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Climate Contributions and the Paris Agreement: Fairness and Equity in a Bottom-Up Architecture

  • Nicholas Chan

Abstract

One of the chief aspects of last December's landmark Paris Agreement on climate change was the acceptance of the notion that all states would make a “contribution” to the global effort to address climate change. These voluntary, nationally determined, non-binding pledges are the most visible feature of the reorientation of the international climate regime away from its previous emphasis on “top-down” international coordination, and toward a “bottom-up” architecture that provides greater national flexibility in order to induce broader participation. At the same time, however, the agreement to keep the rise in average global temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius indicates that there is a limit to the quantity of carbon that can be emitted to meet this temperature goal, raising the challenge of how to apportion this carbon “budget” among states. Can a fair distribution of the carbon budget be achieved amid voluntary contributions? This paper first discusses the tension between the top-down distribution that a carbon budget approach generally implies, and the bottom-up institutional elements of the new climate architecture. Second, it reviews the alternative ways in which considerations of fairness have been integrated into the design of the Paris Agreement, and the rise of “national circumstances” as the context for fairness. Finally, this paper points to the increased role for normative argumentation in this bottom-up world, where new norms embedded in the Paris Agreement, especially relating to increases in national ambition, take on greater importance in efforts to achieve an equitable response to climate change.

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References

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NOTES

1 Some countries have expressed these in terms of an initial five-year period, up to 2025.

2 UNFCCC, “Synthesis report on the aggregate effect of the intended nationally determined contributions: an update,” UNFCCC Doc. FCCC/CP/2016/2, May 2, 2016 (hereafter “INDC Synthesis Report”); UNFCCC, “Global Response to Climate Change Keeps Door Open to 2 Degree C Temperature Limit,” October 30, 2015, newsroom.unfccc.int/unfccc-newsroom/indc-synthesis-report-press-release/.

3 Paris Agreement (Annex to Decision 1/CP.21, FCCC/CP/2015/10/Add.1) Article 2 (hereafter “Paris Agreement”).

4 Lavanya Rajamani, “Negotiating the 2015 Climate Agreement: Issues Relating to Legal Form and Nature,” MAPS Research Paper 28 (2015).

5 Daniel Bodansky and Lavanya Rajamani, “The Evolution and Governance Architecture of the Climate Change Regime,” January 15, 2015, papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2168859.

6 Hare, William, Stockwell, Clare, Flaschland, Christian, and Oberthür, Sebastian, “The Architecture of the Global Climate Regime: A Top-Down Perspective,” Climate Policy 10, no. 6 (2010), pp. 600614 .

7 Daniel Bodansky and Eliot Diringer, “Evolution of the International Climate Effort,” C2ES Brief, May 2014.

8 Brunnée, Jutta and Streck, Charlotte, “The UNFCCC As a Negotiation Forum: Toward Common but More Differentiated Responsibilities,” Climate Policy 13, no. 5 (2013), pp. 589607 .

9 Allen, Myles et al. , “Warming Caused by Cumulative Carbon Emissions Towards the Trillionth Tonne,” Nature 458 (2009), pp. 1163–166; IPCC, “Summary for Policymakers,” in Thomas Stocker et al., “Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis: Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” Cambridge (2013), p. 27. See also www.trillionthtonne.org.

10 INDC Synthesis Report, p. 52 and p. 56.

11 Although some eschew the carbon budget as the framing concept for climate equity and fairness; see Sonja Klinsky et al., Building Climate Equity: Creating a New Approach from the Ground Up (Washington, D.C.: World Resources Institute, 2015).

12 Henry Shue, “Human Rights, Climate Change, and the Trillionth Ton,” in Denis G. Arnold, ed., The Ethics of Global Climate Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Moellendorf, Darryl, “Treaty Norms and Climate Change Mitigation,” Ethics & International Affairs 23, no. 3 (2009); Grasso, Marco, “Sharing the Emission Budget,” Political Studies 60, no. 3 (2012), Caney, Simon, “Justice and the Distribution of Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” Journal of Global Ethics 5, no. 2 (2009).

13 Gignac, Renaud and Matthews, H. Damon, “Allocating a 2°C Cumulative Carbon Budget to Countries,” Environmental Research Letters 10, no. 7 (2015); Raupach, Michael R. et al. , “Sharing a Quota on Cumulative Carbon Emissions,” Nature Climate Change 4 (2014); Winkler, Harald, Letete, T., and Marquand, Andrew, “Equitable Access to Sustainable Development: Operationalizing Key Criteria,” Climate Policy 13, no. 4 (2013); Paul Baer et al., “The Greenhouse Development Rights Framework,” Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (2008).

14 Climate Action Tracker, “Are Governments Doing Their Fair Share? New Method Assesses Climate Action,” March 27, 2015; Friman, Mathias and Hjerpe, Mattias, “Agreement, Significance, and Understandings of Historical Responsibility in Climate Change Negotiations,” Climate Policy 15, no. 3 (2015); Müller, Benito, Höhne, Niklas, and Ellermann, Christian, “Differentiating (Historic) Responsibilities for Climate Change,” Climate Policy 9, no. 6 (2009).

15 Fiona Harvey, “IPCC's ‘Carbon Budget’ Will Not Drive Warsaw Talks, Says Christiana Figueres,” October 24, 2013, www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/24/ipcc-carbon-budget-warsaw-climate-change-christiana-figueres.

16 Wolfgang Obergassel et al., “Phoenix from the Ashes: An Analysis of the Paris Agreement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,” Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, January 2016, p. 41.

17 UNEP, “The Emissions Gap Report 2015,” United Nations Environment Programme (2015).

18 A recent treatment of climate finance concerns in a bottom-up architecture, however, can be found in; Pickering, Jonathan, Jotzo, Frank, and Wood, Peter, “Splitting the Difference: Can Limited Coordination Achieve a Fair Distribution of the Global Climate Financing Effort?Global Environmental Politics 15, no. 4 (2015).

19 UNFCCC, “Decision 1/CP.20: Lima Call for Climate Action,” FCCC/CP/2014/10/Add.1, February 2, 2015.

20 Albin, Cecilia, “Negotiating International Cooperation: Global Public Goods and Fairness,” Review of International Studies 29, no. 3 (2003).

21 Notable exceptions were China and Canada.

22 See also Lange, Andreas et al. , “On the Self-Interested Use of Equity in International Climate Negotiations,” European Economic Review 54, no. 3 (2010).

23 INDC Synthesis Report, p. 39. See also a discussion of the varying bases of fairness in Pickering, Jonathan, Vanderheiden, Steve, and Miller, Seumas, “‘If Equity's In, We're Out’: Scope for Fairness in the Next Climate Agreement,” Ethics & International Affairs 26, no. 4 (2012), pp. 423–43.

24 INDC Synthesis Report, p. 38.

25 For a comparative analysis of how fairness has been expressed in INDCs, see Kennedy Liti Mbeva and Pieter Pauw, “Self-Differentiation of Countries' Responsibilities: Addressing Climate Change Through Intended Nationally Determined Contributions,” German Development Institute (DIE) Discussion Paper 4/2016.

26 United States, “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution,” March 31, 2015, www4.unfccc.int/submissions/INDC/Published%20Documents/United%20States%20of%20America/1/U.S. Cover Note INDC and Accompanying Information.pdf.

27 European Union, “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution of the EU and its Member States,” March 6, 2015, www4.unfccc.int/submissions/INDC/Published%20Documents/Latvia/1/LV-03-06-EU%20INDC.pdf.

28 South Africa, “South Africa's Intended Nationally Determined Contribution,” September 25, 2015, www4.unfccc.int/submissions/INDC/Published%20Documents/South%20Africa/1/South%20Africa.pdf.

30 India, “India's Intended Nationally Determined Contribution,” October 1, 2015, www4.unfccc.int/submissions/INDC/Published%20Documents/India/1/INDIA%20INDC%20TO%20UNFCCC.pdf.

31 Bangladesh, “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution,” September 25, 2015, www4.unfccc.int/submissions/INDC/Published%20Documents/Bangladesh/1/INDC_2015_of_Bangladesh.pdf.

32 INDC Synthesis Report, p. 39.

33 Ibid., p. 59.

34 Paris Agreement, Article 2.2. This formulation first emerged in the 2014 U.S.-Sino joint announcement, see The White House, ‘US-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change’, 11 November 2014, www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/11/11/us-china-joint-announcement-climate-change.

35 UNFCCC, Decision 1/CP.20.

36 Paris Agreement, Article 4.3.

37 Proposals to conduct a formal, ex ante assessment of INDCs, including their equity dimensions, prior to the Paris conference failed to win consensus support at the preceding 2014 conference in Lima. See Hermann Ott et al., “Lima Climate Report: COP20 Moves at Snails' Pace on the Road to Paris,” Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, December 2014, p. 4. An African Group proposal for the Paris Agreement to include an “equity reference framework” also failed to win consensus, but see Ngwadla, Xolisa, “An Operational Framework for Equity in the 2015 Agreement,” Climate Policy 14, no. 1 (2014).

38 ActionAid International et al., “Fair Shares: A Civil Society Equity Review of INDCs,” October 2015, www.civilsocietyreview.org.

39 Alex Pashley, “Brazil Minister Calls Out Emerging Economies Over Weak Climate Pledges,” October 28, 2015, www.climatechangenews.com/2015/10/28/brazil-minister-calls-out-emerging-economies-over-weak-climate-pledges/.

40 Alex Pashley, “Hall of Shame: Who Hasn't Pledged Yet to UN Climate Pact?’ October 2, 2015, www.climatechangenews.com/2015/10/02/hall-of-shame-who-hasnt-pledged-yet-to-un-climate-pact/.”

41 See, for instance, Eliza Northrop and David Waskow, “INSIDER: How Transparent Have Countries Been About the Fairness and Ambition of Their National Climate Contributions (INDCs)?” August 25, 2015, www.wri.org/blog/2015/08/insider-how-transparent-have-countries-been-about-fairness-and-ambition-their-national.

42 Moellendorf, Darrel, “Climate Change Justice,” Philosophy Compass 10, no. 3 (2015); Schlosberg, David, “Climate Justice and Capabilities: A Framework for Adaptation Policy,” Ethics & International Affairs 26, no. 4 (2012).

Climate Contributions and the Paris Agreement: Fairness and Equity in a Bottom-Up Architecture

  • Nicholas Chan

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