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”.


GDRs and the way forward from Bali

GDRs is a very nice and somehow ‘balanced’ concept, because there is an inconvenient truth in it for both sides of the North-South divide:

For the North: The inconvenient truth is that even the more ambitious of the actually discussed reduction commitments for the North (-25-40% until 2020) are insufficient if they are meant as a measure of the total effort of the North, partly to be fulfilled through emissions trading abroad. We need these ambitious domestic reductions plus strong support for mitigation in the South.

For the South: The inconvenient truth is, that there need to be obligations for some parts of the South as well in the upcoming commitment period (yes, they are small, because they correspond to the Southern countries share of responsibility and capacity). In addition, strong reductions in the South financed by the North are necessary.

The GDRs framework made it clear:

If we want to keep global temperature rise below 2C, emission reductions both in developed and developing countries need to happen. But if we want the associated effort to be shared equitably, a large part of the emission reductions in the South need to be financed by the North.

An echo of these inconvenient truths is contained in the outcomes of the Bali Action Plan. There it was agreed to start negotiations on:

Enhanced national/international action on mitigation of climate change, including, inter alia, consideration of:

(i) Measurable, reportable and verifiable nationally appropriate mitigation commitments or actions, including quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives, by all developed country Parties, while ensuring the comparability of efforts among them, taking into account differences in their national circumstances;

ii) Nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing country Parties in the context of sustainable development, supported and enabled by technology, financing and capacity-building, in a measurable, reportable and verifiable manner;

The dramatic very last hours of the Bali negotiations made it clear, that there is clearly a link between the level of the “mitigation actions” to be undertaken by developing countries, and the level of support they are going to get for this. This corresponds quite nicely to the logic of the GDRs concept.

After Bali, we saw efforts from the Bush administration to backpedal on these decisions. Unsurprisingly.

But also an important voice from developing countries seems to strive backwards to the times before Bali, rather than forward from Bali toward Copenhagen. In a column for the Malaysian “Star”, Martin Khor from Third World Network reported from the discussions on climate change in the UN General Assembly. He quotes himself:

The Kyoto Protocol must be supported, and the first task is to correct the misconception that it expires in 2012 and must be replaced.

What is expiring is the first commitment period (for emission cuts) of the developed countries, and this is to be followed by a second commitment period for which negotiations are already taking place.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol should be defended, as they contain good principles such as that developed countries must take the lead, and developing countries will act to the extent that the developed countries meet their finance and technology commitments.

The post-Bali process should firstly focus on implementation of existing commitments, as the performance is poor.

The developed countries have to meet their emission targets and their technology and finance obligations (which have not been fulfilled), if developing countries are to have confidence that they will be assisted.

While I agree with many of Martin’s views, I disagree with the assertion that we can content ourselves with focusing on the implementation of existing commitments under Kyoto and the negotiation of further commitments under a second commitment period. This would amount to backpedal from the Bali Action Plan. But we need to move forward from Bali, and work towards clear and binding linkages between measurable, reportable and verifiable mitigation actions by developing countries and equally measurable, reportable and verifiable support by developed countries for that purpose. We need to use our creativity to find ways how this can happen.

There is no time to loose. Let us focus our energy on demanding much more agressive binding reduction commitments by developed countries, and adequate levels of funding both for adaptation and mitigation in the South. Delaying tactics are not on the order of the day.