What would a fair UN climate change deal look like?

Great piece — here – on the Responding to Climate Change site, on our Climate Equity Reference Calculator.

Great but not perfect, alas.  For example, the opening tag says “New equity calculator says UK needs to cut emissions 94% by 2020, US by 73% and China just 9.4%.”  And of course this will be read as implying that the is the one sole result of the calculator.  When in fact is it one among many.

Here’s comment that I made soon after the piece was posted:

“Not that I’m complaining about the publicity, but one clarification.   Where the RTCC author says . . .

China’s emission trajectory for 2020 is a whopping 16,688 MtCO2e, just under the target total for the whole world. But the ERF calculator says it just needs to shave off 1,575 MtCO2e, or 9.4%.

What he should have said is something like . . .

China’s emission trajectory for 2020 is a whopping 16,688 MtCO2e, not much less than the mitigation target for the whole world. Of this, according to the ERF calculator, it needs to itself finance mitigation of 1,575 MtCO2e, or 9.4%.  (It’s “fair share”).  The total mitigation that needs to take place within its borders is, of course, much greater, and amounts to about 4,673 MtCO2e, or 28% of China’s projected 2020 baseline emissions.

The problem is that this last number is hard to read out from the Calculator UI as it currently stands.   We will fix this.

Also, the case RTCC used is (Include land use emissions, 1950 responsibility start date, weak 2C pathway, Capacity/Responsibility = 50/50, development threshold = $7,500) is not the one I would have chosen.  If you exclude land-use emission from the calculation and use 1990 as the responsibility start year (this reduces the global mitigation requirement) the readout on China would be:

China’s emission trajectory for 2020 is a whopping 16,750 MtCO2e, more than the mitigation target for the whole world. Of this, according to the ERF calculator, it needs to itself finance mitigation of 1,845 MtCO2e, or 11%.  (It’s “fair share”).  The total mitigation that needs to take place within its borders is, of course, much greater, and amounts to about 4,690 MtCO2e, or 28% of China’s projected 2020 baseline emissions.”

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.

Continue reading “Equity and spectrum of mitigation commitments in the 2015 agreement”

Fair Shares — the Basics

Well here I am again at the climate talks, this time in Bonn: the latest stop on the long slog in the latest attempt to break the stalemate.  It’s not looking too good right now, for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that the wealthy countries are still not doing, or proposing to do, anything like their fair shares of the global effort that would be needed to stabilize the global climate system.

More on this later.  For now here’s a primer that I wrote for this morning’s issue of ECO, the daily NGO newsletter.

Everybody always talks about equity, but no-one ever does anything about it. In hopes that someday the Parties might, ECO would like to offer this quick cheat-sheet.

It’s not true that “equity is in the eye of the beholder.” Sure, there’s a lot to disagree about, but the UNFCCC really does give us someplace to stand. Three places, actually, for when all is said and done, the Convention affirms three high-level precepts: 1) Avoid dangerous climate change, 2) Divide the effort of doing so on the basis of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities,” and 3) Protect “the right to sustainable development.” If it’s consistent with these three principles, it’s probably fair, or at least a fair enough start.

It’s CBDR+RC, not CBDR. Those last words in the second principle – “respective capabilities” – may be challenging, but they’re not any more challenging than “historical responsibility,” and in any case they’re not going away anytime soon. And just because some Parties wish that the responsibility issue would just fade away, that doesn’t mean that other Parties are being helpful by trying to push capabilities off the boat. Two wrongs, as they say, don’t make a right. Not even a development right.

The climate crisis is a global commons problem – emphasis on the word “global.” However you understand your climate obligations, they’re global obligations nonetheless. The responsibility that each nation has to do its fair share is a responsibility to all other nations, or rather, to all the people (and creatures) of the world. If you have a lot of responsibility and capability, and if you thus have more tons to mitigate than it is possible to mitigate within your own borders, then doing your fair share means going beyond your domestic mitigation, and also providing the finance and technology needed to mitigate elsewhere. Which is to say that finance is part and parcel of your mitigation obligation.

Finally, we don’t have to absolutely agree about what’s fair and what’s not. Approximate agreement is a whole lot better than stalemate and standoff. Think of the problem politically. We need to be able to identify climate leaders (who are actually doing their fair share) and climate laggards (who are doing, or proposing to do, much less).  In this regard, a rough common understanding is quite enough. ECO believes that if we can win such an understanding, all else will follow.

Well, maybe not “all else.” Because no common understanding will substitute for ambitious finance. We know Paris isn’t just about finance, but if we don’t get some, COP21 is going to be a grim affair indeed.

– Tom Athanasiou

GDRs shows its head in Bloomberg piece from Bonn

A new piece by Alex Morales on bloomberg.com features the rather unambiguous title of Climate Fix That’s Fair Assigns U.S. Three Times Chinese Effort. It begins with these paras:

“A fair climate fix would assign the U.S. almost three times the effort of cutting carbon dioxide output as China, which in 2006 became the biggest emitter, research by the Stockholm Environment Institute suggests.

The U.S., the biggest historical emitter, would have responsibility for 29.1 percent of the greenhouse gas cuts needed in 2020 to keep the planet on a pathway that avoids the worst effects of global warming, according to the institute’s calculations. That compares with 10.4 percent for China, 22.9 percent for the European Union and 1.2 percent for India.

The research aims to quantify how the principle of equity can guide emissions targets being devised at United Nations climate talks among more than 190 nations that aim to write by 2015 a new treaty to take hold from 2020. Two weeks of discussions began today in Bonn, Germany. Debate about fairness has frequently stalled the discussions as nations wrangle over who bears the greatest responsibility for tackling climate change.”

The piece is worth reading, for it’s a glimpse into the next round of the climate talks, which seems like they may finally face reality. Ethical reality as well as scientific reality.

The piece extensively quotes the Stockholm Environment Institute’s Sivan Kartha, and features numbers from the Greenhouse Development Rights framework. The real news, though, is that the “fair shares” discussion is no longer confined to a few activist networks and research institutes. There are rumblings of a larger effort, perhaps even a semi-official one.

What’s not clear in this piece is that we can easily afford to save our civilization. This has always been the case, though the politics are rather challenging, and people have balked at drawing conclusions.

The difference now is that everyone can now see the elephant in the room.

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.”