This report considers lessons from the weapons and trade regimes, noting both their successes and failures. It compares these lessons to what has been tried in the climate regime, and offers ideas that might enhance the chances of attaining global action to control greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Executive Summary

Tackling global climate change requires countries across the world to engage in multigenerational cooperation (referred to herein as “collective action”) to advance a transition to a near-zero-carbon economy by 2050, in order to keep global average temperature increase below 1.5–2 degrees Celsius in comparison with preindustrial levels. No one country can achieve the necessary emissions reductions alone. If we are to succeed, there must be sustained political engagement across countries to solve difficult conflicts, such as the level of effort versus cost, or equity versus environmental rigor. Issues where agreement is needed include:

  • Targets, timetables, and actions for reduction—who does what, by when, and how?
  • Common standards for measuring emissions—what standards, who uses them, and when?
  • Robust mechanisms to verify the implementation of national actions—what, who, when, and how?

What might negotiators in the third decade of building collective action to address climate change learn from the experience of negotiators who manage other problems that by their nature require global action? This report contributes to this question by examining two such negotiating areas where considerable experience has been gained in devising agreements and institutions. The first is control of weapons of mass destruction, a field relatively unknown in the climate change world. The second, multinational economic arrangements, is more familiar ground but an area that warrants deeper examination. Although such arrangements have not “solved” weapons or economic challenges, notable progress has been made since the middle of the 20th century, and thus these arrangements offer valuable insights for climate negotiators.



A conversation about the report with author Ruth Greenspan Bell and Jennifer Morgan, Director, Climate and Energy Program