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Climate Change Talks: Equity Reference Framework fails

Turns past obligations of rich countries in to additional future burden on the emerging world

Nitin Sethi  |  New Delhi 

Nitin Sethi

The disparity between countries with unequal responsibility for causing climate change could get deeply embedded in the 2015 agreement if Equity Reference Framework is applied to measuring the justness of countries’ contributions. A good idea principally, in its application it legally sanctions the transfer of economic burden and goal posts by the developed countries.

One must remember, the US is dead set against the idea of accounting for historical emissions and the consequent damage to climate from its years of inaction. It has more or less had its way in climate talks since 2009 when EU began deploying much of its diplomatic prowess against emerging economies rather than convince the US to compensate for its years of sitting out of Kyoto Protocol. Today, EU looks like a leader only when compared to the more recalcitrant US and its allies such as Japan and Australia.

Against this backdrop, the ERF is being advocated by some countries and NGOs as the basis of operationalizing the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities in the 2015 agreement. The negotiations that work by consensus, provide one vote to each country, but it’s a known fact that some votes are more powerful than others. The ERF weighs in favour of those holding diplomatic and economic heft.

Let me try to show how. By 2020 the developed countries were obligated to take deep emission cuts – bring their emissions down to 40% below 1990 levels. They are far from it and unwilling to talk any more of meeting these commitments. Additionally, they were required (yes, they agreed to do this under the UN Framework Climate Change Convention) to enable developing countries to also reduce emissions by providing finance and clean technology to adapt and to not go down the same high-carbon economic road. The action of the developing world was to be predicated on these ‘enabling’ resources. There is almost universal acceptance that near-nothing has been done on this front.

There are three things the West is trying to do now under the 2015 agreement. One, make the World forget their obligation to meet stiff targets up to 2020 and shift the entire burden in to the post-2020 agreement. Then, get this burden distributed across all countries – developing and developed – based on their existing economic capacities. And third, de-link or weaken the links of actions of developing countries from their existing commitments to provide finance and technology.

THE ERF does not address the shifting of existing commitments and burden (from a regime where only the developed countries were to act) to the future agreement (where all countries will need to contribute). At best, it tries finds a ‘fair’ formula to distribute this entire burden (the bits transferred from the past plus that of the future) across all countries. It uses parameters such as current income levels, current emissions and past emissions. It consequently also plays in to the delinking the future actions of the developing world from the existing commitments of finance and technology from the rich.

Equity requires the developed countries to meet the existing targets on mitigation, finance and technology set by science and the existing decisions of the UN convention and only then focus on controlling current and future emissions. Unless that happens first, assessing future ‘contributions’ of countries (that they will put forth by March 2013) under any kind of ERF formula will end up being a cloak for the burial of equity in the 2015 agreement. Nothing remotely fair about that.

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First Published: Tue, August 05 2014. 08:38 IST