Equity and spectrum of mitigation commitments in the 2015 agreement

Equity and spectrum of mitigation commitments in the 2015 agreement is really a fine piece of work!

We don’t just say this because it’s fair minded and forward looking. We say it because, though we’re pretty full-time on global climate equity, we rarely see stuff as helpful as this.

Equity and Spectrum was just published by the Nordic Council, which is evidently “the official inter-parliamentary body in the Nordic Region” It was authored by Steffen Kallbekken, Håkon Sælen and Arild Underdal, and it’s essential reading for one reason above all — the Paris showdown is less than two years away, and there’s some work to be done before it arrives.

Warsaw was a bad sign. The authors of Equity and Spectrum say that, “at best, modest progress” was made, but they are being too kind. Moreover, they probably know it. Take a look at their summary of the COP19 outcome (section 4.3) and you’ll see what I mean. Warsaw was in many ways a dark and embittering experience, and the more I think about it the more I see it as a warning, one that we had best heed.

The key point of this comment: The authors of Equity and Spectrum have to a large (but not entire) degree reached the same conclusions as we, the authors of this Greenhouse Development Rights framework, and as the Equity working group of the Climate Action Network.  They cite the GDRs work, and discuss the Climate Action Network’s Equity Reference Framework proposal in detail, and it is the later discussion — and how they integrate it into a larger discussion about the path forward — which we were so pleased to see. They unfortunately miss the fact that the CAN work is essentially a generalization of the “responsibility and capacity index” approach that underlies GDRs, but you can’t have everything.

Here’s how they introduce their position, early in their paper:

“We argue that a potentially feasible and constructive way forward is a mutual recognition approach. This approach implies that parties should accept a set of norms, and a range of interpretations of these norms, as legitimate (i.e. as consistent with the CBDR/RC). Parties should also respect a principle of reciprocity, which means that any (interpretation of a) principle of fairness invoked by oneself can legitimately be invoked also by others.”

This is exactly right, and extremely important, for it does indeed appear to offer a way forward. Which is to say that if we’re all very clever, and very lucky, this will be widely recognized by COP20 in Lima in December. And put into motion as well.

There are lots of interesting ideas here. The “spectrum of commitments” for one. The “template of indicators” for another. The discussions on both of these fronts are well worth reading. What’s really  helpful though is when Equity and Spectrum goes beyond synthesis to stress the “mutual recognition approach.” We needed a name for this, and we needed it put at center stage.

Here, and excuse me if I skip a few steps, is how the authors put the pieces together:

“With good preparations, COP20 may be able to come up with a list of equity-related indicators on which Parties are invited (but not mandated) to report their score. Alternatively, if agreement at the level of indicators cannot be reached, the Conference could converge on a list of widely accepted equity principles. Parties could then be encouraged to use quantified indicators of their own choosing indicate how their contributions reflect and serve those principles. In either case, we think it is not realistic to negotiate specific guidelines for how indicators or principles should be quantified. Instead, the above transparency requirement would apply also to equity indicators: There must be sufficient information for third parties to reproduce the figures. It will then be up to Parties and civil society to judge whether the intended contributions are individually and collectively fair/equitable.”

Excellent all around, though we must add that this is not the whole story. For one thing, the formal negotiations are still locked in a game of brinkmanship that leaves little room for these sorts of new directions, or any others. And while it’s easy to blame the emerging economies for the grim position we’re currently in, the ball, ultimately, remains in the North’s court. As Harvard’s Robert Stavins (no flaming radical he) recently put it (PBS News Hour, April 15, 2014):

“The rapid [emissions] growth is in the large, rapidly growing, emerging countries, China, India, Brazil, Korea, South Africa, Mexico, and Indonesia. They need to be involved. If they don’t get on the climate policy train, it’s not leaving the station. A different question, though, is whether or not they have to pay for their tickets.”

The key to success in Paris in a finance breakthrough. Equity and Spectrum, however, is curiously silent on this front, and this silence, alas, seriously undermines its argument.  Also, its authors seem unaware of the emerging “plan B” by which global civil society is trying to open political space for a coherent discussion of equity principles and indicators via an “informal equity review” that (and this is no coincidence) would likely flow along lines much like the ones they call for.  On this front, of course, they are more easily forgiven.

A civil society equity review wouldn’t be enough of course, no matter how well it went. We need the Parties themselves to lead. But maybe, just maybe, the NGOs will be able to hold the door open for a bit, while the diplomats catch up.  We’ll find out soon enough.

Meanwhile, read this report.