Benito Müller and Lavan Mahadeva, under the auspices of the European Capacity Building Initiative, have released a very interesting proposal on operationalizing “respective capabilities.” The Summary for Policy Makers is here, and the Technical Report is here. Here’s the two-paragraph summary that Müller sent around:
“Whether or not the regime emerging from the current negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be based on an explicit cost/burden sharing formula, the debate about (implied) costs/burdens will be central. Such a debate cannot be genuinely meaningful in the absence of an acceptable operationalisation of Article 3.1 in general, and of the concept of ‘respective capability’ in particular.
The Brief proposes a measure for national ‘differentiated economic capabilities (‘ability to pay’) as integral part of an operationalisation. The primary purpose of the measure is to define or assess climate change cost/burden sharing (schemes). To illustrate the potential use of this methodology the Brief considers two examples: assessing the fairness of a given cost distribution; and developing a (rule-based) ‘graduation scheme’ regarding obligations to pay.”
It’s encouraging to see serious work on this front, in the first instance because true success in the climate negotiations – the stabilization of the climate system before we cross irreversible tipping points– is more or less impossible to imagine without a broad turn towards an open and constructive discussion of Respective Capabilities (RC). This is because Capacity is fundamental to any coherent treatment of global climate justice. As noted long ago by Ringius, Torvanger and Underdal, Capacity is one of the three criteria of equity that are “frequently invoked and rarely disputed.” The others, classically, are Responsibility and Need, and to this list we would add Ambition itself.