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.




Comparable Effort in a Low Ambition World

Ideally, an assessment of national INDCs would start with a specified level of global ambition (e.g. a 2°C compliant global emissions pathway) and a coherent and well-specified notion of national fair shares, one based on a transparent interpretation of the core equity principles of the UNFCCC. There are two difficulties with this.

  • First, there is no single, universally accepted framework for national fair shares. One way to account for this (using “Equity Bands” that accommodate a diverse range of equity perspectives) is described in the document High Equity, Low Equity, and the Equity Band.
  • Second, pledges have almost universally been so modest that any evaluation relative to the scientific requirements (e.g., a good probability of holding warming below 2°C) does not provide a useful basis for comparing pledges to each other, making it difficult to clearly identify leaders and laggards.

In this context, it can be helpful to supplement the notion of “fair share” with the notion of “comparable effort.” That is to say, a national INDC can be evaluated not only by comparing it to a national fair share of the scientific requirement, but also by comparing it to other national INDCs, which, of course, may be neither ambitions nor equitable.

There are two questions that the notion of comparable efforts can help answer. The first question is: If Country A is pledging to do X% of its fair share, what would Country B have to pledge to also do X% of its fair share? The second question is: Of what overall global mitigation effort can Country A claim to be pledging its fair share, assuming all other countries make comparable efforts by doing their fair shares? Both of these will be explained below using the example of the EU’s INDC, which is taken here to be straightforwardly “40% below 1990 emissions.”


The table below, and the Comparable Effort Worksheet, show how these questions can be answered. (See also the National Fair Shares report for details.) First, “What effort (for any other country) would be comparable to the EU’s at “least 40% below 1990” pledge?” To answer that question, we can calculate what fraction of EU’s fair share of a global 2°C effort its INDC comprises, and then for any other country how much mitigation it would need to pledge in order to contribute the same fraction of its own fair share. We estimate that the EU’s INDC amounts to roughly 2.0 GtCO2e of mitigation effort below the EU’s projected 2030 baseline. This is approximately 22% of the EU’s fair share of a global 2°C mitigation effort (9.0 GtCO2e) in 2030 as calculated using the Climate Equity Reference Calculator set to the High Equity settings, or 27% of its fair share (7.5 GtCO2e) calculated using the the Low Equity settings.

Applying the same percentages to the fair share mitigation of, for example, the United States and China, we can calculate their comparable mitigation efforts relative to their own Business-as-Usual baselines, and get 4.0 GtCo2e and 1.2 GtCO2e respectively. Translating these to the 1990 base year, this would mean for the United States that an “at least 41% below 1990” target would be an effort comparable to the EU’s “at least 40%” (since the United States typically utilizes 2005 as its base year, we can also translate this to “at least 50% below 2005”), while for China, a comparable effort would be to limit its emissions growth to “525% above 1990 levels”. For the Low Equity settings, the US’s effort would have to be “at least 15% below 1990” (or “at least 27% below 2005”) to be comparable to the EU’s INDC, while China would have to limit its emissions growth to “490% of 1990 levels.”[1] The same calculation for all remaining countries together (Rest of World) gives 3.2 and 5.8 GtCO2e using High and Low Equity settings, respectively. [2]


Table1_v02skAssessing the level of effort for the USA and China (and Rest of World) that would be a comparable effort to the EU’s INDC, by positing that each does the same percentage of its fair share of the global mitigation as the EU. The US would have to reduce its emissions 41% below 1990 levels to offer an effort that is comparable to that implied in the EU’s INDC, calculated using the High Equity settings, while China would have to limit its emissions growth to 525% above its 1990 level. Using Low Equity settings, these figures are 15% and 490%, respectively. The resulting total mitigation globally is  10.4 GtCO2 and 12.5 GtCO2 using the High and Low Equity settings, respectively.


The table above also presents the answer for the second question, telling us to what overall global level of effort would the EU’s INDC make up a fair share contribution. Adding the EU’s INDC to comparable efforts from the US, China, and Rest of World, we see a global total level of mitigation in 2030 of 10.4 GtCO2e using High equity settings, or 12.5 GtCO2e using Low Equity settings.

This is shown graphically below. The EU’s “ambition band,” shown in light red, represents the range of global mitigation that would be achieved if all countries matched the EU’s pledged mitigation with comparable efforts under specified equity settings. The total mitigation achieved still leaves a large shortfall, even if one takes the lower edge of the ambition band, and even in comparison to the least ambitious (G8) of the three 2°C pathways. This is true for the simple reason that EU’s 2.0 GtCO2e pledge is only a small portion of its fair share of the required global mitigation, even under the Low Equity settings, and even compared to the relatively modest level of mitigation required by the G8 pathway. (The EU’s 2.0 GtCO2e amounts to less than 8% of the 25 GtCO2e of mitigation required to reach the G8 pathway, and roughly 4% of the 47 GtCo2 required to reach the Strong 2°C pathway.)

Ambition Band_v01sk - High Low

Global “Ambition Band,” based on EU INDC.  The red band represents the range of global emissions that would be achieved if the EU INDC were to be matched by comparable efforts by all other countries. The top of the band shows the consequence of all countries doing 22% of their fair share of the global mitigation required for Strong 2°C pathway (matching the EU’s effort, assuming High Equity settings) and the bottom of the band shows the consequence of all countries doing 27% (matching the EU’s effort, assuming Low Equity settings). The three blue lines show the G8, Weak 2°C, and Strong 2°C pathways, for comparison.

For the EU’s INDC to define a mitigation contribution that could be considered a 2°C effort when matched by comparable efforts by all other countries, one of the following two situations would need to apply:

First, the EU’s fair share of the global effort as calculated by some other approach to equitable effort-sharing would somehow have to be found to be much smaller than that found using the Equity settings considered here.  However, since the Low Equity settings assume that capacity is defined with zero progressivity (no development threshold that excludes the income of even the very poor from the calculation of a country’s capacity) this would effectively require a “fair shares” arrangement that is actually regressive, in essence requiring poor countries to contribute more per dollar of income to the global effort than do the richer countries.

Or, second, and far more plausibly, the EU’s pledged domestic mitigation could be accompanied by a second commitment, one to provide a significant level of international mitigation support. Given the small size of the EU’s pledged domestic reductions, its pledged international support would need to be quite large – roughly two times larger in terms of tons of mitigation supported assuming Low Equity to reach the Weak 2°C pathway, and as much as four times larger assuming High Equity to reach the Strong 2°C pathway.



[1] Most of this increase, of course, is attributable to China’s economic growth since 1990. See the Calculator for details.

[2] Note: We use here the Strong 2°C pathway to show the calculation of comparable efforts, but the results are actually independent of the choice pathway. A different pathway such as the G8 pathway would lead to a smaller fair share for the EU (and all other countries), and imply that the EU pledge makes up a larger percentage of its fair share, and the end results would all be the same.