Even substantial U.S. emissions reductions will not, by themselves, substantially alter the rate of climate change. Although the United States is responsible for the largest share of historic contributions to global GHG concentrations, all major emitters will need to ultimately reduce emissions substantially. However, the indirect effects of U.S. action or inaction are likely to be very large. That is, what this nation does about its own GHG emissions will have a major impact on how other countries respond to the climate change challenge; without domestic climate change limiting policies that are credible to the rest of the world, no U.S. strategy to achieve global cooperation is likely to succeed. Continuing efforts to inform the U.S. public of the dangers of climate change and to devise cost-effective response options will therefore be essential for both global cooperation and effective national action.
The U.S. climate change strategy will need to be multidimensional, operating at multiple levels. Continuing attempts to negotiate a comprehensive climate agreement under the UN Climate Change Convention are essential to establish good faith and to maximize the legitimacy of policy. At the same time, intensive negotiations must continue with the European Union, Japan, and other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, and with low- and middle-income countries that are major emitters of, or sinks for, GHGs (especially China, India, Brazil, and the former Soviet Union countries). These multiple tracks need to be pursued in ways that reinforce rather than undermine one another. It may be worthwhile to negotiate sectoral agreements as well, and GHGs other than CO2 should be subjects for international consideration. In such negotiations, the United States should press for institutional arrangements that provide credible assessment and verification of national policies around the world, and that help low- and middle- income countries attain their broader goals of sustainable development.
Competition among countries to take the lead in low-GHG technology industries will play an important role in stimulating emissions-reduction efforts, but strong cooperative efforts will be needed as well. Sustaining large direct government-to-government financial transfers to low-income countries may pose substantial challenges of political feasibility, but large financial transfers via the private sector could be facilitated via a carbon pricing system that allows international purchases of allowances or offsets. There is a clear need for innovative, cooperative scientific and technological efforts to help low- and middle-income countries limit their emissions. To provide leadership in these efforts, the United States needs to develop and share technologies that not only reduce GHG emissions but also help advance economic development and reduce local environmental stresses.