Equity - what is fair and what is possible?

Martin Khor, Executive Director of the South Centre, held a meeting with youth to give his run down of the negotiations. He gave an eye opening perspective on the context of the negotiations. His insights demonstrate just how difficult it will be to get the required mitigation. There were two main themes I took from his discussion:


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1.       Politics of burden sharing through equity

The atmosphere is a global commons that we all share and have a responsibility to maintain. Given the historic pathways of industrialisation and development as well as the aspiration to have a world without extreme poverty there is general acceptance that equity rather than equality is necessary for emission reduction targets. How equity is implemented is extremely political and contentious as no country wants to have the perception of having a larger or unjust responsibility than other parties.

The debates on equity have been occurring throughout the history of COP but ultimately have made no progress. The implementation of equity is particularly difficult given the decision making standard is that of consensus, so if one party thinks the standards set are inequitable, an agreement is not reached. The typical conflict here is between the developed and developing countries where the developing countries blame the developed for the majority of climate change. Alternatively, developed countries agree they need to reduce emissions but expect developing countries to do the same as otherwise they are taking on more of a burden than they want.  

2.       The possibility of reducing emissions to the required target

Beyond the politics, this issue of equity gets more complicated when looking at the numbers that Martin Khor gave us on mitigation. Trying to avoid 2C warming and allowing for a 7% annum increase for developing countries which is what they want and say they need for their economies and people presents knowledge, technical and political problems which currently cannot be solved. Martin using numbers from his report said it will not be enough for developing countries to reduce emissions by 100%, it will be more in the range of 3-400% in order to compensate for the developing countries increase in emissions. 

Beyond the political feasibility and popularity of reducing emissions, a country will only commit to a pledge in that is technologically achievable given the knowledge and finances available. Lowering emissions by 20% is a massive challenge for many countries and political feasibility reduces this back down to 5-10% for many developed countries. There isn’t technology out there presently that will enable 100% emissions let alone beyond 100% so this is a huge challenge going forwards.

How we go forward with these numbers is a challenging situation and suggests the discussions on equity are far from over.

(All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and do not reflect those of the Institute. For official Institute updates, take a look here)