Working Group III: Mitigation

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1.3.2 What Are the Options?

These considerations have given rise to a variety of solutions, both in the evolving climate agreements and in the scholarly literature. This literature classifies options in terms of the underlying theoretical and philosophical approaches to equity. Toth (1999) constructs a useful taxonomy of perspectives on equity. We have modified this taxonomy slightly into four alternative views, based on: rights, liability, poverty, and opportunity. A number of perspectives on equity are discussed more fully in Chapter 10.

Rights-based, that is based on equal (or otherwise defensible) rights to the global commons.11 The earliest formulation of this approach was as a proposal for tradable permits (see, e.g., Agarwal and Narain, 1991a; Parikh et al., 1991; Grubb, 1989; Ghosh, 1993). A formulation that carries this insight to its logical conclusion is that of “contraction and convergence” (Meyer, 1999), whereby net aggregate emissions decline to zero, and per capita emissions of Annex I and non-Annex I countries reach precise equality. Initial analysis assumed an equal per capita allocation of emission permits–or rights to the “atmospheric commons”–but subsequent questioning led other writers to explore equity and efficiency implications of alternative allocation formulas, including geographical area, historic use, economic activity, or some combination of these. In all this literature, the idea is that “surplus” countries or regions, namely those (mainly among non-Annex I countries) with per capita emissions below their total allocation, could sell excess emissions rights to “deficit” countries, namely those (mainly among the Annex I countries) that exceed their quota. Besides a transfer from rich to poor countries, this scheme provided incentives to both groups to reduce their emissions–at least as long as emissions rights are a scarce commodity–to reap the financial benefits of conservation. In other words, it sought simultaneously to reward restraint, punish profligacy, provide incentives for conservation, induce a transfer from rich countries to poor ones, and thus lead to distributional equity, efficiency, and sustainability.

Liability-based, that is based on the right of people not to be harmed by others’ actions without suitable compenzation (see Rayner et al., 1999).12 This literature focuses on the damage caused by overuse of the commons, and seeks to establish mechanisms through which those who cause such damage are penalized and the victims of the damage compensated. This perspective opens up possibilities of financial instruments, such as insurance, which distribute risk across society. Countries or groups that believe that the risk of harm is overstated could offer insurance to others against the liability (Sagar and Banuri, 1999). In other words, this solution is expected to lead to sustainability (incentive for restraint) and procedural (though not necessarily distributional) equity. However, broadly speaking, the climate negotiations have not taken this route in any significant manner.

Poverty-based, that is based on the need to protect the poor and vulnerable against the impact of climate change as well as climate policy. Roughly 2 billion people in the world exist at levels of consumption that, from the CO2 emissions perspective, do not pose a threat to the climate (although their lifestyles are a threat to their own survival).13 Unlike the high-technology sectors of the developed as well as developing countries, the poor and vulnerable communities lack the flexibility to adapt to global changes or global agreements. Options based on this approach include investment in capacity building and protection for the poor and vulnerable groups to enable them to enhance their livelihoods in an emerging climate regime, while setting aggregate emission targets for the rest of the world. This could also involve a transition to renewable energy in the developing countries, which is generally consistent with the sustainable livelihoods perspective, especially since the current menu of renewable energy technologies includes many that are small scale and appropriate for scattered and low-income populations. Elements of this solution are contained in Agenda 21, but it has not otherwise played a prominent role in discussions of global climate regimes or global governance–except for the occasional reference to intranational equity (see, e.g., Rayner and Malone, 2000).

Opportunity-based, that is based on the right of people, not to the global commons per se, but to the opportunity to achieve a standard of living enjoyed by those with greater access to the commons (see e.g., Najam, 2000). It has strong overlaps with the compromise solution that is emerging from the negotiations. Its exclusive focus is on the relationship between states, and it has led to agreements that place the burden of adjustment primarily on Annex I countries. It also implies a tacit consensus on such matters as:

  • no large financial transfers or windfall gains;
  • no sudden shocks, but a gradual approach consistent with the coping capacity of different countries;
  • no financial burden on non-Annex I countries; and
  • no restrictions on the space for sustainable development, particularly in the developing countries.

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