the main events of twentieth century diplomacy. A new book, Environment and Statecraft: The Strategy of Environmental Treaty-Making by Scott Barrett, analyses this treaty and other successful models, including the Montreal Protocol that halted production of the CFC gases depleting the ozone layer, to give a thorough and insightful analysis of the process of coordinating international action on environmental problems.

An economist at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC, Barrett uses some fairly basic game theory to analyse the self-interested behavior of nations bargaining over the global climate change regime that Kyoto was supposed to create.

He identifies the lack of an effective enforcement mechanism for punishing non-compliance as the key to the weakness of the treaty, and instead suggests setting new open global standards for energy technology, founded on collaborative research between the developed economies.

Like Lomborg, he points out that the benefits and costs of mitigation are by most estimates quite evenly balanced, whereas the Montreal process offered the chance to eliminate health problems like skin cancers and cataracts, leaving a benefit/cost ratio of over 17 to 1.

So far, I have only read several chapters of the book, but this is in my opinion, probably the best analysis of the diplomacy of Kyoto available, successfully combining economics and international relations into a useful explanation and practical guide for those involved in the issue. The Economist also reviewed the book in its "Economic Focus" column last year.