Climate change is one of today's most important and far-reaching policy challenges, destined to affect the planet's future in various ways for generations to come. Although research continues on its extent, its causes, and the appropriate responses, more than enough is already known for interested citizens to familiarize themselves with the situation and the relevant policy debates.
Climate Change: Crisis Guide. By the Council on Foreign Relations. 2008.
This interactive crisis guide offers a useful summary of scientific research on the causes of global climate change and an analysis of the practical issues surrounding efforts to devise solutions. It reviews the main sources of emissions and the economic and political issues involved in cutting them (a response known as "mitigation") and also discusses the many ways societies must ready themselves for a changing climate (a response known as "adaptation"). The site includes narratives by experts on the main topics as well as detailed links to all the major treaties, data sources, and a host of useful reports, including the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Nicolas Stern's The Economics of Climate Change.
Fixing global warming will eventually require a global effort, since the main greenhouse gases are all global pollutants: they affect the world's climate regardless of where they're emitted. Moreover, because the pollutants are tied to energy -- the lifeblood of industrial economies -- countries are wary of enacting costly regulations unless their competitors make a comparable effort. This logic has led many to call for a global treaty, and the most visible diplomatic moves are pointed in that direction. The United Nations-sponsored Bali Road Map, crafted in 2007, lays out a framework for international negotiations that are slated to finish at a meeting in Copenhagen in late 2009. Since the road map itself can be hard to parse, the Pew Center's summary of it is extremely useful. Pay particular attention to the deal struck between industrialized countries (which have caused most global warming to date and have the greater financial and administrative capabilities to do something about it) and developing countries (which are responsible for about half of the world's emissions and will soon account for much more).
Architectures for Agreement: Addressing Climate Change in the Post-Kyoto World. Edited by Joseph E. Aldy and Robert N. Stavins. Cambridge University Press, 2007.
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The Bali Road Map exists because the time has come to plan a replacement for the Kyoto treaty on global warming, which will expire in 2012. Not everyone, however, thinks that a binding global treaty is the best strategy. This collection explores a wide range of possible architectures for an effective climate-change agreement. Some of the authors defend a policy anchored, like Kyoto, in strict targets and timetables for regulating emissions because such an agreement would allow for a global system of emissions-credits trading. Others want to focus not on the quantity of emissions each country generates, but rather on how hard each country tries to control them -- measured, say, by the level of carbon taxes and other policies. Still others argue that global efforts are the wrong way to tackle the issue because they require too many countries with widely disparate interests to reach an agreement, and that better strategies could start with clubs of key members, such as the United States, China, India, and the European Union. A successor volume with the same editors, timed for the Copenhagen conference, will appear in 2009.