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

Recently, we were invited to do a post on our “equity reference framework” work for the MAHB — that’s Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere, in case you were wondering.  Pronounced “MOB.”  It’s an interesting project, and it has a significant foothold in the fluid, fertile space where environmental scientists and civil society “actors” meet.

The post turned out to be a good introduction to the Climate Equity Reference Calculator, one that situates it firmly in the global climate justice debate, as it’s unfolding in the international climate negotiations.   Here a link to it.  And here’s the lead . . .

“It’s about 18 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.”

The Climate Action Network’s “Equity Reference Frameworks” discussion paper

Though you may not have noticed it, the equity issue is moving in the international climate negotiations.  In particular, the Climate Action Network — the largest of the international civil-society network working the climate talks — has floated a discussion paper on “equity reference frameworks.”  For more on the context within which this discussion paper emerged, see here.

Here’s the beginning of the paper.  Or click here for a PDF of the whole thing.

“Equity is back on the negotiating table, and this really is no surprise.  The negotiations were never going to succeed unless they faced the challenge of “equitable access to sustainable development.”  Unless they faced, more precisely, the equity challenge: holding to a 2°C or even 1.5°C-compliant global emission budget while also supporting a common right to adaptation and sustainable development.  These are preconditions of any successful climate transition.  The difference today is that we all know it.

Today, as the negotiations begin again in earnest, the core challenge is to move the equity agenda forward, in a manner that allows us to simultaneously 1) increase short-term ambition and 2) pioneer a track to collective post-2020 emissions reductions that are in line with the precautionary principle.  This won’t be easy, but it may be possible.  Three conditions will need to be met.

  • First, the Parties must work together, in good faith, to find a way forward on equity.  It will not do for each to assert the uniqueness of its own “national circumstances.”  There must be a global way forward.
  • Second, pre-2020 ambition must be increased.  Developed country targets must be strengthened to be in line with the demands of the science, and significant amounts of financial and technological support must arrive before Paris.
  • Third, there must be a path forward for “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities,” and it must lead to a dynamic, “equity spectrum” approach to CBDRC that is responsive to global economic evolution.

An immediate clarification is in order here.  The need for a dynamic approach to CBDRC does not mean that the existing Annexes should be dissolved, but it does mean that they’re not the way forward, and that one must be found.  The key point, inevitably, is that the Annexes do not fully specify national “fair shares” toward an ambitious global effort.  Parties need more explicit and quantitative guidance, based on the Convention’s equity principles, regarding a fair allocation of both mitigation action as well as the provision of financial and technological support.  The regime that goes into effect in 2020 must focus pressure on those countries that are not contributing their fair share toward the global effort, and it must promise to do so as well in 2030 and beyond, even as the structure of the global economy changes.  If it does not do so, it will not be effective.”

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Remarks on the “equity spectrum” approach, delivered to the ADP2 workshop on the “Scope, structure, and design of the 2015 agreement”

The following remarks were made by Tom Athanasiou, speaking as a member of the Climate Action Network, and in particular as the co-chair of its Equity / Effort-sharing Working Group. The video is here, at 1:12:50.

I’d like to begin with two comments on Prof Garnaut’s slides. First, “concerted domestic action” will indeed be needed, and much else besides.  As Garnaut noted, the current global emissions trajectory, if we stay on it, would likely to yield “a breakdown in international order.”  Second, “concerted domestic action” (Garnaut’s name for bottom up action that is way better than pledge and review) is not going to happen by itself.  The ambition imperative calls for a process designed to “guide national targets” with an “independent expert assessment” of national targets and the remaining 2020 to 2050 global emissions budget.

Which budget, as we all know, is not large.

Let me put this this a bit more emphatically.  What is needed is a process that would allow for a proper Equity Review of the pledges, to be conducted in parallel with the equally-critical Science Review.

To that end, the Parties should launch an open, expert process to develop an equity reference framework that is suitable to the evaluation of national pledges.  This framework would have to be designed to maximize both ambition and participation.  Parties, when making pledges, would be guided by the knowledge that these would be evaluated within both the Science and Equity Reviews.

Parties would of course be free to accept or reject the guidance provided by such an framework.  But be clear.  They would do so against a background in which the possibility of cooperation and ambition is obvious to all, even while it eludes our collective grasp.  Even as the suffering and destruction increasingly surrounds us on every side.

They would not be thanked for their trouble.

How to think about such an Equity Review?  The first point is that the demands of equity have already been agreed.  This is true at the level of the Convention’s keystone text on CBDR & RC, and it’s true of the four fundamental equity principles – ambition, responsibility, capacity, and development need – that underlie the principle of CBDR & RC and, of course, our shared vision of “equitable access to sustainable development” as well.

None of this is going to change.  Nor should it.  Climate, after all, is a global commons problem.  The cooperation needed to solve it can only exist if the regime – as it actually unfolds in actions on the ground – is widely seen as being not only “fair enough,” but an actual positive driver of developmental justice around the world.

What is needed is dynamic equity spectrum approach.  This is our key point.  And here I must note that a dynamic equity spectrum approach would be entirely consistent with the principles of the Convention, and in particular with the principle of CBDR & RC.

A renegotiation or rewriting of that principle, or any other Convention principle, is not needed.  Rather the opposite.  Such an approach as this would give life and meaning to the principles of the convention.

There will be skepticism about a process as ambitious as the one I propose.  But do note that equity frameworks – based upon indicators that transparently represent the principles of ambition, responsibility, capacity and development need – are actually pretty easy to model.[1]  And note as well that a generic, non-equity based spectrum approach, one that is for example confined to the “type and scale” of commitments, will not suffice.  We need an equity spectrum.  A spectrum without equity will not work.  In fact, it would be an invitation to free riding.

It would not give us a way forward.

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Thinking hard about “Equity Reference Frameworks”

The Mitigation Action Plans and Scenarios project in South Africa recently organized an interesting workshop on “Equitable Access to Sustainable Development.” The public report of the workshop is here, and it’s worth spending some time with, particularly because of the depth and sophistication with which it engaged with the problem of ‘Equity Reference Frameworks.” Which here, we believe for the first time, have an acronym! (ERF, of course).

See in particular the report from the workshop, Reflections on Operationalizing EASD, and the background paper on Equity Reference Frameworks and their operationalization, by Xolisa Ngwadla of the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. 

Ngwadla introduces the idea of equity reference frameworks 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.”

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The Climate Action Network’s “New Interpretation of CBDRRC”

The next round of the climate negotiations are now proceeding in earnest, and they’re taking place within civil society networks as well.  One of those networks, the most established and extensive of all those working within the climate talks, is the international Climate Action Network, which consists of over 700 NGOs from around the world.  And CAN, as it is called, has now agreed on its own positions, which will be the basis of its future lobbying and outreach .  These positions are represented by two “submissions” to the UNFCCC secretariat.  The submission to “Workstream 1” (which covers the post-2020 regime that is now being negotiated) is here.  The submission to “Workstream 2” (which covers the effort to increase ambition prior to 2020) is here.

The big news is in the Workstream 1 submission, which starts right off with the equity issue.  Specifically, it outlines the core equity principles that are embodied in the Convention, and then proceeds to give, in 399 words, a “New Interpretation of CBDRRC.”

To wit:

“CAN believes that the ADP negotiations (the post Durban round of talks) can only succeed if they reaffirm, and embody, the principles of differentiated responsibility and capability, as well as other key equity principles and goals like “equitable access to sustainable development.” As a step towards that end, CAN calls upon the Parties to consider a new, dynamic, principle- and indicator-driven interpretation of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”

More precisely, CAN believes that the Parties should seek a new approach to global differentiation that is transparently based upon explicit and clearly-stated equity principles, and upon indicators that embody those principles. Not that such an approach can alone define national obligations. But it can productively inform the negotiations, and it can help to shape a common understanding – a shared vision – of the equity challenge.

Parties should consider various approaches. One possibility is a hierarchical approach in which the existing annexes are reworked and then subdivided into finer annexes. Another is a spectrum approach in which all countries are assigned values on an agreed equity index. What is critical is that the equity principles that underlie any proposed approach be specified, embodied in well-designed indicators, and used to estimate a set of national obligations – for both mitigation and international financial and technical support.

In the spectrum approach, the “equity index” would be composed of a basket of more specific equity indictors. This basket would have to contain well-designed indicators that, taken together, measure both responsibility and capacity. It could include, inter alia, measures of per capita income, measures of per capita emissions, measures of standards of living, measures of historical responsibility, and measures of intranational income inequality.

Such an approach would not preclude country groupings (like today’s annexes). In fact, it would make such groupings more coherent. For example, the set of countries that is high in capacity and responsibility would change over time – an important fact, given that such countries are candidates for ambitious, legally-binding economy-wide quantified emissions reduction targets.

Of course many other kinds of commitments are also possible, and desirable. Obvious examples include renewable energy and/or energy efficiency targets and sectoral targets, all of which could have various kinds and degrees of bindingness. Also, it should be noted that some kinds of actions – for example, nationally-appropriate mitigation actions – can be explicitly contingent on financial and technical support.

Finally, it must be said that all commitments and actions should be amenable to measurement.”

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The North-South divide, equity and development

The What Next Forum in Sweden has just published a nice, up-to-date overview of Greenhouse Development Rights. Many thanks to Niclas Hällström for pushing us to put it together. Weighing in at about ten thousand words, The North-South divide, equity and development – The need for trust-building for emergency mobilization is now the best single introduction and overview of GDRs around, and we’re very glad to have it.

We’re particularly glad because this essay contains an extended discussion of how GDRs – as an “equity reference framework” – could help us navigate a trust- and momentum-building transition to the high-ambition mobilization that we so desperately need.

By the way, this new GDRs overview is part of a book-length collection of rare relevance called What Next Volume III: Climate, Development and Equity. Take a good look at the Table of Contents page.  There’s lots of excellent stuff here.

 

 

 

Norway’s fair share of an ambitious climate effort

The first of our “next generation” of country reports was just done, for Norway, together with Norwegian Church Aid and the ACT Alliance.

The report — Norway’s fair share of an ambitious climate effort — is the firs major report that we have done since we updated and generalized the Greenhouse Development Rights system, and re-released our calculator as the Climate Equity Reference Calculator.

This report is also notable for restricting itself to the “Strong 2C mitigation pathway.”  In other words, the very challenging numbers in this report are associated with an extremely ambitious global mitigation transition, one that would actually have a good chance of stabilizing the climate system.

Three salient global mitigation pathways, assessed in light of the IPCC carbon budgets

In the course of preparing the new Greenhouse Development Rights web applications, we had to come up with a set of reference mitigation pathways which represented the choices before humanity, albeit in a simplified and schematic fashion.  In this paper — for this post is actually a paper — we present these three pathways —  a Strong 2ºC pathway, a Weak 2°C pathway, and a G8 pathway — and their levels of risk, in a fairly precise and technical manner.

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This paper examines the levels of risk associated with three widely discussed global mitigation pathways: a Strong 2ºC pathway, a Weak 2°C pathway, and a G8 pathway. A very large number of analyses and debates refer to these or quite similar pathways. This paper assesses the three pathways in the light of Working Group I’s recently released contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report (IPCC 2013), which provided three specific global carbon dioxide (CO2) budgets, and associated them with specific risks of a global surface temperature increase of more than 2°C by the end of this century, relative to the 1850–1900 average.

Figure 1 presents the three pathways.

Fig1

Figure 1. Three politically salient mitigation pathways: G8 (red), Weak 2°C (blue), and Strong 2°C (green). Also shown (dotted lines) are three pathways consistent with the carbon budgets given by the IPCC, consistent with limiting warming to 2°C with 66%, 50%, and 33% probability, given non-CO2 emissions as per RCP2.6.[1]

The key features of these pathways and the findings of our analysis can be summarized as follows:

The Strong 2°C pathway is defined to be an extremely ambitious mitigation pathway that can still be defended as being techno-economically achievable (Höhne et. al. 2013). Emissions peak in 2014 and reach an annual peak reduction rate of about 6.1% per year (6.0% for fossil CO2 only). Cumulative carbon dioxide emissions after 2012 are 780 gigatonnes CO2 (Gt CO2), which is well within the IPCC’s budget of 1,010 GtCO2 for maintaining a 66% likelihood of keeping warming below 2°C.

The Weak 2°C pathway is fashioned after well-known and often-cited emissions pathways that are typically presented as having a “likely” (greater than 66%, in the IPCC’s terminology) chance of keeping warming below 2°C.[2] Emissions peak in 2014 and reach a maximum annual reduction rate of 3.3% per year (4.4% for fossil CO2 only). Cumulative carbon dioxide emissions from 2012 onward are 1,270 Gt CO2. This exceeds the IPCC’s budget of 1,120 GtCO2 for maintaining a 50% chance of keeping warming below 2°C, suggesting that this pathway carries substantially higher risks than previously believed.

The G8 pathway, a marker of the high-level political consensus in developed countries, is based on emissions targets given in an official declaration of the Group of Eight industrialized countries at its 2009 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy (G8 2009). This pathway is not precisely specified in this declaration, but is sufficiently well-defined that we can compare it with the IPCC budgets. Emissions peak in 2020, decline by a maximum of 4.9% per year (6.0% for fossil CO2 only). Its cumulative carbon dioxide budget of 1,610Gt CO2 considerably exceeds the IPCC’s budget of 1,410 GtCO2 for maintaining a 33% chance of keeping warming below 2°C[3]. We thus find that its chance of keeping warming below 2°C is far less than 33%.

Table1

Table 1. Key data for the three pathways, and the IPCC carbon dioxide budgets against which to compare them.

Decision-makers face a choice among future pathways – a choice that will reflect political, economic and ethical considerations as much as science. This paper shows the consequences of choosing a less-ambitious pathway: a marked increase in climate risk. More specifically, according to the IPCC’s budget numbers, it shows that among the three politically salient pathways assessed here only the very ambitious Strong 2°C pathway is likely to hold warming below 2°C.

For the rest of this paper, click over to the Mitigation Pathways Overview.

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