First of all, full disclosure: when we arrived at Equity and Global Climate Change , we did not do so with entirely open minds. We were skeptical, frankly, that the fairness issue would get a fair treatment at Pews hands.
Why Well, largely from our reading of Pew’s 1998 report The Complex Elements of Global Fairness , an odd bit of work in which the problem of the rich worlds overwhelming per capita emissions is brought up, held briefly against the light, and then swaddledgently, but rather too tightlyin a strange and suffocating complexity.
As it happens, our skepticism was disappointed, though not entirely misplaced. First, though, place yourself at the Mayflower Hotel, a vaguely Rococo affair on Washingtons Connecticut Avenue. It was a fine spring day, there were plenty of carbos and coffee, and when Eileen Claussen, the president of the Pew Climate Center (and a former climate negotiator in the Clinton Administration), rose to introduce the proceedings, her words seemed quite unexceptionable. She told us, for example, that an effective international response to climate change must not only be environmentally sound and cost-effective, but equitable as well: fair to all nations, rich and poor. She quoted Michael Zammit Cutajar, executive secretary of the climate change secretariat, to the effect that the 1992 Rio convention defined the project of controlling climate change as a burden to be shared, and that this sharing would have to be one in which, under the rubric of common but differentiated responsibilities, the rich countries take the lead. Familiar words, these, and we didnt have to come to Washington to hear them. Still, in the time of G.W. Bush, they were a relief.
Note that, rather as an accident of history, the Pew conference was actually two conferences in one. The various panelists hewed, one way or another, to the “equity theme,” but the keynote speakers took the stage not to speculate on the politics or meaning of equity, but rather to signal intentions, adjust pawns, and otherwise gesture against the turbulence set up by Bush’s announcement that Kyoto was unfair to the United States. Realpolitics preoccupied us all, and this was, actually, just fine. For taken together, the real-political and ethical-political threads mimicked the actual world quite nicely. Kyotos fate took the foreground, while the substantive discussion of equity, such as it was, rumbled beneath the surface.
In this review, well try to do justice to both the strengths and weaknesses of the conference, and to avoid without boring you to tears. Its a bit of a challenge, for there were twenty-five speakers and a number of interesting interjections, and we have, by necessity, extracted the bits that we feel were either most interesting, or most symbolic of larger questions, or both.
(For a rather dryer account of what each speaker said, see the report on the conference by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), publishers of Earth Notes Bulletin, on the Pew Centers conference website Equity and Global Climate Change. Presentation materials from the speakers, ranging from full texts, to slides, to key figures, are also available. Some of them, which we will mention, are worth a close look.)
To start, lets give due credit: the conference organizers understood that controversies over equity are central to the impasse(s) in the climate talks at a variety of levels, and they recognized that the controversies over allocation, and particularly the arguments for and against equal per capita rights, are the strange attractors of the equity debateinvisible and often unacknowledged, but clearly the masses around which all else rotates.
But let us also be clear: the conference was not in fact structured to create what its advance publicity promised: an honest dialogue that helps lead to climate change solutions that all parties believe are fair. It was certainly honest, but it was not a dialogue. Rather, it was a traditional symposium of serial monologues, sporting four panels with three or four speakers each and seven keynote speakers. At each interval, there were a few brief minutes for questions.
The keynote speakers werewith the exception of one Republican Senatorexperienced climate bureaucrats. They included the Pronkster himself, Danish Environment Minister Svend Auken, and Klaus Tpfer, head of the UNEP, who addressed a well-fed-and-beveraged banquet audience and successfully completed the anesthesia. Rafael Estrada-Oyuela (the Argentinean whos quick gavel delivered the Kyoto Protocol) was the only keynoter from a developing country, though Argentina can hardly be considered representative of the G77 point of view. Estrada was the first keynoter, and like several other speakers, he presented statistics showing the disproportionate energy use and emissions of the North in general and the US in particular; moreover, he added statistics showing the impact of the debt burden on selected developing countries. In the end, however, after showing why the US position is, um…, unsupportable, he suggested that we shouldnt be too harsh on the US because it would only harden the Bush position.
The conservatives were represented by Robert Hill, the Australian Environment Minister (who Eileen Claussen only half-jokingly said was picked to deliver some remarks that might be in sync with what the [US] administration might be thinking of), and Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas. Hill detailed Australias actions to reduce greenhouse gases, and then went on to repeat Australias usual arguments that economic leakage is a major flaw in the Kyoto Protocol, and that the flight of energy-intensive industry from Annex I countries would not only be economically harmful, but would in fact undermine the environmental effectiveness of the treaty.
Hills talk, which came early in the conference, thus highlighted a critical issue that Kyotos supporters must inevitably reckon with. For it must be admitted that, regardless of the inanity of the Administrations (and the Senates) position that it is fundamentally unfair to the US, the Protocols structure is such that it would improve the international competitive position of developing countries, and of their energy intensive sectors in particular. The possibility of capital flight is real though overstated, and those who claim that it is not a major concern should accept the task of demonstrating that this is so.
Brownback was annoyingly smug. After suggesting that Mother Teresa would surely approve of him, he intoned that,
“As you know, one of the main concerns the U.S. had about the current treaty was that it did not include developing countries in the hard target. That is why a conference like this is so importantbecause we must come together to find a way around this difficult issue.”
Like so many American politicians, hes either amazingly ignorant about the impossibility of renegotiating the Protocol to include hard targets for developing countries, or, more plausibly, quite aware of this reality and happy to torpedo Kyoto by holding out. The possibility of finding a way around this difficult issue without a radical change in US politics is, as we all know, slim to none. But he went on to plug his preferred farm-state-favoring solution to climate change, specifically agricultural carbon sequestration. To be frank, improved agricultural practices could indeed be a mitigation strategy with significant co-benefits. But coming from the likes of Senator Sam, one cant help but think that its just a ploy, a token of pragmatic centrism that avoids antagonizing the anti-Kyoto right with actual emissions reductions.
Among the Keynoters, only Auken argued that equal per capita rights were a necessary long-term solution. He actually stated it quite eloquently:
“The North has to make room for the South contribute effectively and consistently to the contraction of overall global emissions of greenhouse gases and – at the same time – recognize that per capita emissions, or at least emission-rights, will have to converge. Not accepting this would be to opt for an unacceptable world, where present gaps in terms of development and prosperity were to be perpetuated indefinitely, contrary to the aspirations of billions of people in the developing world. To accept this responsibility is really at the heart of equity and climate change.”
Pronk was much more restrained, although he also referenced per capita emissions as a relevant standard of fairness. In his droll, understated way, he simply said that, in response to the accusation that the Kyoto Protocol is unfair to the rich countries:
“Firstly, the per capita emissions in rich countries, for instance, in Europe and the United States, are more than 20 times as high as the per capita emissions in poor countries. Secondly, historic emissions, leading to the present climate change, and also hurting poor countries more than rich countries, do come from rich countries. So equity requires that industrialized countries start reducing their emissions. Others can follow.”
Interestingly, Pronk also made a not-very-subtle threat, noting that Non-participation would also be harmful to the United States itself, and particularly to US business interests, because of the resulting climate-friendly guidelines from products to get access to markets abroad. Non-participation would have major negative consequences for future negotiations on such and other global issues. This is hard to parse, but it raises the issue, to which Auken also gently referred, of trade sanctions against free riders. At the moment, this possibility is articulated in only the most hushed terms, but that will change if ratification becomes an imminent possibility. An economy as large as the USs cannot indefinitely chose the stance of a free rider without consequences. Trade war, anyone
Although the distribution of impacts is a major aspect of equity, one of the only times this was addressed in any detail was in the keynote address by Robert Watson, Chair of the IPCC. His charge was to give an overview of the current science (the conference took place not long after the release of the IPCCs Third Assessment Report), and in his very grim talk he reminded everyone why global warming is such an urgent issue. We wont review his talk here, and rather than download his 13 MB PowerPoint file you might do better to read the Summaries for Policymakers of the TAR. But note that Watson stressed the likely impacts on health and agriculture in the developing countries.
As suggested above, the allocation debate is at the center of the equity debate. Quite appropriately, then, it was the topic of the first panel. Were not going to review it first, however, for it was far and away the most spirited and instructive part of the conference, and were going to save it for last. If you want to skip ahead, see Finally: the Main Act, below.
Overall the panels were a very mixed bag. Its worth taking a look at the their descriptions on Pews web site, for these were written before the conference, and they ask a number of interesting and important questions that go well beyond the issue of allocations, questions that were in many cases unaddressed in the actual panels. For example, the First Steps panel included questions about governance of the CDM and about Annex I commitments to financial resources and technology transfer. However, this panel in particular failed to deliver; the speakers included a representative from Iceland who gave a sales talk promoting his countrys plan for a transition to a low-carbon economy (while noting that their new aluminum smelter would cause them to exceed their Kyoto target), a representative from Kazakhstan who claimed it was unfair that his country couldnt capitalize their emissions reductions (real reductions) the way the USSR and Ukraine were able to because they cant get admitted to Annex 1, and a representative of Japan, who essentially said that the Kyoto Protocol was indeed fair, and then went on to speculate about possible consequences of its entering into force without the US. There was no dialogue; here were no first steps.
The economics panel definitely had some interesting moments. The first presenter, Thomas Black-Arbelaez of Colombia, clearly pointed out that supplementarity caps would have a double-whammy effect on developing countrieswith them, both the volume and the price of CDM credits would be lower. This is in fact a very important and divisive issue, particularly between Northern NGOs and southern NGOs and governments. Black also supported sinks in the CDM. Both of these issues are vexing, because under the Kyoto Protocol the CDM is the largest potential source of finance for the South. Unfortunately, Black didnt seem to have a good answer to a question we asked about the risk that the CDM would lead to the cherry picking of inexpensive mitigation options; he simply argued that that wouldnt be a problem.
Thomas Rutherford from the University of Colorado then presented a very mainstream economic analysis, using a computable general equilibrium model to show that there would be substantial costs to both developed and developing countries from implementing the Kyoto Protocol, but that the flexibility mechanisms could reduce these costs. As we note elsewhere in this issue (see Lies and Economic Models, there are many reasons why the pessimistic conclusions of these types of models should be treated with great skepticism. These are, moreover, well known, and thus its particularly unfortunate that the only US economist on the panel was so mainstream. Ironically, the Pew Center has actually published a report by two of the best US economists working on these issues, Steve DeCanio and Alan Sanstad New Directions in the Economics and Integrated Assessment of Global Climate Change, but evidently didnt think to invite an alternative point of view for this panel. In any case, it should be noted that the DeCanio/Sanstad report is an exception to the otherwise mainstream economic modeling that Pew publishes.
The other presentation on the economics panel was from Sujata Gupta of the Tata Energy and Research Institute (TERI) in India. She began with half a dozen slides comparing developed and developing country energy use, emissions, and income, which not-so-subtly made the point that the US claim that the Kyoto Protocol is unfair would be laughable if it werent so tragic. Her seventh slide explicitly linked these slides to the conferences theme, noting that several Annex B negotiators at COP-6 recognized that in the long run, equity pivoted on a per capita basis is essential. The remainder of her slides focused on Indias energy strategy, and noted that its reforms were significant and should be considered meaningful participation.
Ethical, Moral, and Cultural Considerations was one of the more interesting panels, doubly so because, even here, only one presenter actually took on ethical issues directly. This was the aptly named Drew Christiansen, a Roman Catholic theologian from the Woodstock Theological Center in Washington DC. His presentation, which foreshadowed the US Catholic Bishops Conference Statement on Climate Change, released in June, is definitely worth reading. Aside from being the only person at the conference to point out explicitly that Bushs climate policy is patently immoral, he was also alone in admitting that we in the North may actually have to make real sacrifices if were to adequately respond to climate change. It is a more-or-less explicit (though unarticulated) premise of almost everyone supporting a strong climate policy that we shouldnt point this out, that we should instead stress that reducing our emissions will be much less expensive than opponents of climate policy claim (EcoEquity is not altogether different in this regard; again, see Lies and Economic Models in this issue.) But its also true that sooner or later were going to have to confront the fact that if we are only wiling to make minimal changes in our lifestyles, it will take a technological near-miracle to prevent the kinds of ecological and human catastrophes that Bob Watsons talk presaged.
Again, this panel offered no dialogue, as the other speakers didnt engage Christiansens arguments. Bert Metz, Head of International Environmental Assessments at the Dutch National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), gave a talk on cultural differences between US and European approaches to climate policy. Acknowledging that his talk was based on his personal experiences and not scholarly research, he gave what seemed to be a fairly insightful analysis of differences between negotiating positions and the legislative/bureaucratic approaches to climate in the US and Europe. However, by framing these differences simply as cultural differences, Metz approach obscured the political and economic factors that feed into the different responses of Europe and the US to the climate challenge.
The final speaker on the panel was Wanee Samphantharak, Deputy Secretary General of the Thai Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment. Her main theme was the Thai/Bhuddist emphasis on moderation; she was quite clear that the modern consumptionist ethos was directly responsible for the climate crisis. Unfortunately, the truth of this perspective doesnt seem to make much difference to anything. The climate change negotiations take place completely within the developmentalist paradigm, in which it is assumed that the central issue is preserving the atmosphere while continuing to allow the developing countries to follow in the economic path of the rich nations. (For an alternative view, see our interview with Wolfgang Sachs in this issue.)
The final panel was called Fair and Reasonable Actions: The Path Forward, and according to the conference program, it was to consider differing perspectives on the issue of developing country participation in climate change mitigation and ask when and how a real dialogue on developing country commitments can or should begin. It weighed heavily, then, that Bush had just pulled the US out of the Kyoto process, ostensibly because of Kyotos lack of developing country participation. Of course, in the counterfactual world of a Gore presidency, the same issue might well have been confronted in a ratification debate in the US Senate, where little progress had been made even among Democrats in neutralizing the developing country participation issue. In any case, the answer, were it not for US obstinacy, would be relatively straightforward: developing country commitments would be the subject for negotiations for the second commitment period, which according to the Protocol are to start no later than 2005. (Though, as we note in this issue (see Raise a Glass to Kyoto), Bush has pushed the debate forward by several years.
The first panelist was Alistair MacLean from the Australian Embassy. His presentation was redundant with that of the Australian Environment Minister, for he too stressed the leakage/competitiveness issue. It was notably, however, that he also pointed out that there are no-regrets mitigation options that would not harm development. Hes a nice guy but this was, evidently, the extent of his braveryit would have been better if he had addressed this particular point to the US.
The second panelist, Jung-Sik Koh from the South Korean Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Energy, was the only representative of the so-called Newly Industrialized Countries (NICs) to speak at the conference, and appropriately his slides showed separate data for the NICs energy consumption, emissions and wealth. His presentation highlighted one of the quandaries of the equity debate, which is that all developing countries are not equal; indeed Korea, Israel, and some other countries which are excluded form Kyoto commitments are in fact substantially wealthier in terms of per capita GDP than many of the countries (particularly the Countries with Economies in Transition (CEITs) who do have commitments. Nevertheless, its a historical reality that the developing countries work together as a block to maintain negotiating strength vis–vis the North, and the UNFCCC has hardly transcended that division; to the contrary, the emphasis which the US in particular has put on obtaining developing country commitments without addressing historical accountability or equal per capita emissions has increased the pressure on the South to maintain solidarity.
Kohs presentation stressed the actions that South Korea is already taking, as well as calling for a transition to equal per capita rights (a point he had made in an article in a Chinese journal in 1993, which unfortunately is unknown in the Northern equity literature). He also gave one of the most moving personal statements of the conference, pointing out that when he was born in the 1950s, Korea was desperately poor, as poor as any of todays least developed countries; and that having seen that poverty, and the wealth of the North, there was no way in which Korean families were going to give up their aspirations for a car and comfortable home. Koh drew from this the conclusion that zero-emission transportation and clean coal technology is essential, and he showed a slide calling nuclear power a necessary evil, though it prominently featured a question mark.
The final talk was delivered by Richard Myungi of Tanzania on behalf of Philip Gwage of Uganda, and was the only talk (other than Watsons) to focus on impacts and adaptation. Gwages slides are definitely worth reading , and in fact worth quoting:
* “The cost of adaptation is not aid. Aid is voluntary while the UNFCCC obligates developed countries to meet the cost of adaptation.
* The UNFCCC provides for support to meet the cost of adaptation. There is no excuse whatsoever to defer adaptation to the implementation of CDM Projects, particularly with current position of the Bush Administration.
* Adaptation in the most vulnerable countries is of utmost importance and must be given some level of urgency.
* The conference should devote a reasonable amount of its time discussing how equity can be applied in the context of adaptation rather spending a lot of effort attempting to put the burden of greenhouse gas emission reduction on developing country Parties.
* The discussions should be guided by human dignity considerations rather than pure economic considerations.
Of course, as climate aficionados are well aware, almost all of the attention has in fact been focused on sinks, on the flexibility mechanisms, and in general on devices by which the rich countries can reduce the economic costs of meeting their targets. Meanwhile, the developing countries have had to struggle to get Northern commitments to adaptation funds up to the paltry $1 billion/year that is in the current Pronk text. Add to this the renewed emphasis on developing country commitments, and its easy to imagine that anger in the South is not directed just at the US or the Umbrella Group, but at Europe as well.
Finally: the Main Act
Lets now finally turn our attention to the central discussion of the entire conference, the acknowledgement of the elephant in the room: the debate over allocations. It was in fact one of the very few discussions which had any aspect of a debate, since it included presentations for and against equal per capita rights, even if these presentations were not integrated into a meaningful dialogue.
Its unfortunate that Sunita Narain of New Delhis Center for Science and the Environment injured her leg and was unable to attend, for she (along with Anil Agarwal, also of CSE) most clearly articulates why the allocation issue should be considered a question of resource sharing rather than burden sharing. This distinction is the foundation of the argument for equal per capita rights, and in Sunitas absence, it was never made. Instead, we heard from Alex Evans, who was given a mere ten minutes to prepare. Alex, who at the tender age of 25 is the rather startlingly prepossessed communications director of Englands Global Commons Institute, did an excellent job of presenting the case for Contraction and Convergence, but his approach omitted the fundamental ethical argumentshe repeatedly stated that he was not making a normative argument, instead suggesting that C&C was a fabulous, logical solution that would be bound to please everybody.
Alexs written presentation is well worth reading, particularly because it points out that Northern NGOs, weak as they are on the equity issue, helped set up the current impasse by arguing in the 90s simply that the rich countries go first, rather than making a more robust and well grounded case. But Nancy Kete from WRI came with the specific goal of trashing the per capita argument (see her slides and Evans presentation didnt make a case that could withstand her attacks.
After quoting GCIs Aubrey Meyer to the effect that The right to emit carbon dioxide is a human right that should be allocated on an equal basis to all of humankind, and then Agarwal and Narain that It is obvious that in the future the world will have to accept some common maximum per capita emission for each country in order to deal with global warming, Kete threw in H.L. Mencken to the effect that For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.
It was a rude gesture, rare and refreshing, and it was followed immediately by actual red baiting, of a kind you rarely see these days: The per capita rights talk seems mainly aimed at redistributing global wealth and is fraught with ethical and practical difficulties. Then, astonishingly, came a defense of WRIs carbon intensity proposal as, explicitly, a way forward that does not deliver equity. Indeed, Kete took the well known equation in which
CO2 Emissions = GDP per Person
x Energy per unit of GDP
x CO2 per unit of Energy.
and struck the first two terms, arguing that GDP per Person (a measure of wealth) and Population (a measure of Malthusian ideology) were somehow equivalent, at least in their irrelevance to the problem of establishing a workable climate regime.
Its hard to believe that Kete, or anyone not fundamentally committed to a future of global Apartheid, could honestly believe that rights to the atmosphere should ultimately be unequally distributed, and particularly that more rights should go to the countries and people who are already wealthier. The charitable interpretation of Ketes position, then, is that she believes that arguing in favor of per capita rights will lead to an ever greater impasse in the climate negotiations, and thus will actually be more harmful to the interests of developing countries. This is not a trivial argument; and it is consistent with the approach taken in Pews own position paper on equity, in which the fundamental argument against per capita allocations is simply that theyre not practical because the North wont accept them. But because the ethical logic of equal per capita rights is actually fairly compelling when its examined closely, and because Contraction and Convergence has been gaining adherents, Kete apparently felt the need to attack equal per capita rights in principle, and not simply as an idealistic and impractical proposal.
WRI, of course, has an alternative plan, which Kete outlined in her talk and which is presented in greater detail in a WRI report called What Might a Developing Country Climate Commitment Look Like. In this scenario, developing countries accept targets (though the conditions under which these targets would be implemented are left pretty fuzzy) based on reducing carbon intensity. Theres a lot to say about this idea; suffice it, for the moment, to note that carbon intensity would be measured in units of CO2 per unit of economic output, that developing countries wishing to enter into emissions trading would agree to reduce their carbon intensity by some specified rate over some specified period, and that, regardless of their actual emissions, if their carbon intensity was below the target rate, theyd be able to sell the difference.
Kete herself admitted that her proposal doesnt deliver equity, meaning specifically that it doesnt lead to convergence to equal per capita rights. We agree with a more general interpretationit doesnt deliver equity of any kindand in the next Climate Equity Observer, we will present a detailed analysis of carbon intensity targets (sometimes known as progressive efficiency standards) that looks quantitatively at their equity implications. For now, note that the CI approach gives greater emissions rights to countries with larger GDP, and that it deliberately avoids asking what a sustainable level of global emissions might finally be. In this latter regard it is precisely the kind of guesswork proposal that GCIs Contraction and Convergence framework is designed to avoid.
What we do want to do now is look in greater detail are two questions: What are the bases for WRIs attack on per capita rights, and Why does WRI believe that a proposal which specifically doesnt deliver equity would be accepted as fair by developing countries
Its notable that, while the centerpiece of WRIs argument is that it will be impossible in practice to get both rich and poor countries to agree on any common definition of a fair allocation of emissions rights because principles of fairness are too subjective, it also claims that all parties could in fact accept carbon intensity standards as fair. The implicit logic of the argument is that because it appears not to impose any sacrifice on any parties, and particularly because it explicitly disallows any redistribution of wealth, it ought to be unobjectionable. In this regard it is a variant of the no harm to developing countries position, which (without being quantified) is frequently referred to in discussions of burden sharing by Northerners who dont advocate per capita rights.
The WRI position however requires that the developing countries do not believe that they actually should have a right to equal per capita allocations, and this perhaps explains the intensity of Ketes attack, which was prepared as a reply for Sunita Narain. For if developing countries do in fact believe that they should have equal per capita rights, they would see the carbon intensity proposal as a sucker play in which they agree to accept substantially lower per capita allocations than the rich nations have, with no promise that there will ultimately be convergence to equal allocations.
With this in mind, then, look again at the argument that Kete made against PC. It contains at least three substantive claims. The first is that fairness is subjective, and thus that there is no reason why equal rights should be considered more fair than any other principle. She offered a slide entitled The Moral Ambiguities of Fairness which, following the academic fashion, listed four possible principles (utilitarianism, maximin, entitlement, and egalitarianism), then stated that the principle of fairness one applies depends on what information one has and ones circumstances. This is actually an interestingly contradictory conclusion; the former point implies that new information or perhaps argument can change ones beliefs about what is fair, while the latter seems to imply that people choose principles of fairness to suit their interests. We would confess that both of these are in fact true. But theres a central point that Kete misses here, that principles of fairness and justice apply even when theyre not in your direct interest. Furthermore, it is precisely through ethical argumentthe type of argument that was in such short supply at this conferencethat people with different beliefs and circumstances come to converge on principles of justice.
Ketes second argument is that arguments for equal per capita rights falsely posit that the atmosphere can be divided up among all persons. In a slide entitled Scrap the Rights Talk, she argues that talk of rights and entitlements focuses unduly on allocating atmospheric rights (dividing the pie) and trading of atmospheric rights. She goes on to argue that No one can, or does, own the atmosphere, that allowances are not property rights, and that it is a categorical error to try to divide the atmosphere among all living persons.
This is just pure crap. It seems as if shes trying to appeal to the green opposition to the commodification of nature, but in fact she is both caricaturing the per capita position and being disingenuous about the nature of property rights and of her own proposal. No one supporting equal per capita rights has suggested that they would constitute permanent and irrevocable property rights; clearly the ongoing UNFCCC negotiations process must and will have the ability to determine and then revise the global cap and the various duties and obligations that go with the allocations. Furthermore, as Alex Evans brutally pointed out, Kyoto does in fact create property rightswhenever there is a tradable permit, there is a property right, however contingent it might be. And finally, WRIs own proposal for tradable permits based on reduction in carbon intensity also allocates the atmosphere and, implicitly, creates property rights.
Ketes third argumentthat tradable permits require institutions capable of effective measurement and monitoring, openness to third party verification, etc., and that these may be hard for some countries at this point, is actually a fair critique of all tradable permit systems, whatever their allocation principle. It is not however an argument that citizen of countries that do not meet those standards should have less than equal rights.
Lets cut to the chase: once we admit that we must limit global emissions, the atmospheric sink becomes a scarce resource, and the right to emit takes on economic value. It may appear that by giving developing countries growth caps or modest carbon intensity standards, the standard of no harm to development could be met. However, the end result would be that a disproportionate share of the remaining atmospheric space will still be used by the high-emitting individuals and countries of the world, and when we have to ratchet down to a global average of 0.3 tons of carbon per year, the poor countries wont get it back. This, then, is the bottom line: the current disproportionate and unsustainable consumption by the rich countries is in fact a transfer of wealth from the poor countries to the richtaking wealth from the global commons beyond that to which we are entitled.
Kete and WRI would have us ignore this, and paints those who argue for per capita rights as advocates for unjustified redistribution. Notwithstanding that the size of the transfer of wealth that would result from an equal per capita allocation is not at all clear (being dependent on technology, the rate of transition, and other factors), and that it may not really be that great after all, our point is that this transfer is fair and justifiable. It is unfortunate that no one at the conference raised this point clearly, but then it was unfortunate that there was very little time given to anything that we could honestly recognize as ethical (rather than realist) reasoning. Furthermore, the same principles can be used to argue not simply for equal per capita emissions, but for true historical accountabilitythe North is rich in no small part because of our unsustainable use of the global commons, and the ecological debt associated with overuse can actually be estimated. Indeed, equal per capita allocations can be argued to already represent a compromise, a concession by the South to ignore this debt.
We do not claim that these are uncontroversial points. But it is unfortunate that these arguments, which are ultimately central to the equity debate, were barely touched upon at the conference. Pew could have invited one of any number of articulate defenders of the principle of historical accountability (e.g., Kirk Smith or Eric Neumayer), and they certainly could have structured a better debate over the foundations of the per capita argument. And it is quite unfortunate that Ketes arguments were, and continue to be, essentially unchallenged.
Finally, its worth noting that there were two other speakers on the first panel. The first was Luis Gylvan Meira, head of the Brazilian Space Agency and the lead author of the Brazilian Proposal for measuring GHG accountability through the contribution of emissions, including historical emissions, to global mean surface temperature. Submitted to the UNFCCC prior to Kyoto (FCCC/AGBM/1997/MISC.1/Add.3), the Brazilian proposal is notoriously incomprehensible, and well not try to explain it here. But do note that, with the increasing focus on developing country commitments, its getting new attention within the climate policy world. Meiras talk focused on the scientific basis of the Brazilian proposal, particularly the long-term effects of various GHGs, which is of course a matter of great relevance to the equity debate. Its notable, though, particularly given the way that the Brazilian Proposal integrates scientific and equity considerations, that Meira did not spell out the links. It was an odd and pregnant silence.
Then came Benito Mller, one of the few speakers with a comic touch. He presented a hypothetical scheme for determining an equitable emissions allocation by what amounts to a global votethe rich countries, he assumed, would vote to grandfather, while the poor countries would vote for equal per capita rights, resulting in a population-weighted compromise. Its an interesting and amusing proposal, but a dismal failure as an exploration of the ethics of allocation. What would it mean, after all, for the vote of a rich person to give themselves a larger share of a resource to be taken as equivalent to the vote of a poor person to give themselves an equal share Like WRIs proposal, Mullers denies the possibility of actual ethical reasoning, in which principles of justice are taken seriously, rather than simply functioning as window-dressing for self-interest. And like Meiras talk, it left us wondering just what the movers and shakers here take as their strategy. Mller was quite happy to tell us, later, that personally he supported per capita allocation, but he did not say so from the stage. Peculiar, no
What then to make of all this All in all, it was quite an enlightening event, even with its numerous gaps. First, as we said at the beginning, we give credit to Pew for highlighting the allocations debate, even though it wasnt adequately discussed. Also, WRI played the role we expected Pew to playthat of the mature critic of per capita naivetyand in remarkably severe terms. Perhaps this is fittingafter all, Agarwal and Narains Global Warming in an Unequal World, which put the per capita argument on the table, was written in response to a much earlier WRI report.
Secondly, there was a great deal of attention given to the question of meaningful participation by the developing countries, many of whom are patently doing much more than the US, but it was rarely harnessed directly to a critique of either Byrd-Hagel or Bush. The discussion rarely went beyond the mantra that common but differentiated responsibilities means that the rich countries go first, and it left us, then, on odd ground. No one will speak against common but differentiated responsibilities, but Kyoto is still in danger, and, finally, it isnt obvious that the Kyoto Protocol asserts a defensible interpretation of differentiation. Its only a first step, after all, a political document; ethics makes different demands.
Thirdly, some issueslike the equity issues related to the CDMreceived reasonably good discussion, while others, such as the just transition issue, or the question of compensation and adaptation funds, received little or none. Certainly not everything can be covered in a conference like this, even with dozens of speakers, but a number of judicious improvements could have been made.
Ultimately, however, the conference highlighted, but could not sustain, a discussion of the critical issues. The problem can perhaps be traced back to a contradiction inherent in the framing: to stimulate an honest dialogue that helps lead to climate change solutions that all parties believe are fair. This frames the needed dialogue as one among equals, one in which reasoned discussion could lead to acceptable compromise. But the reality is that the rich and the poor do not come to the table with equal standing, that the problem is not global warming per se but, as Narain and Agarwal named it long ago, global warming in an unequal world.
— Paul Baer and Tom Athanasiou (July 2001)