Unkind History

History leaves its own equity imprint; considerations of justice to redress any inequities left by history are a separate issue. The background conditions (the end product of history) have profound implications for future equity arrangements. In the case of climate change, history has been "unkind'' to developing countries in two types of background conditions. The first is the uneven bargaining power among nations, wherein developing countries are in an inferior position. Developed countries control finance, political power, and resources - these are the conditions that would distort free bargaining. In a free world, in theory, the distribution of emissions rights, for instance, is a bargaining problem with multiple players wherein the players reach a voluntary agreement that makes none worse off and some better off compared to the status quo (Kverndokk, 1995). However, when this bargaining power is unequally distributed, the agreement may not be Pareto-optimal, i.e., it may leave room for further improvements that serve to advance the interests of all parties.

The second unkind background condition is the timing of the occurrence of any climate phenomenon. Industrialized countries developed when the phenomenon of climate change was not yet manifested. Their emissions were, therefore, not constrained, though these emissions continue to occupy the atmosphere. In contrast, climate change has coincided with a period in which many developing countries are set for rapid economic growth. These major developing countries like China and India are endowed with coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel. Proposed emissions limitations agreements now would transfer the mitigation burden to developing countries, despite their lower per capita emissions and ability to pay compared to industrialized nations.

These initial conditions could distort climate negotiations, enhance inequity, and exacerbate contradictions among the nations and thereby hamper full, unreserved participation of nations, the main condition for success of the regime (Kverndokk, 1995).

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