Maybe the Kyotos and Copenhagens aren’t the way forward.

I realize this is a provocative statement, but let’s consider it for the sake of argument. I’ve been thinking about the fact that climate response efforts are currently advancing at the local and regional level (see the Pledge post, which discusses the Jungfrau Climate Charter and Boulder Climate Action Plan). Will an international agreement simply take too long to get going?

The time it might take to develop the organizational structure to oversee a global climate charter could be 30 to 40 years, Thomas Cottier of the World Trade Institute said Friday, during our last day at the NCCR Summer School. Cottier appeared to base his remark on the time it took for the World Trade Organization (WTO) to develop through the many iterations of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). In fact, it wasn’t until the eighth round of negotiations under GATT, which launched in 1986 and concluded in 1994, that the WTO was established.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change entered into force in 1994. If Cottier’s estimate is right, it could be 2024-2034 before a world climate organization–fit to regulate global carbon trading–emerges. Which means we’re still a ways out.

This raises the question: is a new supervisory organization really necessary? The Montreal Protocal, after all, was successfully carried out under the auspices of existing United Nations programs. Yet prohibiting the production of ozone-depleting chemicals was somewhat more straightforward than proposed greenhouse gas mitigations. Trading of carbon allowances and adaptation credits, for example, is much more difficult without regulatory guidance, including globally-set prices for carbon and reliable monitoring programs.

Still, as the Jungfrau Region and Boulder have shown us, the lack of an international supervisory structure doesn’t prevent individual communities or countries from taking the first mitigation and adaptation steps. Maybe the old “Think Global, Act Local” mantra was right.