Voluntary Agreements Design Considerations: International Cooperation and Trade

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Voluntary international agreements outside of the Kyoto Protocol have primarily focused on specific regions of the world, and on specific industries rather than the economy as a whole.  Chief among these are voluntary technology agreements, such as the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate, the International Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in the Economy, the Methane to Markets Partnership, and the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum.  Proponents argue that sector-specific agreements are better targeted (compared to comprehensive agreements like Kyoto) at reducing emissions by narrowing the scope of the agreement, and so can more easily address competitiveness issues.  Others argue that voluntary agreements are prone to corporate control, and that, being voluntary, they have little to no effect on lowering emissions.

Like national agreements, international voluntary agreements are primarily an informational tool used to share knowledge and promote coordination among and within industries in reducing carbon emissions.  The primary issue is whether these agreements can be effective instruments given their voluntary nature.  Lobbying by the affected sectors influences their viability, especially for those agreements focusing on specific technologies in specific industries.  Technology-sharing agreements between rich and poor countries have gained prominence recently as a vehicle for curbing rising emissions in developing countries. 

In the international realm, voluntary agreements must also be placed in the context of the multilateral global trading regime.  World Trade Organization rules limit to some extent the freedom of national governments to impose domestic carbon regulations, and even to sign voluntary agreements with industries.