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.

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Yeb Saño publicly endorses GDRs

In a wide ranging and insightful interview, Yen Saño — the Philippines lead negotiator who rose to fame when, saddened by the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan and frustrated by the slow pace of international action, he fasted through two weeks of climate change treaty talks in Warsaw — has just publicly endorsed the Greenhouse Development Rights approach.

The exact quote, in context, is:

Saño: We cannot force countries which are not Annex I countries to take on obligations of the same nature as Annex I countries. However, I think countries must set aside narrow national interests and be able to contribute in an ambitious way, not just towards a post-2020 regime but an immediate regime. My country cannot afford to wait six more years for the whole world to take action, and six years of no legally binding emissions cuts for me is a catastrophe.

This is a global endeavor, and if we are to subscribe to narrow national interests, we can go our separate ways and forget about solving climate change.

What the Philippines, I think, would like to advocate for is a Greenhouse Development Rights approach. I know that’s not going to resonate well with many countries, both in the north and in the south, but it’s really about rights. It’s about the life of a single Filipino having the same value as one American or one European. We all deserve equitable access to the planet. That should be the primary parameter, rather than economic competitiveness.

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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.

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Equity as Strategy: It’s not four years after Copenhagen; it’s two years before Paris!

Among my many hats, I help to coordinate the Climate Action Network’s Equity Working Group. Two things to know here. One is that CAN is a network of over 850 Non-governmental Organization in more than 90 countries. The other is that it’s been toiling in the dry fields of climate diplomacy for a long, long time.

The Equity Working Group is also known as the Effort Sharing Working Group, a complication of language that’s perhaps a bit confusing to people unfamiliar with the dialect spoken inside the conference halls. Or maybe not. This is, after all, 2013, and the rules of the great inside / outside game that is international climate politics are pretty well known. In any case, there’s no background in this brief post (though if you want some, see The Climate Talks: Could an equity tipping point be on the horizon?).  What you have here is just a few quick pointers, before the 19th Conference of Parties opens in Warsaw.

At this point, there’s quite a bit of cynicism about the international climate talks. But note two subtleties. First, nothing else has worked either. Second, these are not the negotiations as we knew them before Copenhagen. In the conference halls as on the rest of the climate battlefield, the stakes are clearer, and the tensions higher. Moreover, some key pieces have been moved. Not that there’s been a breakthrough, not yet, but there are real forward-looking elements in the mix. The equity debate, in particular, has come a long way.

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