Thinking hard about "Equity Reference Frameworks"

The Mitigation Action Plans and Scenarios project recently organized an interesting workshop of Equity Access to Sustainable Development.  The public report of the workshop is here, and it’s well worth spending some time with, particular because of the depth and sophistication with which it engaged with the problem of Equity Reference Frameworks.

See in particular the paper the report from the workshop, Relfections on Operationalizing EASD, and the backgroup paper on Equity Reference Frameworks and their operationalization, by Xolisa Ngwadla of the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. 

Ngwadla introdues the idea of “Equity Reference Framework,” or ERF, in this manner:

“The underlying philosophy for an ERF is the universal application of egalitarian principle to guide a  distributive view that seeks to address historical, current, and potential inequities in respect of  contribution to emissions, and as such is corrective in character, and distributive in approach. In  respect of the metric/non-metric chasm, a stepwise consideration is proposed, where there is an ex  ante assessment of fair effort in a non-binding framework, with binding commitments proposed by  parties and therefore catering to national circumstances.

However, the process of inscribing such commitments includes a Party-driven process to assess the  adequacy of proposed commitments against the computed fair efforts, and as such drive ambition  whilst reconciling a top-down and bottom-up approach. An important characteristic of the output of  the ERF is that it reflects a relative fair effort by a Party, without prescribing only a level of emission  reduction, but expecting a total contribution that includes means of implementation, thereby  providing flexibility in terms of the mix of commitments a Party can use to achieve its responsibility at any given temperature goal.”

One further note.  There is still a lot of unnecessary complexity swirling around the notion of equity.  As far as the negotiations, and of finding a way forward in which the pursuit of equity and the pursuit of ambition buttress and strengthen each other, there are really only two relevant options — the Historical Responsibility approach and the Responsibility and Capacity approach.   One of the reasons why this workshop was so interesting is that this baseline reality was recognized by the participants, who were thereby able to look forward and build upon it.  In particular, they were able to have a coherent discussion about how the ERF debate could be folded into and play a helpful role within the UNFCCC process.

“Participants then discussed how the ERF could be constituted: at the prescriptive end it could be  perhaps through a COP decision that could engage the IPCC and SBSTA and at the facilitative end it could be outside the formal UN process but exert influence through informal channels. Further discussion focused on the possible content of the ERF: it could contain objectives for adaptation and mitigation, based on global temperature goals (2 and 1.5 °C); and corresponding relative fair efforts by countries. Participants identified a list of functions the ERF could perform: it could inform the types of commitments countries could take, their timing, the legal form these commitments could take and the compliance consequences that could follow.”