The Greenhouse Development Rights framework is designed to support an emergency climate mobilization while, at the same time, preserving the rights of all people to reach a dignified level of sustainable human development free of the privations of poverty.
More specifically, the Greenhouse Development Rights framework quantifies the official principles of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which call for “the widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.” It does so with the goal of providing a coherent, principle-based way to calculate and compare national obligations to pay for both mitigation and adaptation.
The Greenhouse Development Rights framework was developed and modeled by Paul Baer and Tom Athanasiou of EcoEquity and Sivan Kartha and Eric Kemp-Benedict of the Stockholm Environment Institute. Collectively, they are “the authors’ group” and they can be reached at email@example.com.
The Greenhouse Development Rights book is now in its second edition, though as you can see by a quick perusal of the Publications page on this website, we have published much more than this single text. Other ways to catch up on the history and impact of the GDRs project include the Accomplishments page and this summary of GDRs notices and reviews.
The premise of the Greenhouse Development Rights project, in a nutshell, is that the climate crisis can only be understood against the backdrop of an ongoing, bitter, debilitating development crisis, and that it is both unacceptable and unrealistic to expect those struggling against poverty to focus their limited resources on averting climate change. And the GDRs work goes on from this premise to explore the necessary conclusions: those who are wealthier and have produced higher levels of emissions must take on the bulk of the costs of a global “emergency program” of mitigation and adaptation.
The world of Greenhouse Development Rights, in other words, is not merely a world divided between North and South. It is also a world in which both North and South are divided between rich and poor. Which has a very particular implication: developing countries must curb their emissions, but the global consuming class – the elites within the industrialized world and within the developing countries as well – must cover the costs and provide the resources necessary to enable an emergency global transition to a low-carbon economy.
More particular, the Greenhouse Development Rights framework lays out an effort-sharing framework that is based upon a straightforward accounting of national responsibility and capacity, an accounting that takes explicit care to define both responsibility and capacity with respect to a “development threshold” that excuses the poor, wherever they may live, from any responsibility to bear the burdens of the climate transition.
None of this is simple, not at least when it comes time to translate it into a viable global climate accord. Which is to say that the road ahead is not and cannot be straightforward. But this we know: as long as there is no serious effort-sharing architecture on the table, one that promises an accord in which a global emergency mobilization does not itself threaten the development of the South, developing countries will conclude that they have more to lose than to gain from serious engagement with the climate negotiations. This has always been the premise of the GDRs work, and nothing about the drift of the negotiations leads us to think it wrong.
It comes to this – the world’s wealthy minority has left precious little atmospheric space for the poor majority. Indeed, even if emissions from industrialized countries were suddenly and magically halted, the dramatic emissions reductions demanded by the climate crisis would still require developing countries to urgently decarbonize their economies, and to do so while combating endemic poverty. This is not only the core of the physical challenge, but also the crux of the international political impasse that now stymies the negotiations. And we will not break that impasse by avoiding the core structure of the climate problem.
The Greenhouse Development Rights framework does not, in itself, point the way to resolution of this impasse. For the climate impasse – let us be frank – is far too deeply embedded in the geopolitics of a dysfunctional world order to yield to anything as abstract as an effort-sharing framework. But GDRs is, we believe, quite successful in pointing a way forward.
This isn’t everything, but it helps.