The first step toward meaningful progress on climate change is to be realistic about institutions – both about how existing institutions, such as national governments, can be brought to bear on the problem, and also about the prospects for creating powerful new international institutions. It is, in essence, a decision about whether it is more productive to bring existing tools, however imperfect, to bear on the problem or to design new and better tools at the international level. The latter course has attractions, but the risk is that the design process may go on indefinitely – with greenhouse gas emissions rising unchecked – without producing a viable new institution. Such has been the case over the last decade as attention has focused on designing the Kyoto Protocol, an elaborate new international institution without any real precedent that may do nothing to slow emissions.
In this chapter we argue that a better alternative would be to tackle climate change with simpler policies that can be carried out by national governments immediately. As David Victor noted in chapter 4, that process is happening by default already. We discuss key characteristics needed in an effective approach to climate change and argue that prospects for creating a powerful international institution to control greenhouse gas emissions are dim at best. We then outline one policy, an internationally coordinated system of national policies based on a hybrid tradable permit mechanism, that can be implemented with minimal development of new international institutions.