EcoEquity is a small, activist think tank that has had an outsized impact on the international climate justice debate. It has done this primarily, but not exclusively, by way of its work on fair shares international effort sharing via the Greenhouse Development Rights project and, more recently, the Climate Equity Reference Project.
More generally, EcoEquity is focused on developing and promoting climate solutions that are fair enough to actually work. Through our participation in domestic and international networks of activists and scholars, we argue for emergency climate strategies that protect the poor, and more generally protect the rights of all people to dignified levels of just and sustainable development. In other words, we focus on approaches to the climate transition in which the politics of economic justice and the politics of emergency climate mobilization are one and the same.
EcoEquity works by emphasizing the importance of equity principles in all aspects of the policy response, by producing political and economic analyses that highlight equity issues, and by developing practical proposals for equitable climate policies. Our focus has been on the international negotiations but we also work to develop domestic approaches to climate justice that explicitly and organically expand into the project of a just global transition. We believe that, particularly given the failure of 2010’s push for US climate legislation — and the major rethink that it has catalyzed — it is critical to stress the US’s role in the international deadlock, and its responsibility to help break it. This is of course true for both realist and moral reasons.
Greenhouse Development Rights
EcoEquity has done a great deal, but our greatest accomplishment has clearly been the development, along with the Stockholm Environment Institute, of the Greenhouse Development Rights framework.You can find much more information about the GDRs project, and about the many networks and accomplishments that are associated with it, at its website and its Wikipedia page, but, briefly, GDRs is a principle-based burden sharing framework designed to support an emergency climate mobilization while, at the same time, preserving the economic rights of all people. We believe that, without the latter stipulation, failure in ensured.
After Copenhagen, such an approach is more important than ever. This is particularly true if the “pledge and review” approach that was moved forward in Copenhagen holds — and to some extent this hold is inevitable. In this context, it’s essential that the climate movement move towards a far more coherent, and shared, understanding of how various national efforts can be most fairly compared to each other. Remember, the climate crisis is a class commons problem, and as we all know, countries are naturally unwilling to stop exploiting the commons, because doing so just doesn’t pay. Even if a country entirely halted its emissions, the benefit (which it would share with all other countries) would be only a minimal reduction in climate damages. Which is to say that taking action is only worthwhile to a country if, and to the extent that it can, induce other countries to similarly take action. And, for that reciprocal action to occur, a country’s efforts must be (and must be seen to be) proportional, which is to say, fair. After all, nobody wants to reward a free-rider. Or to be taken for a sucker. And, as we’ve seen, things only get worse when countries are worried (often excessively) about trade competitiveness and carbon leakage. Which is why, given the turn towards pledge and review, a broad understanding and appreciation of fair-shares burden sharing is more important than ever.
Here, to give you a sense of what is at stake, is nod to EcoEquity’s GDRs work from Oxfam’s excellent Hang Together or Separately report:
EcoEquity has developed a responsibility and capability index (RCI) as part of its Greenhouse Development Rights framework (see P. Baer, T. Athanasiou, S. Kartha, and E. Kemp-Benedict, The Right to Development in a Climate Constrained World: The Greenhouse Development Rights Framework), which has been influential in the thinking in this report. Within the UN climate negotiations, South Africa and the Philippines have put forward separate proposals for Annex 1 country targets based explicitly on responsibility and capability measures, and whilst the proposed reductions in their submissions are not identical to those used in this report, the methodology used in all cases follows the RCI developed by EcoEquity and resulting emissions-reduction targets are similar in scale.
More specifically, the Greenhouse Development Rights framework quantifies the official principles of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which call for the widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. It does so with the goal of providing a coherent, principle-based way to calculate and compare national obligations to pay for both mitigation and adaptation.
See here for a list accomplishments that are related directly to GDRs. Or see this list of GDRs-related publications and, even more tellingly, this list of significant notices, by others, of GDRs and its role.
EcoEquity was organized in 2000, but only funded at a significant level in 2007.Nevertheless, we’ve accomplished a great deal.Here is a selection of some of our non-GDRs accomplishments:
Established ourselves as a trusted, expert presence in a number of key climate networks, including (domestically) the U.S. Environmental Justice movement, where we have, for example, long been members of the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative and (internationally) the Climate Action Network
Written and published a large number of noted essays and commentaries. These have focused on the politics and philosophy of equity in the climate debate, but have also sought to summarize the science in a clear and straight-forward manner. Our first big hit was Honesty About Dangerous Climate Change, which we first published in September of 2004.
Worked hard to develop the (classic, instantaneous rather than cumulative) per-capita emissions rights approach to global burden sharing into a more robust system capable of accounting for both per-capita emissions rights and varying national circumstances, which we dubbed “Per Capita Plus.” (This effort failed; it was by abandoning it that Greenhouse Development Rights was developed).
Published Dead Heat: Global Justice and Global Warming (Seven Stories Press, 2002). The book was well received, has been widely quoted, and is used in academic courses at Princeton and the University of Washington, among others.Were planning, by the way, to republish (an extensively reworked version) of Dead Heat.
Served as core organizers of the Climate Action Network’s 2002 “Equity Summit” in Bali, a key climate movement strategy retreat in which the demands of equity were closely examined and widely debated.
Via consulting contract for the UK’s Institute for Public Policy Research, influenced the International Climate Change Taskforce to endorse a long-term stabilization target of 400 ppm CO2-equivalent. This (2006) was the first time this honest but demanding target was publicly tied to the 2C threshold.
Emerged as consultants (to the Heinrich Boll Foundation) with A Brief, Adequacy and Equity-Based Evaluation of Some Prominent Climate Policy Frameworks and Proposals, an incisive and reasonably comprehensive overview and critique of “principle based” approaches to differentiation.
Managed, finally, in a blog published during 2005’s Montreal climate conference, to finally engage the anti-emission-trading movement in a debate about international financial mechanisms.
In 2007, we were tasked with doing an independent strategic analysis of Friends of the Earth International climate campaign. This was a major analysis, though it remains private.
In 2008, in preparation for the impending march down the road to Copenhagen, the Climate Action Network decided to have a second Equity Summit.EcoEquity was one of the key instigators, agenda setters, and organizers of this summit, which has some very significant (and off the record) results.
In 2009, the Copenhagen year, the international climate negotiations came to even further dominate our work. We accomplished a great deal on this front, but rather than document it here, we refer you to the various sections of the Greenhouse Development Rights website.
After Copenhagen, our immediate focus was strategic reflection. We organized a major report-back in the Bay Area in Jan of 2010, at which EcoEquity’s Tom Athanasiou was joined by speakers from 350.org, the Rainforest Action Network, and International Rivers. We attended a large number of movement debates and seminars. And we published a fair number of reflections and analyses. In this regard, see in particular After Copenhagen: On being sadder but wiser, China, and justice as the way forward, which was widely reprinted. We also conducted a major strategic review of our accomplishments and plans.
We currently have a number of specific projects in process, including domestic projects designed to expand US climate justice politics more explicitly into the project of a just global transition. The tenor here can best be seen in Tax Justice as Climate Justice, which is, perhaps, a bit of a manifesto.
Azibuike Akaba, Environmental Justice Specialist, California EPA
Eugene Coyle, PhD, Ecological Economics, “public servant”
John Gershman, Associate Professor, Wagner School of Public Policy, New York University
Barbara Haya, PhD Candidate, Energy and Resources Group, UC Berkeley
Glenn Fieldman, Associate Professor, San Francisco State University
Dan Kammen, professor of Energy and Resources and professor of public policy at UC Berkeley
Juliette Majot, Consultant specializing in Non-profit Organizations
Richard Norgaard, Professor, Energy and Resources Group, UC Berkeley
Ian McGregor, Lecturer, University of Technology, Sydney
Patrick McCully, Executive Director, Black Rock Solar
Timmons Roberts, Director, Center for Environmental Studies, Professor of Sociology, Brown University
Sivan Kartha, Senior Scientist, Stockholm Environment Institute. IPCC Lead Author (WGIII, Chapter 4, Sustainable Development and Equity).
Jim Williams, Energy consultant, Associate Professor, Monterey Institute ofInternational Studies
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