Belfer Center Home > Publications > Academic Papers & Reports > Discussion Papers > Reconciling Human Development and Climate Protection: Perspectives from Developing Countries on Post-2012 International Climate Change Policy

EmailEmail   PrintPrint Bookmark and Share

 
"Reconciling Human Development and Climate Protection: Perspectives from Developing Countries on Post-2012 International Climate Change Policy"

"Reconciling Human Development and Climate Protection: Perspectives from Developing Countries on Post-2012 International Climate Change Policy"

Discussion Paper 08-25, Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

December 2008

Author: Jing Cao, Former Research Fellow, Environment and Natural Resources Program, 2002-2003

The Harvard Project on Climate Agreements Discussion Paper Series

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Harvard Project on Climate Agreements

 

SUMMARY

Human activity is causing irreversible harm to the climate system and environment. The Kyoto Protocol is only a good starting point to raise the awareness of climate change. However, this protocol failed to address some core issues, such as setting targets based on a fair and efficient burden-sharing principle, effectively engaging developing countries, setting a long-term goal, implementing cost-effective policy instruments with given binding target, non-compliance penalties and etc. Therefore, whether society can stabilize the global climate without stifling development aspirations, would rely on whether we can design a fair and efficient climate change policy architecture for the post-2012 era.

For this purpose, this paper provides a new multi-stage climate policy framework based on a revised Global Development Right (GDR) calculation, and proposes a feasible hybrid negotiation framework from the perspective of developing countries. According to the "common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities" principle in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), we recognize that due to the historical emissions contributions and different pace of industrialization and growth around the world, a successful international climate policy needs to balance equity and efficiency and eventually achieve an overall carbon mitigation target.

In this paper, we first discuss a multi-stage framework to gradually engage developing countries, which can be adapted to incorporate Kyoto Protocol flexibility instruments such as cap-and-trade. Then we propose a clear and potentially acceptable burden-sharing principle, by balancing equity and efficiencies, capacity and responsibility through a global development right (GDR) framework. We extend the original GDR calculations in Baer, Athanasiou and Kartha (2007), by incorporating cumulative historical carbon emissions back to the 19th century, and taking into account carbon sinks in the burden-sharing framework. Though all greenhouse gases would in principle be covered, this paper only address fossil fuel based carbon emissions, which contribute to 76% of global warming effects (USEPA, 2006). Extensions can be easily made to incorporate all greenhouse gases using historical accumulative by-country non-GHG emission data. For the practical matters, we also discuss a hybrid negotiation framework and how it can integrate the proposed GDR burden-sharing framework. Finally, to illustrate the developing country perspective, we use China as an example to present the possible opportunities and future challenges in coping with the future climate crisis.

In sum, climate change is a very complicated problem that requires an urgent, fair and effective international climate change policy regime. The sooner we can break the current political climate impasse, and build the post-2012 architecture, the better chances we will have to stabilize the global climate for our future generations.

 

SUMMARY FOR POLICYMAKERS

OVERVIEW

This paper proposes a fair and efficient climate change policy architecture for the post-2012 era. It focuses on how to break the current political impasse between the developed and the developing countries. The architecture is a multi-stage framework that gradually engages developing countries.

DISCUSSION

The Kyoto Protocol is an ineffective tool for stabilizing long-term greenhouse gas concentrations. It fails to address core issues such as setting targets based on a fair and efficient burden-sharing principle, effectively engaging developing countries, and providing a mechanism to address long-term uncertainties.

This paper proposes an alternative international climate policy architecture for the post-2012 period. The architecture has three important characteristics. First, the architecture uses a multi-stage framework in which countries face targets and timetables for emissions reductions that vary depending on national circumstances. A multi-stage framework addresses the challenge of long-term target-setting by setting accessible and relatively short-term targets for each stage. It also allows for "common but differentiated responsibilities" among nations — or in other words, allows developing nations to take on emission reduction responsibilities gradually.

The second important characteristic of the architecture is that emissions control responsibility is allocated using an explicit "Global Development Right" burden-sharing formula. This formula defines an individual person's responsibility for reducing emissions as a mathematical function of responsibility for current and historical emissions and of capacity to reduce emissions without sacrificing basic necessities. The formula includes two weighting factors that represent ethical judgments about the relative importance of responsibility and capacity. National emission reduction responsibilities are then calculated as the sum of the responsibilities of the citizens of that country. The advantage of the Global Development Right formula is that it obliges people with incomes and emissions above the threshold to pay the costs of mitigation and adaptation, while allowing people with incomes and emissions below the threshold to maintain their right to development.

The final important characteristic of the architecture is that its implementation would be negotiated, managed, and enforced using a combination of top-down and bottom-up diplomatic processes. At the global level, an international institution would determine long-term emissions targets. Such an institution could provide a simple negotiation forum that could focus on key emitters and important groups of countries. At the regional level, "clubs" of nations would establish common policies regarding technology transfer, R&D funds, market-based instruments, and enforcement regimes. At the country level, national climate agencies would establish regulatory mechanisms to achieve negotiated obligations.

KEY FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATIONS

A future climate architecture should include the following stages:

  • In the first stage, all member countries would agree on a path of future global emissions that leads to an acceptable long-term stabilization goal. Developed countries would increase the stringency of their binding Kyoto emissions reduction commitments, but developing countries would not be required to make any commitments. The goals for this stage recognize the political reality that less developed countries are unlikely to accept short-term emissions commitments.
  • In the second stage, developing countries would focus on "no regrets" mitigation options with priorities in local sustainable development. Sustainable development measures should include gradual phase-out of inefficient and energy-intensive equipment, "no regrets" greenhouse gas mitigation options, and new investments and standards aimed at both development and environmental objectives. If current economic growth trends continue, developing countries that are more capable of participating in GHG reduction activities could begin more stringent voluntary reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • In the third stage, developing countries would take on moderate emissions targets that are only binding in one direction. If these countries achieved their emissions targets, they could sell their allowances, but if they did not achieve their targets, they would face no penalties. This strategy would encourage participation.
  • In the final stage, all countries would agree to binding, absolute emissions targets. The distribution of emissions reduction responsibilities would be allocated based on the Global Development Right formula. The targets are binding in both directions.

This paper improves previous authors' Global Development Right calculations by incorporating cumulative historical carbon emissions back to the 19th century and by taking into account carbon sinks. The results show that:

  • Under the Global Development Right calculations, high-income countries should accept 87% of the burden of current emissions reduction targets, middle-income countries should take 13% of the burden, and low-income countries should take 0.1% of the burden. The United States alone should accept 39% of the burden of current emission targets because of its ability to reduce emissions and its large historical responsibility for emissions. The next largest shares of the burden fall on Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, which should accept 7.8%, 7.8%, and 6.4%, respectively. EU (27) as a whole should accept 36% of the burden. The calculations indicate that China should accept 2.2% of the burden, South Africa should accept 0.7%, and India and Brazil have no obligations.
  • Although the developing countries initially accept a very small share of the burden of emissions reductions, their share increases over time. Considering that China and India have had annual growth rates of 8% to 10% per year, in the future many people in these countries will exceed the poverty threshold and will need to bear more responsibilities.

CONCLUSION

Climate change is a complicated problem that requires a fair and effective international climate policy regime. The sooner the current political climate impasse can be broken, the better the future chances of stabilizing the global climate.

 

For more information about this publication please contact the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements Coordinator at 617-496-8054.

For Academic Citation:

Cao, Jing. "Reconciling Human Development and Climate Protection: Perspectives from Developing Countries on Post-2012 International Climate Change Policy." Discussion Paper 08-25, Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, December 2008.

Bookmark and Share

"Revised Emissions Growth Projections for China: Why Post-Kyoto Climate Policy Must Look East"
By Geoffrey J. Blanford, Richard G. Richels and Thomas F. Rutherford

"Policies for Developing Country Engagement"
By Daniel S. Hall, Michael A. Levi, William A. Pizer and Takahiro Ueno

"Sharing the Burden of GHG Reductions"
By Henry D. Jacoby, Mustafa H. Babiker, Sergey Paltsev and John M. Reilly

SUBSCRIBE

Receive email updates on the most pressing topics in science and int'l affairs.

<em>International Security</em>

The winter 2013/14 issue of the quarterly journal International Security is now available!

Events Calendar

We host a busy schedule of events throughout the fall, winter and spring. Past guests include: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore, and former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev.