Greenhouse Development Rights

Could GDRs be a threat for the South?

In our internal discussion among some supporters and authors of the Greenhouse Development Rights Framework (GDRs), we witness that some close friends and potential political allies are still reluctant to fully support it. All these “almost friends” seem to to have the same or very similar concerns, particularly about “sequencing.” Which means more or less that they insist that the North must first fully live up to its Kyoto commitments, before one could start to talk about Southern action on climate change.

The background here is of course the failure of the North to meet past commitments. And the “trust issue” more generally.

* In this context, it seems that our “almost” friends worry that GDRs could function as a trap for the South, the nexus of engagement in which Southern countries take on commitments that, even though they are linked to “measurable, reportable, and verifiable” financing and technological assistance, are nevertheless extremely dangerous for the South to explicitly support.

* More generally (forget GDRs), they worry about any proposal or procedure that seems to create, or threatens to create, a quid pro quo relationship between Southern commitments and Northern commitments that should already have been met.

The danger here is not merely that such concerns will lead potential friends to keep their distance from GDRs, but that similar feelings (which are very widespread) will actually lead to a generalized failure in the negotiations. A continued impasse. In this context, what is our position?

1) It is that developing country commitments are necessary to the necessary emergency mobilization, for many reasons but particularly for the political reason that, without it, we will not be able to win the strong new commitments that are necessary in the North.

2) And it is that these necessary developing country commitments should be explicitly linked to the North’s performance with regard to the strong new commitments that are necessary.

3) And it is, importantly, that these developing commitments are neither large nor dangerous for the South to accept.

But the question arose whether we have considered the possibility that we are wrong? That, in fact, advocacy of the GDRs package could be dangerous for the South?

I would like to share here some of the argument why I think that this is not the case.

1) One of the strengths of the GDRs concept is, that it taking a transparent, principled position which is thinking things through to the end without fearing the outcome. This gives it a particular appeal and clarity in all the haze of tactics, manoeuvering etc. that is surrounding the post-2012 debate.

2) GDRs is nicely “balanced” because it contains some inconvenient truths both for the North and the South. Frankly, I consider those for the North much more inconvenient than those for the South, but that might be my particular Northern perspective. It is certainly our first and foremost duty, to communicate the inconvenient truth for the North plainly and clearly wherever we can: That its obligation to adress the climate crisis according to its share of responsibility and capacity is bigger than the share of mitigation that the North can reasonably be expected to do at home. That the North needs to do both: pursue an agressive emergency mitigation programme at home, and support the necessary mitigation and adaptation actions in the South with very substantial efforts.

3) I respect our “almost” supporters very much for their longterm experience in North-South negotiations which resulted in a heavy dose of distrust. Still, I don’t think that this is helpful, and I am not even sure if this is warranted. There is simply no time for tactics of delay. And we are not any more in the early 90s where Northern countries could get a trade deal against the South. There is absolutely no way to get a climate agreement without the big developing countries, and they know what this is all about. Their negotiation power is considerable and they are not naive. So I don’t worry too much about China, India or Brazil, that their interests might be “sold out”. What I worry about are the AOSIS, the LDCs, the African countries in general. They have very little negotiating capacity, and little bargaining power. By all historical experience they are very likely to be the loosers of the Copenhagen agreement. But they have to loose most by a weak deal, a 4 C degree deal with insufficient adaptation funding. A deal that gives every country still a bit more space to pollute, at the expense of the climate and the poorest. This is the kind of agreement the Bush Administration wants and even a successor US administration may want because it lets them off the hook the cheapest.

4) We need to redefine realism. That realism means that in order to get an ambitious agreement we need to share the effort of tackling climate change in a fair way. And this implies for us in the North that our foremost agenda has to be to convince our governments to live up fully to our big share of responsbility and capacity. But we may fail, and therefore, from a Southern perspective, there might exist at some stage a trade off between two objectives:
a) to struggle for an overall trajectory which is very ambitious even if the burden sharing is not really fair, even if this means that the South has to go an extra mile and assume certain efforts which are not warranted in a perspective of its share of responsibility and capacity
b) to struggle for a fair burden sharing, and to insist on it even if this means that this may result in a weaker trajectory, missing the 2 C target, because the North is not willing to send enough “checks to China” and the necessary reductions in China do no happen because nobody pays for them.
We can have a debate which of the two things is more dangerous to the poor and their right to development: That their countries might accept an unjustified share of the burden, or that we might miss the 2 C target sliding into dangerous climate change. In my judgement the latter is more dangerous, but this is certainly debatable.

5) I would like to substantiate this with a view to intra-national inequities: The way an unfair burden sharing “trickles down” to the poor is via the national policies. It might restrict the growth perspective of some countries. It might put an extra burden on their budgets. Whether this all burdens the really poor depends of the ability of the poor to defend their basic interests, it depends of their power. While the poor are poor because they lack power, they are not completely powerless: Social unrest is the final weapon of the poorest, and there is a limit to what the ruling classes can pass on to the poorest.
Which means: Whether the poor benefit from a fair (GDRs-type) burden sharing or suffer from an unfair burden sharing depends very much upon the relationship of power in the national class struggles. It might well be that the aspiring middle classes might be the ones to suffer most from an unfair burden sharing, not the really poor, because there is a limit what you can get out of the poorest, otherwise they will resort to unrest.

6) In light of this, the answer to the question whether “advocacy of the GDRs package is dangerous for the South” might look like this:
– When taking “the South” as synonymous to “the poor”, I would clearly deny this. GDRs is our best chance to keep global warming below 2C and there is a key interest of the poor in this. Even if we get somewhat “less than GDRs” because the GDRs package served just as a sinister manoeuver to lure the South into commitments, I would still argue that in effect, the resulting losses of growth in the South will affect the poor only in a limited number of countries which have an active, development oriented government.
– When “the South” means southern countries, I would still argue that the GDRs package or something similar is probably the best deal that Southern countries might get. And I don’t see that delaying tactics will really be helpful in getting “something like GDRs”.


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