Zero Carbon, Zero Poverty – The Climate Justice Way

Zero Carbon, Zero Poverty – The Climate Justice Way, a major new report written for the Mary Robinson Foundation: Climate Justice by Sivan Kartha and Paul Baer of the Climate Equity Reference Project, breaks new ground in global climate justice theory and analysis.  Here, from the executive summary, are its main conclusions:

• There is strong evidence that a rapid and total or nearly-total carbon phase-out will be technically feasible, both for developed and developing countries.

• Economic analyses suggest that a rapid carbon phase-out can be achieved at an aggregate global cost that is affordable, and much less than the potential costs of climate impacts.

• Nonetheless, a rapid carbon phase-out will be very demanding for all countries, especially developing countries, and presents potential risks to human rights.

• Even greater risks to human rights than the risks posed by aggressive mitigation action arise from the profound impacts of climate change, especially if temperature increase exceeds 2°C, which becomes increasingly likely if mitigation is delayed.

• There is good reason to believe that risks posed by mitigation can be dealt with, provided there is an ambitious and fairly shared global effort to achieve a rapid carbon phase-out while preserving human rights, and a commitment to integrating human rights and equity in all national climate policies.

Is all of this already clear? Perhaps it is, or perhaps not. In any case, these points are rarely made as clearly, or defended as well, as they are here.

National Fair Shares: The Mitigation Gap – Domestic Action and International Support

Our new report, National Fair Shares, summarizes the analysis embodied in the Climate Equity Reference Calculator, a generalized approach to considering equitable effort-sharing in an international climate agreement. This approach is designed to preserve “equitable access to sustainable development” even as it drives an extremely ambitious global mitigation program, and is particularly timely as countries prepare to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the UNFCCC.

In particular, this analysis finds that a nation’s fair share of the global mitigation effort can be quite different from its domestic mitigation potential. Countries with relatively high capacity and responsibility are generally found to have fair shares that greatly exceed their own domestic mitigation potential; therefore, if they are to fulfill their entire fair share, they are required to contribute financial and technological support to other countries. Conversely, countries with relatively low capacity and responsibility are able to act entirely within their own borders. It is assumed that they use international support to undertake mitigation in excess of their own fair shares of the global mitigation effort, and by so doing exploit their full national mitigation potentials. As such, this analysis is informative not only for assessing countries’ INDCs with respect to domestic mitigation action, but international support as well.

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. In this report, we present results for twelve representative countries and a selected set of illustrative “cases.”

The quantitative analysis in this report is based upon the Climate Equity Reference Calculator, an online tool and database that allows the user to select “equity settings” relating to key equity-related parameters, including responsibility, capacity, and development need. These settings are then used, together with standard demographic and macroeconomic indicators (e.g., national population, GDP and carbon-intensity) to calculate implied national fair shares of the global mitigation effort. Importantly, this fair share is expressed as a sum of domestically- and internationally-supported mitigation.

We provide illustrative results for various alternative levels of ambition, for various equity settings, and for various estimates of national emissions reductions. We also show that the differences between the cases are much less significant than the similarities, and that a great deal of the detail can therefore be set aside in favor of an “equity band” that is bound by “High Equity Settings” on one side and “Low Equity Settings” on the other. We have defined this equity band to span a wide range of perspectives on fairness, though it is easier to argue that the “Low Equity Settings” are “too low” than it is that the “High Equity Settings” are “too high.”

For a short summary of the report (6 pages) see here.

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.”


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.


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.”


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.”


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.




High Equity, Low Equity, and the “Equity Band”

The Climate Equity Reference Calculator estimates national fair shares of the global mitigation effort based on each country’s capacity and responsibility, according to user choices across a number of key “Equity Settings.” In both the recent National Fair Shares report and the Comparable Effort Worksheet, results are presented in terms of an “Equity Band” that spans a broad set of possible equity settings and thus gives an instructively comprehensive range of results for each country.

This Equity Band is bounded by a “Low Equity” setting on one side and a “High Equity” setting on the other. While such limits cannot be uniquely and objectively established, they are defined here in a way that captures meaningfully distinct perspectives on two hotly debated issues in climate equity. The first is the level of progressivity that is appropriate to a definition of national capacity, and the second is appropriate time frame for considering a nation’s historic responsibility. In this memo, we briefly describe how the High Equity setting and Low Equity setting (and an intermediate Medium Equity setting) are defined along these two dimensions.

Capacity and progressivity

The Calculator defines national capacity in terms of income. Income is typically considered in a progressive manner in national tax policy; analogously, it can be considered in a progressive manner for the purposes of defining capacity. In general, we consider three alternative settings:

  • In the “No Progressivity” case, all income within a nation counts toward its capacity. There is no income threshold below which individual income is exempted from national capacity. Rather, when calculating capacity, each dollar of income – even for the poorest of the world’s people – counts as much as each dollar of the world’s richest. Importantly, this setting is inconsistent with the conventional progressive approach that virtually all societies have adopted for the purpose of income taxation, and it is difficult (if not impossible) to justify in equity terms. Nonetheless we include it here as a lower bound.
  • In the “Weak Progressivity” case, there is a low income threshold below which individual income is exempted from the calculation of national capacity.[1] This weak case is used to define “Medium Progressivity” cases, in which the “development threshold” is set at $7,500 (approximately $20/day). This level is just a bit above a global poverty line that reflects empirical observations, so it too should be taken as a low estimate of “medium” progressivity.
  • In the “High Progressivity” case, a lower income threshold is set at $7,500 (as in the “Weak Progressivity” case), with income above this threshold counting toward national capacity at a steadily rising rate, until it reaches an upper income threshold of $50,000, above which all income is counted towards national capacity. These settings increase the overall progressivity of the income calculation just as a graduated tax schedule raises the progressivity of an income tax.[2]

Historical responsibility and time frame

The Calculator defines national responsibility in terms of cumulative emissions. A key setting then is the initial year from which historic emissions are included in the reckoning of a country’s responsibility. We consider three alternative settings here.

  • The low case is defined as “Responsibility since 1990.” This date corresponds roughly to the time when negotiations for an international legal agreement to limit GHGs began in earnest and the risks of rising GHGs were acknowledged by the IPCC.
  • The medium case is defined as “Responsibility since 1950.” This date marks a useful middle setting. It defines a period in which responsibility is comprehensible in terms of human lifetimes, reflects roughly the useful lifetimes of much infrastructure, and avoids some of the historical discontinuities that occur when, for example, wars remake national boundaries.
  • The high case is defined as “Responsibility since 1850.” This date defines responsibility as cumulative emissions since a date that roughly corresponds to the time at which carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion reached significant levels. This is also the earliest date for which plausible emissions data exist.

Combining Capacity and Responsibility into High, Medium, and Low Equity Settings

There are nine possible combinations of the three capacity settings and three responsibility settings. However, we here group these into only three cases, which more simply capture the broad “equity band” spanned by the possible settings.

  • “Low Equity” settings: No Progressivity and Historical Responsibility since 1990
  • “Medium Equity” settings: Weak Progressivity and Historical Responsibility since 1950
  • “High Equity” settings: Strong Progressivity and Historical Responsibility since 1850

While we refer to these combinations as Low Equity, Medium Equity, and High Equity, we do not imply that the High Equity case is objectively “more equitable” than Low Equity, for this is ultimately a normative judgment. Rather, these references simply refer to the fact that the High Equity case is the most progressive and includes the most historical responsibility, while the Low Equity case is the least progressive and includes the least historical responsibility.

Using such a broad Equity Band leads inevitably to fair share results that can span a significant range, as is evident in the National Fair Shares report and the Comparable Effort Worksheet. By accommodating a broad range of equity perspectives, such an approach allows us to escape the debate between, on the one hand, the claim that equity is an entirely subjective matter, a mere battle of opinions, and, on the other hand, the claim that one or another equity approach is the precisely “right one.” Equity Bands offer a quantitative framework within which explicit choices between well-specified approaches – e.g. more or less progressive responsibility and capacity indexes – can be assessed and compared in a common framework without being over-specified and reified. While this approach inevitably yields ranges instead of distinct numbers, it also yields higher confidence, as a consequence of having understandable results that transparently and traceably expresses a set of explicit ethical-political choices.

[1] Correspondingly, emissions corresponding to income below the same threshold do not count toward Responsibility.

[2] The Calculator allows the user to set the lower and upper thresholds at any income level. It refers to the lower income level as the “development threshold” and the higher income level as the “luxury threshold”. These terms are used because they are suggestive of a typical and ethically compelling interpretation, where the lower threshold is chosen to reflect an income level modestly above a global poverty line, and the upper threshold is chosen to reflect an income level above which all income is discretionary, and much of it is spent for consumption well beyond basic comforts.