Agreement on equity issues essential

The immediate need is a focused effort to agree on a small list of well-designed equity indicators. Photo: Adam Cohn cc by-nc-nd

The equity knot remains to be cut before we can see a new global climate agreement.  Climate Action Network (CAN) has just launched a proposal.

Equity issues play an important role when governments now discuss the details for a new global agreement on very steep greenhouse gas reductions, and there is hope that an equity framework can be developed for this process by 2014 at the latest. This is needed to pave the way for governments to be able to decide on a global legally binding treaty in 2015.

In September 2013, Climate Action Network (CAN)  issued its proposals for the equity decision in the UN Climate Convention (UNFCCC). The CAN proposal says that: “extremely ambitious action will only occur within a regime that meets the legitimate development needs of the world’s poor.  Equity, and a process for equity, must be forged into instruments of cooperation and breakthrough. The ultimate need, here, is the formal agreement of an Equity Reference Framework under the UNFCCC. The immediate need is a focused effort to agree on a small list of well-designed equity indicators that, taken together, allow us to adequately model the Convention’s core equity principles.”

CAN has identified the following as the core equity principles of the Convention and some examples for indicators are also presented here:

  1. “A precautionary approach to adequacy, referring to the collective obligations of countries to undertake and support urgent and adequate global action to prevent dangerous impacts of climate change and provide effective adaptation to unavoidable impacts, without which there can be no justice.” (Climate Convention Article 3.3: “The Parties should take precautionary measures to anticipate, prevent and minimize the causes of climate change and mitigate its adverse effects.”)             “The most relevant indicators here, clearly, are those related to the 1.5°C and 2°C temperature targets. These should be defined, in the first instance, by GHG emission budgets, and secondarily by indicative global emissions pathways (including peak years) that conform to those budgets.”
  2. “Common but differentiated responsibility and respective capability (CBDR+RC), in which obligations to take action and provide support, and rights to receive such support, are accepted as functions of both historical and current emissions, and of capability to act.” (Climate Convention Article 3.1: “The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”)            “One obvious indicator point here is that responsibility and capability are frequently correlated. This is not surprising since development and wealth creation have historically been strongly correlated with the consumption of fossil fuels. This frequent correlation between emissions and wealth is implicitly recognized in the second sentence of Article 3.1, obliging developed countries to ‘take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof’. The need to take both responsibility and capability into proper account has implications. In particular, it means that the problem here is properly one of equitable effort sharing. In effort-sharing systems, mitigation efforts and contributions must ultimately be expressed relative to national baseline pathways.”
  3. “The right to sustainable development, which we understand as the right of all countries to not just lift their people out of poverty, but also to provide their citizens with sustainable and universalizable living standards. By sustainable we mean ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’  By universalizable, we mean living standards that could be made available to the citizens of all countries.” (Climate Convention Article 3.4: “The Parties have a right to, and should, promote sustainable development.”)

Discussions on equity issues in the UNFCCC during 2012 and 2013 still showed a large difference between developed and developing countries. The governments of developing countries and institutions like the South Center/Third World Network argue that the Climate Convention recognises the equity principle: that developed countries must take the lead in emission reduction, and that developing countries have development imperatives, and their ability to undertake climate actions depend on the extent of support they receive from the developed countries.

Within the EU, on the initiative of the governments of Belgium and Sweden, an initial workshop was held in the end of 2012 to discuss equity in the context of the UN climate change negotiations. The meeting started a process which has improved awareness and knowledge about equity issues in the EU.

Reinhold Pape

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