Equity Vital for a Sustainable Climate Accord

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Martin KhorBy Martin Khor*
IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

BONN (IDN) - In the quest for an international climate agreement on actions to address the climate change crisis, three aspects have to be the basis simultaneously: the environmental (E) imperative, the developmental (D) imperative, and the equity (E) imperative. This EDE formula requires that different pieces of the climate negotiations be seen and addressed as a whole, in a holistic way.

In particular, setting the global goal for emission reduction has to take account of the environmental imperative, and also deal with the emission reduction of Annex I (countries regarded as developed) and non-Annex I (countries regarded as developing) parties. Equity is the element and principle that cements the link between environment and development. Indeed, equity is the gateway to environmental ambition.

For example, fixing of a temperature target and of a global emissions reduction goal must be done within a paradigm or framework for the equitable sharing of the atmospheric space and the development space. The sharing of the mitigation efforts, and the support (finance and technology transfer) that must accompany this sharing, is a most critical piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

The UN Climate Convention recognises the equity principle; that developed countries take the lead in emission reduction, and that developing countries have development imperatives, and their ability to undertake climate actions depend on the extent of support they receive from the developed countries. Annex I countries will also meet the agreed full incremental costs of implementing developing countries' mitigation measures, as well as providing financing on adaptation and technology.

There are competing claims on a national budget or a family budget. The trade-offs and dilemmas are more acute for the poor. A poor family would put greater priority on feeding the children and on health care, and also on adaptation action such as preventing floods and rain from occupying the house, ahead of spending on mitigation. Thus, financial assistance is required if changing to more environmentally sound cook stoves to be is to be done by the family.

So too regarding a typical budget making exercise by developing countries. Thus the provision of finance to support mitigation in developing countries, which is oprerationalising the equity principle, would be a necessary piece of effective global migitation action. Recognising the gateway role of equity to higher environmental ambition is not a rhetorical but a logical and realistic way of getting to a successful mitigation framework.

Between 1850 and 2009, of the cumulative global emissions Annex I countries accounted for 72% of the total compared to their share of population of about 25%. Developing countries accounted 28% of the total. The over-utilisation by Annex I was 568 gigaton, the same as the under-utilisation by developing countries. In terms of annual flow, Annex I is still exceeding its fair share.

In sharing the remaining carbon space in 2010-2050 two concepts are needed: (1) The allocation of carbon space as according to rights and responsibilities; (2) The actual carbon budget (and related physical emissions reduction schedule) that countries eventually put forward as what they can physically undertake.

There could be a difference between the allocation of responsibilities and rights, and the actual emissions reduction or related budgets. Therefore: Countries that cannot meet their allocated budget or emission cut can compensate for this unmet part of their obligation and countries that do not make full use of these rights, can obtain the funds for their actions.

Implications of Equity Approach

The equity approach has implications for the various topics under LCA (Life Cycle Assessment). In a shared vision, the setting of a global goal for emission reduction should be accompanied by a clarification of the roles of developed and developing countries.

For example, a proposal of a global goal of 50% and an Annex I goal of 80% proposal raises some issues. Firstly, the 50% global cut is environmentally not ambitious enough, as it would correspond to a carbon budget above what is required. Secondly, the implied distribution of the carbon budget gives Annex I countries a budget share of 30-35 per cent, compared to their 16% share of world population in this period. Thirdly, acceptance of this proposal means accepting not only an unfair distribution of the 2010-50 carbon budget, but also writing off the cumulative debt of developed countries.

Fourthly, accepting these figures (50%, 80%) implicitly accepts a specific emissions cut target for developing countries, and locking in this whole distribution of carbon budget and set of emissions cuts. It implies that in 2050, Annex I total and per capita emissions would be cut by 80% while developing countries' per capita emissions would be cut to 1.5 ton or about half below 1990 levels and compared to 2005 levels it would be around 40% below in absolute terms and 60% below in per capita terms. The cuts would be even more compared to business as usual in 2050.

It is doubtful that developing countries can meet this implied target for them, unless decoupling between emissions and economic growth takes place through a miraculous mechanism. For this decoupling, massive infusions of finance and technology, coupled with institutional and human capacity building is required. This is why equity is also embedded in the finance and technology issues.

The enormity of the problem was not lost on the economist Nicholas Stern who has said: "If the allocations of rights to emit in any given year took greater account both of history and of equity in stocks rather than flows, then rich countries would have rights to emit which were lower than 2 tonnes per capita (possibly even negative) The negotiations of such right involve substantial financial allocations: at $40 per tonne CO2e a total world allocation of rights of, say, 30Gt (roughly the required flows in 2030) would be worth $1.2 trillion per annum."

On estimates on mitigation funds needed, the World Bank estimated that "in developing countries mitigation could cost $140 to $175 billion a year with associated financing needs of $265 to $565 billion.

A study in India (by the CSE-Centre for Science and Environment) of six sectors to determine India's low carbon growth options concludes: "There is no real way we can reduce emissions without impacting growth once we cross the current emissions-efficiency technology threshold. It is for this reason that India (and all other late entrants to the development game) must not give up on their demand for an equitous global agreement."

For the power generation sector, a low-carbon strategy could reduce emissions in India cumulatively by 3.4 Gton by 2030-31. The additional cost of generating power from renewable technologies is estimated at US$203 billion or about $10 billion a year or $60 per tonne of CO2 emissions avoided.

On adaptation financing needs, the World Bank estimates up to $100 billion a year, higher than the UNFCCC's financial flows report (at $27 to $66 bil a year). The most comprehensive estimate is a IIED-Imperial College study led by Martin Parry which found the adaptation cost for developing countries may come up to $450 billion annually.

Financing for technology cooperation and transfer: The UNFCCC's expert group on technology (EGTT) estimates the total finance needs are $300-1,000 billion a year; with developing countries' additional funding needs of $182-505 billion a year, for deployment and diffusion of technology. This does not include research and development or demonstration costs in developing countries.

Implications for negotiations

(a) Shared Vision: In the negotiations on shared vision, developing countries have argued that a decision on a global goal (whether temperature limit or global emissions reduction) should be in the context of equity and to be preceded by a paradigm for the equitable sharing of the atmospheric space or resource. This should also be the case for the wording on a global peaking year.

This is a correct position because the global goals for temperature and emissions reduction have implications for the responsibilities of developing countries or for their options in their emissions and thus their economic pathways.

(b) Mitigation: The concepts and figures on cumulative emissions and carbon debt/surplus make it clear that Annex I parties must continue to "take the lead" in emissions reduction. If developed countries undertake only weak targets for the next commitment period and their emissions are only reduced a little (or even increases), then there is even less carbon space left for developing countries. The present pledges made either in the Copenhagen Accord or Kyoto Protocol are far from adequate.

(c) Finance: One way in which the historical carbon debt that developed countries hold may be discharged is through payments into the Green Climate Fund. Besides this, the developed countries have obligations under the UNFCCC to meet mitigation, adaptation and capacity building expenses. The quantum of funds for discharging the carbon debt and for meeting the additional costs are large, but this is to be expected since the financial requirements of adaptation, mitigation, capacity building and technology are massive. The amounts so far announced – $10 billion a year from 2010, and $100 billion by 2020 are inadequate.

(d) Technology Transfer: To play their extremely ambitious and difficult role, developing countries need technology at the most affordable rates. The following measures are proposed:

(1) They must have the maximum access at least cost to the best technologies;

(2) Barriers to technology transfer must be addressed, including the issue of IPRs (Intellectual Property Rights);

(3) Developing countries must be assisted in the development of endogenous technology and to undertake their own R and D (research and development) and develop innovation, with international support;

(4) R and D activities should be financed by UNFCCC funds, and the products from these should be in the public domain;

(5) Sufficient funds should be provided for technology development and transfer to developing countries;

(6) A Technology Policy Board or Council should be set up under the UNFCCC to address the technology issues.

*Martin Khor is Executive Director of the South Centre. This Viewpoint is a slightly abridged version of his statement at the UN Framework Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) Ad-hoc working group on long-term cooperation (AWG-LCA), Workshop on Equity, Bonn, May 16, 2012.  [IDN-InDepthNews – May 18, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Picture: Martin Khor |Credit:

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