Achieving Equity

There are many approaches to how national greenhouse gas emissions should be contained and cut.

BUT how fair are they?

One approach (the essence of the Kyoto Protocol for Annex 1 countries) is simply to require emissions cuts as a proportion of past emissions, which effectively means allocating emissions rights on the same basis.

If, in addition, those emissions rights are given for free – without auctioning – this is often called “grandfathering”.
But it is unfair if caps are not ambitious and pollution permits are given for free, as this allows the major emitters to maintain higher emissions than others.

It rewards past offences against the climate.

A fairer system is to issue emissions rights to nations according to their population.

One tonne per head, say.

Many poor nations would have spare permits. They could profit by selling them to rich industrialized nations that needed more. Hopefully, they would invest the proceeds in taking a low-carbon development path.

Some have proposed that targets should be based not on absolute emissions, but on reducing the carbon intensity of national economies, as it would reward carbon efficiency.

This might be an approach for countries without national emissions targets, and it is already central to China’s climate policy. But it does not address the fundamental scientific need to limit greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and is utterly inappropriate for developed nations.

Emissions rights could also be allocated according to a formula that combines elements of the above.

One such is the proposed “responsibility and capability” index based on Greenhouse Development Rights. The index would combine a measure of responsibility for climate change (such as past and present per capita emissions) with a measure of capability to reduce emissions (such as current wealth and/ or the lack thereof).

Some believe this kind of formula could form a practical halfway house from the old, unfair “grandfathering” approach to an ultimate aim of equitable national and per capita allocations.
 / ©: paint for the planet / Giselle Lau Ching Yue, China
International Children’s Painting Competition on the Environment organized by UNEP, the Foundation for Global Peace and Environment, Bayer and Nikon.
© paint for the planet / Giselle Lau Ching Yue, China

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