Equity matters

~by Graham Reeder

Today’s negotiations have almost exclusively been dedicated to the subject of equity. The Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action, after spending most of yesterday squabbling over its agenda, got straight into holding their all-day workshop on equitable access to sustainable development.

The word equity in the context of the negotiations decisions has its origins in the Cancun outcomes (https://unfccc.int/files/na/application/pdf/07a01-1.pdf) and was further entrenched in the Durban outcomes (http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2011/cop17/eng/09a01.pdf). But the concept is much older, in fact, the concept of equity is central to the very core of these negotiations, the convention itself. Contained as core principles of the UNFCCC are ‘Historical Responsibility’—meaning that those who have created this problem are responsible for cleaning it up—‘Common but Differentiated Responsibilities’—meaning that developed and developing countries play a different role in tackling and adapting to climate change—and ‘Respective Capabilities’—meaning that those countries who have more capacity (read: money, technology, institutions) to deal with climate change should take on more responsibility.

The concept of equity is extremely important for parties to address right now, as it needs to be the basis for new negotiations on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. The presentations have been lively and, for the most part, articulate. Sivan Kartha from the Stockholm Environment Institute, a senior scientist for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) kicked the morning off with a highly articulate presentation on how to fairly allocate the remaining atmospheric space as well as the burden for addressing climate change based on science and the principles of the convention. Prodipto Ghosh from the Energy and Resources Institute continued with a highly theoretical and academic approach to defining equity and applying it scientifically to emissions reductions that went over most negotiators’ heads. After that, presentations were given from a whole range of parties and a couple of other organisations (like the South Centre).

The crux of equity is that developed country parties both need to take the lead on cutting their own emissions and finance emissions reductions and sustainable development in the developing world by providing money and affordable clean technologies. This was agreed upon in the convention and has been affirmed countless times, but some rich countries are using the current economic climate and economic growth in China and India as an excuse, saying that they cannot afford what they owe and that times have changed. But have times really changed all that much? China and India’s economies have grown, but their per capita income and emissions have remained small. The US, EU, Canada, and other developed countries however have grown much wealthier, and their per capita emissions are still very far ahead of other countries. Singapore argued that a per capita approach to emissions counting (rather than a gross national emissions counting approach) is unfair to small countries as it exaggerates their emissions. However, Egypt was quick to note that if a per capita approach is taken alongside the other principles of equity, where developed and developing countries are distinguished by capabilities and responsibilities, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Equity will be a central theme of negotiations here in Bonn, as the new Ad-Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action begins work here, figuring out how equity will unlock the door to ambition will be necessary to determine how we move forward.

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