A model US “Fair Shares” Pledge

You remember the Paris Agreement, right? As a good thing, right?

There are two reasons why you should. The first is that Paris actually exists, and really could serve as a keystone of planetary climate mobilization. The second is that its “ambition mechanisms” (its “ambition ratchet”) are intended to strengthen the national pledges of action (official known as “nationally determined contributions” or NDCs) over and over again, as time goes by. Such that, when the history of the climate reckoning is finally written, the Paris ratchet will be a crucial part of the story. If it has worked, then all the Agreement’s shortcomings will be forgiven. If it hasn’t, we’ll have to admit, for whatever cold comfort it brings us, that the cynics in our ranks were right, and that Paris was just another false promise.

This isn’t a piece on the ambition ratchet, though I plan to write one. Rather, it’s a quick note to announce the “Fair Shares NDC” that was recently released by a rather ad-hoc coalition of people and groups from the U.S. climate left, for the explicit purpose of modeling the actions we believe the U.S. should actually be pledging, in this the pivotal first year of what promises to be a pivotal decade. We don’t claim the Fair Shares NDC is perfect—this is a work in progress—but we do claim that its asks, “unrealistic” or “utopian” though you may judge them to be, should not be casually set aside, not if we  intend to achieve the Paris temperature goals. Rather, at a minimum, take the Fair Shares NDC as a standard against which to measure the Biden Administration’s more official offering.

One key bit of context—the climate mobilization has now begun in earnest, and it wasn’t Paris that set the spark. Paris didn’t hurt, but if you look back for the single best marker, the one that most clearly illuminates the end of the denialist interregnum and the beginning of today’s struggle towards seriousness, you’d be better off choosing the IPCC’s special report on Global warming of 1.5°C, which somehow managed to shift the frame. You can see this in the shape of the current negotiations, in which countries around the world are being asked to announce commitments to reduce their emissions to “net zero” by 2050. This figure comes directly from the IPCC report, which told us, among much else, that we had best do our damnedest to hold the warming to 1.5°C, and that this means global reductions of about 50% by 2030. [i]

There’s a lot to say about these numbers, but the point here is only that they’ve gone viral, and mainstream, and indeed have taken on an almost normative air. You’re nobody, these days, if you haven’t made a net zero 2050 pledge. Which is not the problem. The problem is rather that ours is a world in which some countries are fantastically rich, while others are not, in which some countries have emitted huge amounts of greenhouse gases, while others have not, and yet the international pressure to achieve a universal push for unconditional national net zero 2050 pledges takes very little account of these defining facts. To the point where now, with 2030 pledges high on the agenda, even rich countries like the US can get away with adopting the global average figure—a 50% by 2030 reduction target—and expect it to be widely accepted as being, well, fair enough.

The problem is that the 50% number—which the IPCC asserted as a global 2030 reduction target—is not in any way a proper guide to national fair shares, nor will it ever be. There is no future in which the 2030 US fair share, and the 2030 fair share of, say, Sierra Leone, are going to be the same. Which brings us to the question at the heart of the Fair Shares NDC—what should the U.S. pledge in its new NDC? Or, more precisely, what would it pledge if it was actually proposing to do its fair share, relative to the demands of the 1.5°C global temperature goal, and in the light of its outsized national wealth and responsibility?

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A conversation cum debate between Rupert Read and Tom Athanasiou

Back in March, I debated Rupert Reed at the Center for European Studies at Berkeley. Rupert is a British Green politician and philosopher (a Wittgenstein expert, actually) who has recently emerged as a spokesman for the Extinction Rebellion. The debate is not uninteresting. In fact, it got quite rather testy at several points, as for example when I felt compelled to defend the IPCC against Rupert’s rather apocalyptic take on radicalism. Here’s the video. . .

Saudi version of climate justice rejected by developing countries

The drama was high in Katowice when a rotten bloc of four countries (the Saudis, of course, and also the U.S., the Russians and the Kuwaitis) refused to welcome the IPCC report.  But it wasn’t the drama that made the fight an important one.  It was that the Saudi’s argument. . .

“Saudi Arabia’s lead negotiator Ayman Shasly said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report – released in October – ‘shows that [halting warming at 1.5C] is achievable, it’s doable, let’s all do it together, which is not fair. What is the equity in this? Where is history in this?’ ”

. . . has definitely passed its use by date.  Read more here.

After Paris: Inequality, Fair Shares, and the Climate Emergency

And here is something new!  A report that evaluates the current national pledges of action in the light of the IPCC’s bracing new report — Global Warming of 1.5°C — and in the context of an analysis that takes inequality within countries just as seriously as it takes inequality between countries.

The report is titled After Paris: Inequality, Fair Shares, and the Climate Emergency, and it has an extremely impressive list of organizational endorsers, from all over the world.  Which is not surprising, as it was produced under the aegis of the Civil Society Equity Review coalition, which has built quite a bit of momentum at this point.  EcoEquity, as one of the partners in the Climate Equity Reference Project, is one of the principle authors.

One of our partners even call this report “elegant,” which is something for this sort of a report.  Take a look!

Fair Shares: A Civil Society Equity Review of INDCs

Cover image - smallerAn unprecedentedly broad and diverse coalition of global civil society organizations and social movements (see the list here) has just released a joint assessment of the national pledges of action (called “INDCs” in UN lingo) that are being submitted in the global climate negotiations.

This assessment was done with eyes towards both adequacy and equity.  Fundamentally, it asks what the INDCs add up to in relation to a 1.5°C / 2°C degree goal, and if each country is pledging to do its fair share of the necessary mitigation action, based on its historical emissions and its capacity to act.  When it comes to public mitigation finance, adaptation, and loss & damage, the assessment restricts itself to estimating total global needs.

Technically, the Civil Society Review draws upon the analysis and modeling of the Climate Equity Reference Project, which is, of course, strongly associated with this site. However, it is done with respect to specific range of equity settings, one which defined the agreement within the coalition and, notably, one which is narrower than the range of settings supported by the Climate Equity Reference Calculator.  On the adequacy side, it is referenced to a challenging global mitigation pathway that represent a widely used distillation of the most stringent category of pathways in the IPCC scenario database.

There are many details, most of which are explained in the report.  The key point however, and please keep this in mind, is that the review does not argue that countries should only do their fair shares.   Rather, it seeks to identify which countries are offering to do their fair share, which need to do more to meet their fair share, and which must be supported to do even more — sometimes much more — than their fair share if the world is to reach a below 2°C or even 1.5°C pathway.

The full report, the summary report, and the list of supporting organizations can all be found at http://civilsocietyreview.org.  This site also contains a form by which your organization can add its name to the list of supporters, if it wishes to do so.

The 2C warming limit — a "defense line," not a "guard rail"

Just in case you were wondering, a key “Structured Expert Dialogue” between IPCC scientists and UNFCCC negotiators has just released its technical summary.  And, happily, it has been digested by the Climate Analytics team into this short, clear overview.

This SED is news because it essentially confirms the arguments that the Small Island Developing States and the Least Developed Countries have been making for years, that 2°C warming limit is too high.  And that it must not be crossed.  To wit:

“We are therefore of the view that Parties would profit from restating the long-term global goal as a ‘defence line’ or ‘buffer zone’, instead of a ‘guardrail’ up to which all would be safe. This new understanding would then probably favor emission pathways that will limit warming to a range of temperatures below 2 °C. In the very near term, such aspirations would keep open as long as possible the option of a warming limit of 1.5°C, and would avoid embarking on a pathway that unnecessarily excludes a warming limit below 2°C.”

This clear statement is hugely relevant to the ongoing negotiations, which are stretching towards a possible breakthrough in Paris later this year.  The problem is that, while Paris is likely to be an official success, it’s not at all clear that it’s going to set us up for the extremely challenging transition that will be necessary if we’re going to successfully “defend” the 2°C line. The good news is that the assembled experts also concluded that the stricter 1.5°C temperature goal is still within reach, just.  It’s going to take everything to reach it.

Climate Crossroads: Toward a Just Deal in Paris

This essay was first published by the Great Transition Initiative.  See the original here.

The 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit was a failure, but it did serve as a wake-up call. The global governance system currently in place has not been capable of making the momentous “top-down” decisions that are necessary to limit aggregate emissions, let alone doing so in an acceptably fair manner. As we approach the critically important 2015 Paris Summit, negotiations are taking a more realist course, with national pledges of action understood as the best foundation for international mobilization. Making this work will take a “pledge and review” agreement with an extremely robust review in which national commitments are evaluated collectively for compatibility with climate science and comparatively for compatibility with concerns of justice. Equity reference frameworks can help achieve the crucial task of justice, which now threatens to fall through the cracks. Such frameworks have already been developed to address distributional justice both within and between nations and to identify both leaders and laggards. They offer a way forward consonant with the core equity principles embodied in the United Nations climate convention. Paris can propel this agenda, but will it?
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National Fair Shares: The Mitigation Gap – Domestic Action and International Support

Well, we finally finished it.

The National Fair Shares report is designed to show what it means to take the analysis in the Climate Equity Reference Calculator seriously. It’s worth reading even if you think that we’re doomed, because it very carefully works out what it would mean to hold to the IPCC’s carbon budgets, in the context of an international climate accord that might actually work. Which is to say a climate accord that works for everyone, even the developing countries, one designed to preserve “equitable access to sustainable development” even as it drives a rapid global phase out of all carbon emitting technologies.

We don’t actually think we’re doomed, of course. If we did, we could never have written anything like this. We think humanity is going to rally. Or at least that it could.

What’s in the National Fair Shares report? Here’s a paragraph from the abstract:

“In this report, we systematically apply a generalized and transparent equity reference framework. . .  with the goal of quantitatively examining the problem of national fair shares in a global effort to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This framework is based upon an effort-sharing approach, uses flexibly-defined national “responsibility and capacity indicators,” and is explicitly designed to reflect the UNFCCC’s core equity principles. It can be applied using a range of possible assumptions, and whatever values are chosen, they are applied to all countries, in a dynamic fashion that reflects the changing global economy.”

What’s the point? Only that the world’s national are probably — and finally — going to negotiate a global climate treaty in Paris in late 2015.  But even assuming that they do, it’s going to be far too weak, and Paris will mark the beginning of the really hard work: raising ambition in the context of a truly global accord.  Assuming this happy day arrives, we’re going to need an “equity reference framework” to help us figure out which countries are going their “fair shares” and which ones are free riding on the work of others.

Which is where this paper comes in. You can find it here.  For a short summary (6 pages) see here.

The road to Paris, the Climate Equity Reference Calculator, and you

It’s about 15 months now until the Paris climate showdown.

The good news is that there’s quite a lot happening. The clarifying science, for example, is no longer easily denigrated. The IPCC’s 2°C carbon budgets, the new age of “extreme weather,” the fate of the Arctic, these can no longer be cast as fervid speculations. Denialism – at least classic denialism – has peaked. This is a time of consequences, and we all know it.

But what about Paris? Why do I even mention the international climate negotiations? Don’t we all know that the North/South divide is unbridgeable? Don’t we all know that the wealthy world will never provide the finance and technology support that’s needed to drive deep and rapid decarbonization in the emerging economies? Don’t we all know that the prospect for a meaningful breakthrough in the climate talks is nil?

In fact, we do not.

Continue reading “The road to Paris, the Climate Equity Reference Calculator, and you”