Box 61 Equity and the Response to a Changing Climate

Many scientists expect that poor countries with little responsibility for today's climate instability will be hit hard by climate change.This asymmetry of circumstance prompts a pressing question: Can climate treaties be built on strong principles of fairness?

In truth, equity already plays a role,albeit a limited one, in climate agreements.The Kyoto Protocol, for example, is based on the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities," which recognizes different obligations for parties in different economic and emissions positions. And the Kyoto negotiating positions of many countries—from France and Iran to Brazil and Estonia—incorporated specific equity dimensions.

But fairness concerns are likely to assume a higher profile in future climate negotiations as the demands of climate stabilization become more burdensome.Two nagging questions in particular have equity at their core: How should rights to emit greenhouse gases be allocated? And who should bear the costs of emissions reductions and adaptation to climate change?

A broad range of answers is given to these questions—each grounded in one or more climate equity principles. On emissions rights, for example, two very different principles are often cited by proponents of allocation schemes:

• The Egalitarian Principle states that every person worldwide should have the same emission allowance.This principle gives populous countries the greatest number of emissions rights. India, for example, with 3.8 times as many people as the United States, would be entitled to 3.8 times the emissions allowance available to the United States.

• The Sovereignty Principle argues that all nations should reduce their emissions by the same percentage amount. Large emitters would make large absolute reductions of greenhouse gases, while low-volume emitters would make smaller absolute reductions.Thus under an agreement to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by, say, 10 percent,the United States would cut output by some 579 million tons of CO2, while India would reduce its emissions by 141 million tons.

Two other principles are often invoked to determine the economic burden of curbing and global interests, many countries—especially those of the European Union (EU) and, impressively, China—have been acting in recent years to slow the growth of their emissions. Representatives of most of the world's governments have been meeting regularly since the late 1980s to craft ways in which all countries can agree to stop changing the planet's climate. Most nations—although not the historically largest emitter, the United States—ratified an international climate agreement termed the Kyoto Protocol, which went into force in 2005. The agreement requires industrial-country signatories to control emissions of carbon dioxide and five other key greenhouse gases to levels somewhat below (or in a few cases somewhat above) those recorded in 1990.3

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Negotiating Essentials

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