A Critical Overview
New Horizons in Environmental and Energy Law series
Chapter 10: Concluding remarks
Climate change has been on the agenda of national governments and the international community alike. For more than two decades the international community has been deliberating and seeking effective ways to address global warming. Despite some progress made by the members of the Kyoto Protocol (Annex I countries), the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continues to increase. Taking climate change action requires the setting of a clear international target at the level of which global temperature increases should be halted. This is complicated by the inherent (scientific) uncertainty of the topic, further obstructed by collective action problems. Collective action problems relate to 'free riding' - that is, the understanding that if everybody reduces its greenhouse gas emissions, there is always one that can get away without taking action. While this has an intuitive appeal, the actual situation is, of course, more complex. The various national actors share different historic responsibilities for the escalation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and at present contribute in different degrees to climate change. For example, because of its late industrialization, China has little historic fault in climate change, but is currently the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. China is also a vast country and the per capita carbon footprint of one of its residents is much lower than that of a person living in central Europe or even the United States. Similarly, the per capita income is still low and people strive to improve their living standards.
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