The 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit was a failure, but it did serve as a wake-up call. The global governance system currently in place has not been capable of making the momentous “top-down” decisions that are necessary to limit aggregate emissions, let alone doing so in an acceptably fair manner. As we approach the critically important 2015 Paris Summit, negotiations are taking a more realist course, with national pledges of action understood as the best foundation for international mobilization. Making this work will take a “pledge and review” agreement with an extremely robust review in which national commitments are evaluated collectively for compatibility with climate science and comparatively for compatibility with concerns of justice. Equity reference frameworks can help achieve the crucial task of justice, which now threatens to fall through the cracks. Such frameworks have already been developed to address distributional justice both within and between nations and to identify both leaders and laggards. They offer a way forward consonant with the core equity principles embodied in the United Nations climate convention. Paris can propel this agenda, but will it?
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I haven’t had time to write about Lima, but if you’re paying any attention at all, you already know that the “differentiation” issue blew wide open as COP20 went into overtime. Which means — to skip a few steps — that the equity debate is most assuredly on the agenda for this, the Paris year, and for COP21 in Paris in December. With this in mind, you could do worse than read Oran R. Young’s Does Fairness Matter in International Environmental Governance? Creating an Effective and Equitable Climate Regime . Which, by happy coincidence, you can download here.
I do not love this essay. In particular, I think it is badly flawed by its exclusive emphasis on per-capita emissions rights, an idea that has a lot more traction among academics than it has in the “real world” of the climate negotiations. But I do much admire Young’s hard-headed argument for why equity matters, in that very same real real world. To wit:
“I argue that there is an identifiable and significant class of environmental issues in which we should expect those trying to solve problems to take considerations of fairness or equity seriously. This argument does not depend on assumptions about the influence of altruistic motives or the existence of some sort of international community that produces deep feelings of social solidarity among members of the international system. Rather, I take the view that most states have good reasons to think hard about matters of fairness or equity when it comes to addressing a well-defined class of environmental problems. The problem of climate change, I argue, belongs to this class.”
“I see little evidence to conclude that the members of international society or the agents who act on their behalf in international negotiations are so deeply socialized regarding considerations of fairness that they respond to such concerns out of a sense of obligation or consider them as a matter of second nature when dealing with largescale issues like climate change. Rather, my argument is that such considerations come to the fore with regard to situations that exhibit a cluster of identifiable features. The most prominent of these features are (i) the inability of key states to pressure or coerce others into accepting their preferred solutions, (ii) the limited usefulness of utilitarian calculations like various forms of cost/benefit analysis, and (iii) the need to foster buy-in or a sense of legitimacy regarding the solutions adopted in order to achieve effective implementation and compliance over time with the prescriptions embedded in any agreements reached. Especially in combination, these conditions produce situations in which states have good reasons to pay attention to considerations of fairness or equity.”
The essay isn’t long.
 The real citation is Young Oran R. (2013) Does Fairness Matter in International Environmental Governance? Creating an Effective and Equitable Climate Regime. In: Toward a New Climate Agreement: Conflict, Resolution and Governance . C. Todd, J. Hovi, D. McEvoy, (eds.), Routledge, London ISBN: 0415643791.
Very nice piece by William D. Cohan in The Nation, here.
I’m a full-time climate guy, but even so I rarely encounter this kind of honesty. In particular, the whole under-theorized problem of “stranded assets” has become a source of odd optimism. As if the ground truths of the Carbon Bubble will somehow, decisively tip the scales towards rationality and long-term thinking.
It’s not going to happen, not in any simple way. The fossil cartel breeds confident, exterminist ideologues. Its captains have the power to persevere in their beliefs. Not, perhaps, forever, but for a long time yet.
They will have to be stopped.
This review of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate was first published in the Earth Island Journal, here. See this notice on Klein’s own site.
The first thing to say about Naomi’s Klein’s latest book is that its title makes a grand promise — This Changes Everything – and that’s before you even get to the subtitle, which sets up a face-off between capitalism on one side and the climate on the other. The second thing to say is that no single book could ever meet such a promise. Klein, with careful aplomb, does not attempt to do so. Rather, she offers a tour of the horizon upon which we will meet our fates. Or, rather, the horizon upon which we will attempt to change them.
In the face of such huge topics, Klein’s strategy is a practical one. She defers the problem of capitalism-in-itself (as German philosophers used to call it) and focuses instead on our era’s particular type of capitalism – the neoliberal capitalism of boundless privatization and deregulation, of markets-über-alles ideology and oligarchic billionaires. Her central argument is not (as some have insisted) that capitalism has to go before we can begin to save ourselves, but rather that we’re going to have to get past neoliberalism if we want to face the greater challenges. Klein writes:
Some say there is no time for this transformation; the crisis is too pressing and the clock is ticking. I agree that it would be reckless to claim that the only solution to this crisis is to revolutionize our economy and revamp our worldview from the bottom up – and anything short of that is not worth doing. There are all kinds of measures that would lower emissions substantively that could and should be done right now. But we aren’t taking those measures, are we?
At the outset Klein asks the obvious question: Why haven’t we, in the face of existential danger, mobilized to lower emissions? There are lots of reasons, but one stands above all others. We have not mobilized because “market fundamentalism has, from the very first moments, systematically sabotaged our collective response to climate change, a threat that came knocking just as this ideology was reaching its zenith.” In other words the climate crisis came with spectacularly “bad timing.” The severity of the danger became clear at the very time when “there-is-no-alternative” capitalism was rising to ideological triumph, foreclosing the exact remedies (long-term planning, stricter government regulation, collective action) that could address the crisis. It’s a crucial insight, and it alone justifies the price of admission.
Check out http://www.climatefairshares.org/
This elegant system, put together by Friends of the Earth EWNI and Jubilee South Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development, is based on the “responsibility and capacity index” analysis embodied in the Climate Equity Reference Calculator. Its map interface is very cool, and simple to use, for it presents only a single Equity Settings profile. This is, for the record, a “high equity” profile defined by the Strong 2C pathway, high progressivity settings (including a $50,000 luxury threshold), a 1850 historical responsibility start date, a 50/50 responsibility/capacity weighting and “capacity adjusted” domestic emissions.
PS: John Vidal’s wrote a article on the climatefairshares site (September 21, 2014) in the Guardian. See it here.
Well, we finally finished it.
The National Fair Shares report is designed to show what it means to take the analysis in the Climate Equity Reference Calculator seriously. It’s worth reading even if you think that we’re doomed, because it very carefully works out what it would mean to hold to the IPCC’s carbon budgets, in the context of an international climate accord that might actually work. Which is to say a climate accord that works for everyone, even the developing countries, one designed to preserve “equitable access to sustainable development” even as it drives a rapid global phase out of all carbon emitting technologies.
We don’t actually think we’re doomed, of course. If we did, we could never have written anything like this. We think humanity is going to rally. Or at least that it could.
What’s in the National Fair Shares report? Here’s a paragraph from the abstract:
“In this report, we systematically apply a generalized and transparent equity reference framework. . . with the goal of quantitatively examining the problem of national fair shares in a global effort to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This framework is based upon an effort-sharing approach, uses flexibly-defined national “responsibility and capacity indicators,” and is explicitly designed to reflect the UNFCCC’s core equity principles. It can be applied using a range of possible assumptions, and whatever values are chosen, they are applied to all countries, in a dynamic fashion that reflects the changing global economy.”
What’s the point? Only that the world’s national are probably — and finally — going to negotiate a global climate treaty in Paris in late 2015. But even assuming that they do, it’s going to be far too weak, and Paris will mark the beginning of the really hard work: raising ambition in the context of a truly global accord. Assuming this happy day arrives, we’re going to need an “equity reference framework” to help us figure out which countries are going their “fair shares” and which ones are free riding on the work of others.
Welcome to the Paris year! After Lima, it’s definitely time for an update!
But first we want to alert you to two documents that were published just before the Lima COP:
National Fair Shares: The Mitigation Gap – Domestic Action and International Support, a new report from EcoEquity and the Stockholm Environment Institute that generalizes and advances our previous work on equity and effort sharing. A short version of the full report is also available; and…
More information about both of these reports is below. But first a comment about Lima, and the Paris year.
What will happen in Paris? After Lima, we know at least that Paris isn’t going to be a scripted affair in which a minimal accord – now almost universally known as “pledge and chat” – can be taken as the given result of the inevitable late-session showdown. Rather, there will either be some sort of breakthrough – on the structure of a “balanced” accord that includes adaptation, on international financial and technological support for developing countries, on the all-important “differentiation” battle – or there will be a real chance of a delegitimizing train wreck.
This is because – as we stress in both these reports – climate change is a global commons problem, and as such it can be addressed only if each actor sees the others to be doing their best to achieve their fair shares of emission reductions. Only then will countries have the motivation necessary to increase their ambition at the necessary pace, without the fear of being suckered by “free riders.”
The situation demands systematic ways of comparing nations’ pledges or, as they have become known, “Indicative Nationally Determined Contributions” or INDCs. Yet, most large emitting countries have refused to allow any such comparison to be legally sanctioned under the UNFCCC. In this context, the role of carrying out “equity reviews” of the INDCs falls to civil society organizations North and South, to scholars, and to progressive Parties (that is, governments) that are determined to raise global ambition.
Momentum is building among civil-society organizations to step in, and methods capable of meaningfully comparing national INDCs are being developed – indeed our National Fair Shares report is a major contribution to this common project. A key concern is that because the “fair shares” of rich countries under plausible equity principles inevitably require them to finance a large share of mitigation in developing countries, and such “finance pledges” are being excluded from INDCs, it is very hard to have a fair comparison of effort. Our ongoing work under the banner of the “Climate Equity Reference Project” directly addresses this concern.
Now, back to those two reports.
The first is the new report that the Climate Equity Reference Project released just before Lima. This project is a joint initiative of EcoEquity and the Stockholm Environment Institute, and this, its first major report, is called National Fair Shares: The Mitigation Gap – Domestic Action and International Support. It presents the type of analysis that will be necessary for a systematic comparison of national pledges of action, and is particularly timely as countries submit their INDCs to the UNFCCC.
From the abstract:
In this report, we systematically apply a generalized and transparent equity reference framework, with the goal of quantitatively examining the problem of national fair shares in a global effort to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This framework is based upon an effort-sharing approach, uses flexibly-defined national “responsibility and capacity indicators,” and is explicitly designed to reflect the UNFCCC’s core equity principles. It can be applied using a range of possible assumptions, and whatever values are chosen, they are applied to all countries, in a dynamic fashion that reflects the changing global economy. In this report, we present results for twelve representative countries and a selected set of illustrative “cases.”
The quantitative analysis in this report is based upon the Climate Equity Reference Calculator, an online tool and database that allows the user to select “equity settings” relating to key equity-related parameters, including responsibility, capacity, and development need. These settings are then used, together with standard demographic and macroeconomic indicators (e.g., national population, GDP and carbon-intensity) to calculate implied national fair shares of the global mitigation effort. Importantly, this fair share is expressed as a sum of domestically- and internationally-supported mitigation.
We provide illustrative results for various alternative levels of ambition, for various equity settings, and for various estimates of national emissions reductions. We also show that the differences between the cases are much less significant than the similarities, and that a great deal of the detail can therefore be set aside in favor of an “equity band” that is bound by “High Equity Settings” on one side and “Low Equity Settings” on the other. We have defined this equity band to span a wide range of perspectives on fairness, though it is easier to argue that the “Low Equity Settings” are “too low” than it is that the “High Equity Settings” are “too high.”
In particular, this analysis finds that a nation’s fair share of the global mitigation effort can be quite different from its domestic mitigation potential. Countries with relatively high capacity and responsibility are generally found to have fair shares that greatly exceed their own domestic mitigation potential; therefore, if they are to fulfill their entire fair share, they would do so by contributing financial and technological support to other countries. Conversely, countries with relatively low capacity and responsibility are able to act entirely within their own borders. It is assumed that they use international support to undertake mitigation in excess of their own fair shares of the global mitigation effort, and by so doing exploit their full national mitigation potentials. As such, this analysis is informative not only for assessing countries’ INDCs with respect to domestic mitigation action, but international support as well.
For a short summary of this report (6 pages) see here.
The second is a “viewpoint” doc that Tom Athanasiou, EcoEquity’s director, wrote for the Great Transition Initiative just before Lima. It’s called Climate Crossroads: Toward a Just Deal in Paris, and it takes the long view, and as far as we can tell nothing happened in Lima to prove its core argument incorrect.
A global commons problem can be addressed only if each actor sees the others doing their best to achieve their fair shares of emission reductions. But before such mutual recognition is possible, there must be a means for comparing one country’s effort to another’s. But how? By what norms and indicators shall we judge individual contributions? How will we discriminate between the leader and laggard nations? What can we do when we fall collectively short? And how can any of this knowledge be used to push forward into a new regime where an effective majority of the world’s states moves to act, decisively, on a global scale? If, after the last late night of the upcoming Paris negotiations, befuddled by an agreement that will certainly fall far short of any ideal, we want to know if the effort was nevertheless a success, these are the questions that we will have to ask.
It’s about 15 months now until the Paris climate showdown.
The good news is that there’s quite a lot happening. The clarifying science, for example, is no longer easily denigrated. The IPCC’s 2°C carbon budgets, the new age of “extreme weather,” the fate of the Arctic, these can no longer be cast as fervid speculations. Denialism – at least classic denialism – has peaked. This is a time of consequences, and we all know it.
But what about Paris? Why do I even mention the international climate negotiations? Don’t we all know that the North/South divide is unbridgeable? Don’t we all know that the wealthy world will never provide the finance and technology support that’s needed to drive deep and rapid decarbonization in the emerging economies? Don’t we all know that the prospect for a meaningful breakthrough in the climate talks is nil?
In fact, we do not.