Sachs and Someshwar: Green Growth and Equity in the Context of Climate Change

Green Growth and Equity in the Context of Climate Change, a new paper by Jeffrey Sachs and Shiv Someshwar, both of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, was recently published as a working paper by the Asian Development Bank Institute. It has a bit of a cobbled-together feel, but it must nevertheless be commended. It puts key elements together, and it makes extremely important claims — that the global costs of the climate transition will be large, and they they should be equitably shared between countries.

The logic is transparent.  The first section of the paper is about equity, the second reviews climate-mobilization cost estimates, and the third discusses a UN assessments system that would fund the Green Climate Fund in a manner consistent with the Framework Convention’s overarching equity principle of “Common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”

The Greenhouse Development Rights framework comes up in the first part of the paper, which is a review of equity principles and approaches.  Sachs and Someshwar say that it is “the most widely discussed efforts sharing approach,” and while we’re pleased to hear them say so, our sense is that this is only the case within policy circles.  Among civilians, per-capita approaches are probably still more well known.  That said, policy circles are critically important, for it is within these circles that the battle for international climate governance will be fought.

Sachs and Someshwar take GDRs as the exemplar of approaches that emphasize “the right to development of the poor.”  This is exactly right.  Here, for the record, is their full summary:

“The most widely discussed effort sharing approach is the Greenhouse Development Rights Framework (Baer et al. 2008). It is based upon national responsibility and capacity with respect to a “development threshold” that excuses the poor from any responsibility to bear the burdens of the climate transition. The majority of emission reductions required to prevent dangerous climate change must be made in the developed world in the coming decades. In the same period developing countries require hugely expanded energy services to meet their developmental aspirations of their citizens. Historically, expansion of energy services always been accompanied by rising carbon emissions. The Greenhouse Development Rights (GDR) Framework proposes a climate regime structured to safeguard a right to development. It is a burden-sharing framework that defines national obligations, based on responsibility for the climate change problem and capacity to solve it. Both are defined with respect to a “development threshold” that serves to relieve from the costs and constraints of the climate crisis those individuals still striving for a decent standard of welfare (Kartha et al. 2009). By focusing on people rather than nation states, the GDR Framework also helps focus on inequities within countries (such as the development needs of the poor in the industrialized countries).”

One comment on their proposed assessment:  It is very simple. Too simple, really.  Click though to their paper for the details, and you’ll see that it’s pretty much a classic UN style allocation. There’s no treatment of historical responsibility, for example, and nations are differentiated into very broad income brackets.  That said, the proposal does take responsibility and capacity very roughly into account, and it could easily be argued that it would be 1) a great deal better than nothing, and 2) that it may be about the best we can hope for.

We shall see.