Equity at the Bonn Climate Negotiations: WTF are they talkin’ about?!

“Equity is a multidimensional and dynamic concept”…
Hmmm… think about it… so deep, isn’t it?
That’s what Australia has to say when they are asked their views on the key issue of equity of climate collective action. I have not much to say about it but “bullshit, multidimensional and dynamic bullshit!”
In Bonn, for the first days at least, bullshitting has been put up on a pedestal. But do not take me wrong, behind something these outstanding efforts at becoming Bullshit Master, there was a core struggle going on.

A common but differentiated responsibility

Indeed, for the first few days of the inter-sessional meetings, most of the interventions revolved around equity. The reason is simple: the USA, followed by a couple of fossil addicts (Canada and Australia among others), came up with a ‘brilliant’ idea that was not really to the taste of other countries. To understand how ‘bright’ – you name the adjective – this idea was, one needs first to know that there is one paragraph in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that pretty much frames the whole negotiation. It is the following:
“Acknowledging that the global nature of climate change calls for the widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and their social and economic conditions,”
Yes, this paragraph speaks for reason. I mean you cannot ask people who live with less than two dollars a day or do not have heating to make the same effort than wealthy and fat dudes who wonder about buying a third SUV. This paragraph will never be renegotiated by developing and/or emerging countries and it should not; it is the basic foundation of equity in the climate regime.

Pershing tries to look innocent

So what was Pershing’s[1] illumination at the first meeting following the Durban conference? Well, in Durban a new platform for negotiations was agreed: the so-called Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) designed to negotiate by 2015 a global climate agreement starting in 2020. And what Johnny[2] noted was that in the COP decision that gave birth to the ADP, the common but differentiated responsibilities principle was not recalled… and therefore (sic), negotiators would have opened a new virgin space to redefine the issue of equity, and doing so questioning the unquestionable historical responsibility of developed countries in the current atmospheric concentrations of carbon…
Did Pershing seriously think that such a poor line of argumentation was contributing to find a consensus? Of course other parties responded that it is assumed that you do not need to recall all the principles of the FRAMEWORK Convention in each decision… But still, the US and the fossil club insisted, and competed at exploring the conceptual diversity of equity in a discussion that would have better found its place in a cigar bar with some good Scotch Whiskey. Starring at this circus, a stoical Runge-Metzger[3] reminded his peers that there are enough scholars out there who debate about equity so to focus the discussion on concrete actions.
Before all this was over, Pershing whined something worth (?) to be noted: “Equity has also to be understood from the perspective of our citizens when we come back home after the negotiation”. So how do Americans see equity in saving the climate? I wonder. He did not say more.

Equity should be sustainable convergence of greenhouse gases emissions per capita

I say, stop the bullshit! Equity is about having all the same right to emit carbon. This means converge carbon emissions to the same per capita sustainable level. That is basically what the European Union said it is aiming at. The rest is hot air, a smoke screen designed to hide the plain and well-known truth: the US is not ready to commit – in the legal sense of it – to anything and will never be; since the non-ratification of Kyoto that’s pretty obvious. With the growing weight of sickos who deny the science among the Republicans, let’s give up our dream of a Kyoto-like climate deal. Let’s be realistic. NGOs could instead focus more, as the Youth organizations do, on initiatives such as discussion on the Article 6 that call on governments to educate, empower and engage all stakeholders and major groups on policies relating to climate change. Just think of what we could achieve today if it would have been decided in 1997 (date of the signature of the Kyoto Protocol) to integrate environmental issues as a core of all education curriculum. Some will argue that it was done. Yes maybe, to some extent, but only at the margins of other disciplines.
This is not to say that we should play down our efforts to find a collective trusted framework for collective action, but, as it seems that like Sisyphus we’re never getting closer to the dream deal (ie. a comprehensive and legally binding agreement), I believe the battle of climate change is unlikely to be won through legal commitments, but by millions of stakeholders who bring specific and creative solutions right now, for our tomorrow.

Adrien Labaeye
Twitter: @alabaeye
[1] Jonathan Pershing is the US climate negotiator
[2] Jonathan Pershing is the US climate negotiator (did you get that!?)
[3] Artur Runge-Metzger is the EU climate negotiator