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The Papal Encyclical & The Role of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities in the International Climate Change Negotiations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Lavanya Rajamani*
Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi
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A fundamental theme running through the remarkable 192-page Papal Encyclical on Climate Change is the notion of solidarity—;between nations and peoples, and between and within generations. In the words of the Encyclical, “[w]e require a new and universal solidarity.”. This translates, in the Encyclical’s vision, into principled cooperation between states and peoples, because “[a]ll of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.”. In the international climate change regime this vision takes the form of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDRRC), a principle that the Encyclical explicitly endorses. The CBDRRC principle, however, lends itself to varying interpretations and has thus proven deeply contentious as the basis for climate cooperation. This is in particular in relation to the 2015 climate agreement that is due to be finalized in Paris in December 2015. This short essay explores the extent to which the Encyclical supports one or the other interpretation of this principle, and how closely aligned (or not) the Encyclical’s vision is to the emerging 2015 climate change agreement.

Symposium: The Pope’s Encyclical and Climate Change Policy
Copyright © American Society of International Law 2015


1 Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ of the Holy Father Francis on Care for our Common Home, para. 14 (2015).

2 Id.

3 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, May 29, 1992, 1771 U.N.T.S. 107 [hereinafter FCCC], and Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Dec. 10, 1997, 2303 U.N.T.S. 162 [hereinafter Kyoto Protocol].

4 FCCC, supra note 3, at art. 3.

5 Pope Francis, supra note 1, at paras. 52 and 170.

6 Decision 2/CP.15, Copenhagen Accord, para. 1, FCCC/CP/2009/11/Add.1, (Mar. 30, 2010).

7 See Decision 1/CP.16, The Cancun Agreements: Outcome of the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention,para. 1,FCCC/CP/2010/7/Add.1 (Mar. 15, 2011).

8 Decision 1/CP.20, Lima Call for Climate Action, FCCC/CP/2014/10/Add.1, para. 3(Feb. 2, 2015) [hereinafter Lima Call for Climate Action].

9 See Lavanya Rajamani, The Reach and Limits of the Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities in the Climate Change Regime, in Handbook of Climate Change and India:Development,Politics and Governance 118 (Navroz K. Dubash ed., 2011).

10 That is, is differentiation to account for different capabilities alone or different responsibilities as well?

11 That is, does “responsibilities” signal a “responsibility for” or a “responsibility to” and is it a moral or legal responsibility?

12 For a detailed examination of these issues see Rajamani, supra note 9.

13 Pope Francis, supra note 1, at para. 23.

14 Id. at para. 229.

15 Id. at para. 170.

16 See differing terms of United Nations Environment Program, 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, principle 7, UN Doc. A/CONF.151/26 (vol. I) (June 14, 1992) and FCCC, supra note 3, at art. 3. Also note that many developed countries opposed language pertaining to contribution to environmental degradation in FCCC Article 3. And, the United States introduced various amendments to circumscribe the legal potential of Article 3 and ensure that the principles, unofficially so titled, applied only to the parties and only in relation to the FCCC, not as general law. See, Daniel Bodansky, The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: A Commentary, 18 Yale J. Int’L L. 451(1993).

17 See Decision 1/CP.17, Establishment of an Ad Hoc Working Group on a Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, 2011, FCCC/CP/2011/9/Add.1 (Mar. 15, 2012).

18 Id. at para 1.

19 See Decision 1/CP.18, Agreed outcome pursuant to the Bali Action Plan, recital to Part I, FCCC/CP/2012/8/Add.1 (Feb. 28, 2013); and Decision 1/CP.19, Further Advancing the Durban Platform, recital para. 9, FCCC/CP/2013/10/Add.1 (Jan. 31, 2014) [hereinafter Warsaw Decision].

20 Lima Call for Climate Action, supra note 8, at para. 3. This language is identical to the language that appears in WHITE HOUSE,Press Release,U.S.-China Joint Announcement on ClimateChange,para. 2(Nov. 12, 2014).

21 Kyoto Protocol, supra note 3, at art. 3.

22 The Like Minded Developing countries (LMDC) hold such a view. The LMDC consist of Algeria, Argentina, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominica, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, India, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Mali, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria and Venezuela.

23 See Warsaw Decision, supra note 19, at para. 2(b).

24 Pope Francis, supra note 1, at para. 51.

25 Id.

26 Draft agreement and draft decision on workstreams 1 and 2 of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, Work of the ADP contact group, art. 10(Edited version of Nov. 6, 2015, Re-issued Nov. 10, 2015) [hereinafter Draft agreement and draft decision].

27 Pope Francis, supra note 1, at para. 172.

28 Id.

29 Id. at para. 175.

30 Draft agreement and draft decision, supra note 26, at art. 6.

31 Pope Francis, supra note 1, at para 162.

32 Id. at para. 15.