Adequacy, Realism and Equity In a Climate Change Framework
In a brief update to my last major article "What is the future of action on Climate Change" I am going to look at a report by Paul Baer(of EcoEquity ) and his co-workers. The report entitled "Cutting the Gordian Knot" asks the question: how can we get to an adequate outcome for climate negotiations, bearing in mind the constraints of 'realism' and 'equity'. You can download the report from here but the main point of interest to me is utilisation of 'realism' in a well constructed argument against the use of 'contraction and convergence' as a principle of 'equity'. In my previous article i argue for contraction and convergence so i was naturally interested when a Stanford University political scientist suggested I might want to look again at my support for this concept.(continued...)
My support for contraction on convergence has been based on several considerations but most importantly:
- The principle of equity; equal access to the global commons of the atmosphere and
- The simplicity of the system (lack of subjective factors) and the existence of a global cap, which is essential for environmental adequacy.
The slant the report is going to take on the principle of equity first becomes apparent relatively early on.
The former sentence is clearly the case, the second sentence is key to the report. Development is seen as being limited by the essential emissions curbs required for adequacy.
"If we are to hold to an adequacy trajectory, then Southern countries can never reach today's Northern levels of per-capita emissions. To the degree that emissions levels remain correlated with development and wealth, Southern countries will remain forever in a second class world."
The rate of the emissions cuts is also shown to be a major factor in deciding upon an equitable framework, it is possible to analyze the requirements of C&C on emissions of the 'North' and 'South' and then to look at the implications these scenarios place on who pays and under what circumstances of development. Infact we see that all trajectories which are adequate
"...are also trajectories that require developing countries to cut back soon."The critical thing abut "soon" is that this 'gap' under the per capita carbon quota level is one of the main ways that countries of the 'South' would pay form emissions reductions and development according to C&C. To illustrate just how soon emissions reductions will have to occur both in the 'North' and the 'South' the chart below is presented.
The emissions levels of the South are permitted to grow by only 2% per year until 2020 and then remain stable and decline. This is hardly the room for development that is usually thought of for developing nations when considering C&C.
"The fundamental equity problem is that...any adequate transition, the South is quickly cast into a world where it is forces to radically curtail its emissions, long before it has reached a level of wealth even vaguely comparable to that which Northern countries enjoyed when they first started to curb emissions."The argument put forward by the report is that C&C fails on equity because these countries have a right to develop there economies and this right would be denied them by this framework.
An alternative approach to emissions rights is:
"the right to a climate transition that does not compromise sustainable development"An interesting and attractive idea. For the sake of brevity I will not go into details but one of the most powerful parts of the report is the argument for the acceptance of this principle for both sides, from the developing nations because narrow self interested necessity requires them to hold out for such a strategy and for the developed nations because they would loose enormously if they didn't accept such a strategy. I am a fan of logical arguments and not only did this one win me over to the principle but I appreciated it's elegance.
The framework proposed is described as 'Greenhouse Development Rights' and envisages commitment based on a measure of wealth not an emissions trigger;
"These three elements-an adequacy trajectory, a development threshold, and an indicator of each north countries obligation to pay for mitigation-add nicely to gether into the GDR framework."The key advantage of this system over C&C is that we have a better definition for 'equity', right to sustainable development, not the abstraction of emissions rights. This is lead to by a careful consideration of 'realism' which informs us that due to the life or death nature of development in many countries of the south, and the costs of rapid mitigation efforts, that the only 'adequate' outcome is a result of low carbon development funding by the 'north'.
As I have already stated I am actually-to my surprise-moving towards being a convert to this framework. However there are two key issues which I believe need further attention.
- The necessity of the link between development and emissions, currently strongly evident, but for how long? In New Zealand wind power is now the cheapest form of energy according to a recent news story. These countries have a right to development but is this really antagonistic to GHG policies, Practical Action (formerly ITDG) and many other organisations see synergies not antagonisms.
- It is assumed that apart from a few countries such as Bangladesh and numerous small island states, that climate change will be a small factor in most peoples lives, and stronger forces deserve priority from domestic financing. I don not think that evidence backs this up and I therefore question the 'nothing to loose' argument for developing nations taking a hard line in negotiations.I don't see adequate commitments from developing nations as much less realistic than such commitments from developed nations. The barrel may not exist.
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