Common but different responsibilities
Q: Almost every key question at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen comes down to how should rich and poor countries shoulder responsibility for climate change. What would be a way of reconciling these differences?
The sharing of reductions of greenhouse gas emissions among nations is challenging because the emissions are so disproportionate. Fair and effective burden sharing will be critical to an international agreement. One provocative approach developed by a group scholars mainly at Princeton University is based on the concept of "common but differentiated responsibilities" for emissions of individuals instead of nations. Their report is freely available online here.
These scholars propose a simple rule to derive a universal cap on individual emissions and from that find corresponding limits on national aggregate emissions. Reductions of over 45 percent in global CO2 emissions could be achieved by 2030 just by engaging about 1 billion of the world's 6.8 billion people, those with the highest individual emissions. These high emitters are roughly equally distributed in four regions: the U.S., Europe and other developed nations, China, and remaining developing nations. A floor could be established on emissions of the world's lowest CO2 emitters, thus allowing the alleviation of extreme poverty at the same time we are reducing global emissions. With economic development, the cap on high emitters would be lowered as the emissions floor is raised.
Well-designed national policies would then work within the national aggregate caps to contain costs and avoid exacerbating inequalities. Billions of people of modest means who will be striving for upward mobility could be housed in energy-efficient apartments served by efficient mass transit.
In addition to limiting emissions, solving the rich versus poor country dilemma should include financing to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), an agreement for which was announced this week in Copenhagen. Also, it is clear that commitments to provide funding to help poorer nations adapt to climate change, such as proposed by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, will have to be included to reach the global agreement that is urgently needed.
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