- 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. 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.”
“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.”
- Briefing the negotiators
In late 2012, just before Doha, the Belgian and Swedish governments hosted a high-level meeting on equity in Brussels. Quite a number of negotiators were there, and so were we. The event presentations are archived at the website of the Belgian federal Climate Change Section. Note in particular the reflections by senior negotiator Michael Zammit Cutajar, wherein you will find quite a few traces of our work.
- BASIC experts: Equitable access to sustainable development
It’s unwise to predict the future, particularly the future of the climate negotiations. But if you believe that their outcome is critical, and that it will bear heavily upon our common future, then you’ll hope that Equitable access to sustainable development, a long-in-the-making report by climate and climate-equity experts from India, China, Brazil and South Africa, will be taken seriously.
The EASD report was released on December 3rd in Durban, just about the time that the talks started hotting up, so it’s unlikely that most negotiators had time to read it with any care. But if Durban goes at all well, if that is it manages to save the Kyoto Protocol and to otherwise open the door to serious consideration of a next-generation climate accord, one that’s actually fair enough to support real ambition, then this report will, eventually, be recognized as a turning point.
The South’s Ministers, at least, will take it seriously. They know the problem of “equitable access to sustainable development,” and that it must be solved if there’s to be a successful global climate regime. And, at this point, it may also be reasonable to hope that, after Durban, the environmental NGOs will finally begin to face the challenge of fair-shares global burden sharing.
The governments of the North are another matter. The Europeans, certainly, do not imagine that the demands of sustainable development can be put aside, and even the United States, despite its political crisis, is in some kind of motion. Not that the Obama team will welcome this reassertion of the equity agenda. That would be too much to hope for from the “realists” that brought us the Copenhagen-era push for Pledge and Review. But at the same time, it seems clear that the orthodoxies of traditional realism no longer charm as they once did. They have become cover stories, and this no realism can survive.
This report, for its part, is a serious one. It wastes no time pretending that the global carbon budget has not already been essentially exhausted, or that development-as-usual is still a viable option for the South. Nor does it pretend that we can muddle through with bottom-up accounting and a bit of technological optimism. These are all things that just can’t happen if we seriously intend to stabilize the climate system. Developmental justice is a precondition for high ambition, and this report imagines that we’re serious enough to face this bottom-line fact.
- CAN effort-sharing discussion paper
The fair-shares discussion has long percolated though the climate movement. The drafting of an official Climate Action Network discussion paper on effort-sharing frameworks is nevertheless a bit of milestone.
This paper was written cooperatively by people from a variety of CAN member groups — including people from Greenpeace, Oxfam, and Christian Aid, as well as CAN staff and members of the Greenhouse Development Rights team. A much larger group is following its development. It contains a nice concise introduction, but let us add that it’s particularly notable for its principles-first approach, with which it does a pretty good job.
Note especially that only a few of the frameworks that are analyzed herein — GDRs is among them — seem capable of actually supporting both the right to sustainable development (R2SD) and a high-ambition transition. Which, when you come right down to it, the bottom line in all this.
- The post-Copenhagen Loopholes discussion
One recent, notable development in the movement response to the low ambition of the current negotiations has been a focus on the “loopholes” by which the Annex 1 countries avoid taking meaningful mitigation action. This response has been extremely wide — beginning with the “Gigatonnes gap” effort launched by CAN in Copenhagen and subsequently generalizing into an effort that is supported across most all sectors of the global movement.
This effort touches on the GDRs project, of course, for the simple reason that loopholes aim to reduce or even eliminate the total global effort that we seek to instead quantify and fairly divide. Our contribution to it has so far consisted of a presentation given by Sivan Kartha at a UN workshop that was recently held at the “Bonn III” intersessional. This presentation — described here – will be followed soon by a technical paper.
- Climate Action Network debates GDRs and related approaches
Recently, the Climate Action Network has begun to take the effort-sharing question more seriously, a development for which we take some credit. In any case, we have made a considerable effort to participate in the CAN debate, and to learn from it. This effort has included a framing paper called Principle-based burden sharing in an MRV world, an invited statement to the CAN post-Copenhagen strategy conference, and a sustained, and influential, role in the subsequent “Common but differentiated Responsibilities and respective capabilities” working group. The headline here is that, as the post-Copenhagen negotiations continue, this working group only becomes more important — both AOSIS and the LDCs have requested input from CAN on the equity and effort questions.
- Mainstreaming GDRs into the research & policy literature
In the last year, GDRs has been decisively mainstreamed into the energy research, climate policy, and climate ethics literatures. A perusal of the Notices and Reviews page of this website provides the details — some of which are quite striking — but the overall trend is notable in itself. It includes the established environmental networks (both Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace have in the last year released major energy policy reports that include GDRs as part of their core analysis, and WWF continues to suggest that something like GDRs is going to be seen as necessary, as soon as we become serious about trying to stabilize the climate), the policy literature (including the literature in India and China, where the climate equity debate is heating up), and of course the academic literature, where GDRs in now established within the core of the expanding equity debate.
- The 350 Emergency Pathway
Prior to Copenhagen, we published The 350 Emergency Pathway, a technical brief designed to help movement and policy activists understand the implications of extremely stringent emissions-reduction targets. Such targets are now a major part of the debate, but are poorly understood — neither their associated trajectories nor their political implications have been well explored.
The brief was extremely well received. The folks at 350.org printed many copies, and distributed it to bother their network activists and developing country negotiators. It was debated and then adopted as part of a core position by Climate Action Network Latin America. And it was a major input into a high-profile scientists statement — The Copenhagen Prognosis – that was released at COP15.
- Principle-based, comparable Annex 1 targets
The new GDRs paper is being circulated for comment. It’s called Principle-based, comparable Annex 1 targets and you can download it here. We’d like to hear from you — write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Going Clean – The Economics of China’s Low-carbon Development
It is difficult to overstate the importance of Going Clean, which was produced by a high-level group that included analysts from both the West and the Chinese Economists 50 Forum. Nor is it easy to overstate the role that the GDRs analysis plays in Going Green’s underlying analysis of the climate challenge.
Among its most notable points, Going Green provides a clear estimate the emissions budget that would be available to China in a world that was seriously committed to holding the 2ºC line:
“If the industrialized (Annex 1) countries were to commit to more ambitious targets of reducing their emissions to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and 95 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050, their future emissions would amount to 200 Gt CO2. This would leave 460 Gt CO2 for the non-Annex 1 countries. If we assume that China’s part of this remaining budget is proportional to its share of current non-Annex 1 emissions, its future budget would be 220 Gt CO2.”
Just as significantly, it shows that this is an achievable goal, though only in the context of a fair global regime. (more…)
- Support for southern “climate debt” analysts
For several years now, the Greenhouse Development Rights group has been working closely with southern analysts — notably analysts from the Third World Network and the South Centre — supporting them in their development of a rigorous analysis of historical debt. This support has been primarily of a technical nature, though there has also been a fair amount of political debate.
This relationship continues, and has considerably enriched the GDRs analysis. It is also fundamental to an evolving analysis — projected for released in Cancun — that, for the first time, lays out a detailed comparison of the Climate Debt and GDRs analyses.
- Principle-based burden sharing and the Copenhagen transition
Earlier this year, in preparation for a pre-Copenhagen NGO policy summit, we prepared a framing and background paper called Principle-based Annex 1 Differentiation in the Copenhagen Accord. It’s quite interesting, we think, as a guide to thought and debate, but do note that it was written with an expert audience in mind.
The conference was, we think, quite a successful one. At least it was successful for us, for at it we realized that there was a clear need, one widely perceived within the NGO community, for a new kind of GDRs study, one designed to cast as much light as possible on the effort-sharing debate as we now know it. To move forward with that study, we prepared a detailed Terms of Reference for a study which we call Principle-based burden sharing in an MRV world.
We are now moving ahead on this study, and plan to have it completed prior to the Cancun summit.
- One billion high emitters
We feature this, a pointer to Sharing global CO2 emission reductions among one billion high emitters, since it is in certain ways quite parallel to our own approach. More precisely, the recent proposal by Chakravarty et al., just published in the Proceedings of the [US] National Academy of Sciences, as Greenwire notes, “loosely builds on the idea of ‘greenhouse development rights,’” which is does by by way of analytical machinery quite similar to our own. There are of course differences, which we will note below, but above all we welcome this analysis as an important contribution to the debate.
- GDRs gets a strong vote of support from South Africa
The recent negotiations (AWG-KP, Bonn, March 27) saw South Africa speak for GDRs in the opening plenary. The context was principle-based burden sharing amoung the developed (Annex 1) countries, and South Africa showed a set of options that included a modified version of the GDRs Responsibility and Capacity Index. Suffice it to say that we were quite pleased, but that some folks found the recommended Annex 1 targets to be rather… challenging.
For the background research behind this endorsement, see this report.
- COP14 in Poznan
The 14th Conference of Parties in Poznan, Poland is a major event for Greenhouse Development Rights. The GDRs side event is a big deal, including the head of Mexican delegation, as well as representatives from Norwegian Finance Ministry and UNFCCC Secretariat. There are lots of other GDRs events as well. This is the first COP in which GDRs is actively promoted (see the Countdown to Copenhagen campaign) by a large number of campaign organizations, including not just Christian Aid but also many other members of the 17 member Aprodev network.
- Electoral programme of the German Greens for the European elections 2009 endorses GDRs
For those who read German…
Wir wollen, dass die Europäische Union und ihre Mitgliedstaaten auf Grundlage ihrer historischen Verantwortung und ihrer wirtschaftlichen Fähigkeit zur Finanzierung notwendiger Anpassungs- und Reduktionsmaßnahmen in Entwicklungsländern beitragen. Das Recht auf Entwicklung muss im Mittelpunkt dieser Politik stehen. Wir unterstützen den Ansatz der *Greenhouse Development Rights". Dabei werden die Reichen aller Länder in die Reduktionsbemühungen einbezogen, während Menschen, die unter einer bestimmten Wohlstandsgrenze leben, das Recht auf Entwicklung haben.
- The second Equity Summit in Chennai, India
In October of 2008 the Climate Action Network International has its second “Equity Summit,” in Chennai India. About 140 people attend, from around the world, and this time it was not “Contraction and Convergence” which played the role of “the alternative,” but rather the Greenhouse Development Rights framework, which had a large number of visible supporters.
- GDRs in Thailand
In July 2008, Tom Athanasiou presents Greenhouse Development Rights at the founding conference of the Climate Justice Now network in Bangkok Thailand. Also in Bangkok, the first country report focusing on a developing country – Thailand, of course – is released.
- First GDRs country reports published
In May, in Oslo Norway, the first of the GDRs “country reports” is published, and launched with a series of meetings and media events. These reports compare a stated national climate-policy-of-record to the national climate obligation, as calculated by the GDRs reference case.
- GDRs gains more support in 2008
Greenhouse Development Rights speaking tour continues, and goes international, and becomes, in many ways, the year’s major activity. As it proceeds, GDRs gradually collects more and more supporters around the world. Formal organization of a “Friends of Greenhouse Development Rights” circle that includes not only Christian Aid but also Oxfam International, and a widening circle of individual supporters from most major international climate networks.
- GDRs at the COP13 in Bali
Bali was a milestone for the Greenhouse Development Rights project. Not only did the first edition of the GDRs book look great, but our side event (the slides are archived here; the UN’s archived video, which may or may not work, is listed at 10:30 AM on this page) went very well indeed. In fact it was packed. And GDRs was also presented or discussed in six other side events, which may be some sort of record. It was certainly a sign that, against the background of “negotiations as usual,” there was substantial interest in facing the real challenge — a principle-based burden sharing system designed to be fair, and thus viable, even under the stress of an emergency transition.
- GDRs presentation to UN Dept of Economic and Social Affairs
GDRs has a major breakthrough into high policy comes late in the year, with an influential presentation to an experts group convened by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
- First edition of Greenhouse Development Rights book
In early December, the German Heinrich Böll Foundation publishes the first edition of the Greenhouse Development Rights book: The Right to Development in a Climate Constrained World. This book is subsequently widely distributed and lifts the GDRs framework to a new level of visibility.
- First major GDRs media coverage
In late 2006, Tom Athanasiou conducted the first major Greenhouse Development Rights speaking tour, in Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane Australia. At it, he picked up GDR’s first major piece of mainstream press attention, in the Sydney Morning Herald.
- EcoEquity hired by Friends of the Earth International
EcoEquity is hired by Friends of the Earth International to do a formal evaluation of its international climate campaign. Project involves dozens of detailed interviews from FOE affiliate organizations around the world. The final report was never published publicly, but is widely distributed within NGO networks (you can get it here). We like to think that it was useful in clarifying some key movement debates, particularly those around the role of market mechanisms in the international climate regime.
- Climate Policy Frameworks and Proposals
In late 2006, EcoEquity, under contract for the German Heinrich Böll Foundation, published A Brief, Adequacy and Equity-Based Evaluation of Some Prominent Climate Policy Frameworks and Proposals, an incisive and reasonably comprehensive overview and critique of “principle based” approaches to differentiation.
- The launch of GDRs
Working together, the Stockholm Environment Institute and EcoEquity (after having jointly abandoned the Per Capita Plus project) developed and launched the Greenhouse Development Rights (GDRs) framework. This was a major event in their collaboration, and entirely redefined it.
- International Financial Mechanisms
EcoEquity managed, in a blog it published during 2005′s Montreal climate conference, to finally engage the anti-emission-trading mainstream of the climate-justice movement in a public debate about international financial mechanisms. This debate is still extremely revealing, and is worth reading.
- Resident Climate Commentator
Tom Athanasiou became the resident climate commentator at the online foreign policy think tank Foreign Policy in Focus. See for example, Where We Stand, which was written just before the 2005′s Montreal climate conference.
- An honest but extremely demanding target
In late 2006, Paul Baer, by way of consulting he was doing for the UK’s Institute for Public Policy Research, influenced the International Climate Change Taskforce to endorse a long-term climate stabilization target of 400 ppm CO2-equivalent. This is, as far as we know, the first time this honest but extremely demanding target was publicly tied to the 2°C threshold.
- Joining forces with the Tellus Institute
In 2002, EcoEquity joined forces with Steve Bernow (now deceased) and Sivan Kartha, both of which were at that time scientists at the Boston-based Tellus Institute. Together, we worked to develop the Contraction and Convergence approach to global climate justice into a more robust system capable of accounting for both per-capita emissions rights and varying national circumstances. This became known as the “Per Capita Plus” project.
- Dead Heat
Tom Athanasiou and Paul Baer of EcoEquity published Dead Heat: Global Justice and Global Warming (Seven Stories Press, 2002). The book was well received, has been widely quoted, and is used in academic courses at Princeton and the University of Washington, among others.
- Equity Summit
In 2002, EcoEquity’s Tom Athanasiou served as one of the core organizers of the Climate Action Network’s 2002 “Equity Summit” in Bali, a key climate movement strategy retreat in which the demands of equity were closely examined and debated.
- EcoEquity website
EcoEquity established itself by maintaining a well-regarded, well-trafficked website in which it published a number of noted essays. These focused on the politics and philosophy of equity in the climate debate, but also sought to summarize emerging climate science in a clear and straight-forward manner.
- EcoEquity Established
EcoEquity was established in 2000 to be a trusted, expert presence in a number of key climate networks, including (domestically) the U.S. Environmental Justice movement, where it has long been a member of the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative and (internationally) the Climate Action Network.