Does Fairness Matter in International Environmental Governance?

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 [1].  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.”

More precisely:

“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.

[1] 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.

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