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Claims about fairness and justice stand at the center of debates about our collective response to climate change. But what does fairness mean? Clearly it is a deeply contested concept, one that reasonable persons can understand in inconsistent and even incompatible ways. As fairness assumes greater currency and salience in climate policy, it is worthwhile to outline briefly the main approaches that lead to some of the arguments put forward in the climate regime. Fairness and justice can be analyzed at quite abstract levels, but the problem of climate change quickly directs the enquiry to the practical, real-world questions. Thus the chief aim of this chapter is to identify a number of principles that could shape different conceptions of fairness in the context of climate change – principles around which one can construct a rough, working consensus of values influencing the debate on the question of sharing the burdens and benefits of combating climate change. Yet caution is advised in plucking conceptions of fairness and justice developed in particular theoretical frameworks and attempting to apply them, in a somewhat pell-mell fashion, to the problem of climate change. The potential for error is large, but fairness in climate change should also be carried at a level that mixes ethics and morals, science and interests.
This chapter provides an overview of the science of climate change, drawing largely on the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international, multidisciplinary assessment body established by the United Nations (UN). The material covered is intended to frame and inform the analysis in subsequent chapters. The information is based on the consensus contained in the reports of the IPCC, especially the Fourth Assessment Report (4AR), released in 2007. Science is coming to the fore in new ways and is influencing institutions, including those setting norms at the international level. Science influences how the problem is framed. At the same time, political processes bear on the way in which scientific output is received and used in policy making. The central role of energy in modern life – and its dominance as a source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – means that this is where the battle against climate change must be joined. This chapter thus includes a brief summary of the main features of the energy challenge.
The primary contributor to global climate change is carbon dioxide (CO2), which is released by the burning of fossil fuels as well as by land-use change, particularly deforestation. Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use rose to 26.4 billion metric tons per year in 2000–2005, with the contribution of carbon dioxide emissions from land-use change (mainly deforestation) being estimated at 5.9 billion metric tons per year during the 1990s.
Climate change is an enormously complex, multidimensional problem that mixes together science, law, economics, technological advancement, and, recently, security interests in a manner that few other global problems do. The scientific study of climate change has spurred a massive international research effort that has pushed back the boundaries of knowledge about the behavior of, and influences on, the earth system. Successive reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have brought more evidence of human-induced climate change, with the most recent report concluding that warming is unequivocal and that human activities are the dominant cause. Yet the interaction between science and public policy is far from the linear relationship of warning of a grave threat from an authoritative source, followed by an appropriate and timely response. While it provides an authoritative description of the problem and outlines the parameters for a solution, a scientific consensus alone is insufficient to bring about changes in society. In contrast to natural scientists, economists have remained more divided on the costs and benefits of taking early action. Overall, a failure to adequately consider the assumptions underpinning economic analyses of climate change may contribute to obscuring crucial ethical and value choices. Ultimately, our welfare is dependent on the natural system, a reality that is only imperfectly incorporated into our decision-making frameworks. In this context, open articulation of the fairness dimensions can enrich, contextualize, and complement insights gained from economics, international relations, and other modes of policy analysis.
There are a number of ideas on how to design the next phase of the climate regime. While some proposals are variations on basic themes, a recent survey of approaches for advancing international climate policy counted 40 proposals. This chapter outlines the features of a number of the main proposals and assesses them according to fairness principles. Accordingly, this chapter begins with an overview of the various assessment criteria for a future climate change agreement – and the burden-sharing rules they contain – which reflect general principles of fairness. Although fairness is the subject of this study, it is only one among a range of criteria by which to assess climate policy proposals. Consistency with principles of equity and fairness is of limited use if the proposal at issue is politically unacceptable and of limited feasibility in policy terms. Accordingly, this chapter also seeks to evaluate the proposals against a number of assessment criteria drawn from the literature on the subject. The chapter sets out to do two things: first, it sets out a set of policy criteria for evaluating climate change proposals; second, it assesses a small but representative sample of actual proposals in light of both fairness principles and the set of policy criteria.
Earlier, it was concluded that no single account of equity or fairness could satisfy the demands placed on it by parties with competing conceptions of what is fair and just and divergent material interests.
INTRODUCTION: UNITED NATIONS FRAMEWORK CONVENTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE (UNFCCC)
By the end of the 1980s, the threat of climate change had entered the policy arena. The basic scientific conclusions about the causes and dimensions of the potential human impact on the climate were sufficient to bring pressure to bear to take action at the international level. Momentum had begun to build with the release of the first report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the holding of the Second World Climate Conference in Geneva in November 1990. In December of that year, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly established the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), tasked with negotiating the Convention. The INC met in five formal sessions, working within a tight deadline to complete a text for adoption before the UN Conference on Environment and Development, commonly known as the Earth Summit. The text of what was called the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted on May 9, 1992, and opened for signature a month later at the summit.
According to the author of the leading commentary, the Convention proved disappointing to many. Efforts to include binding stabilization targets, not to mention reductions, were watered down, leaving the Convention only with vague commitments with respect to stabilization. Other shortcomings mentioned included a failure to include an insurance fund and technology transfer mechanism (sought by the developing countries), the absence of market mechanisms such as emissions credits, and the limited-obligations imposed on developing countries.
Those of us who live on small specks of land,…in the Caribbean, have not agreed to be sacrificial lambs on the altar of success of industrial civilization.
The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment.
Science is about truth and should be wholly indifferent to fairness or political expediency.
Climate change is forcing decision makers at national and international levels to make difficult choices. Confronted with competing demands and interests, countries are faced with committing significant resources to avoid consequences that, while beginning to be felt now, will only manifest themselves decades and, in some cases, centuries from now. Decisions will need to be taken under conditions of considerable uncertainty as to the exact scope and timing of harm. Moreover, the adverse impacts of climate change will be unevenly distributed, with the countries least responsible for the historical buildup of greenhouse gases (GHGs) bearing the brunt. Under such conditions, values and principles carry added weight in decision making. Science provides information on the status of the climate system and projections of future changes. Economics attempts to present the costs and benefits of alternative courses of action. Yet observing the global effort to combat climate change reveals that a key part of the discussion revolves around the contested concept of fairness. A juridical analysis of options to combat climate change will benefit from a critical engagement with the principle of fairness.
Fairness claims and discourse are a major part of the climate change regime.
The preamble of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is striking for the prominence it gives to issues of fairness. It states, “Noting that the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries, that per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and developmental needs.” Prominent reference is made to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. The special vulnerability to the impacts of climate change of low-lying, small island developing countries and other developing countries is recognized. It is also recognized that to achieve sustainable social and economic development, the energy consumption of developing countries will have to grow. Although the language of the preamble is aspirational, it forms part of the context in which the terms of the Convention can be interpreted.
Sovereign equality of states is the formal hallmark of international law. In reality, of course, states vary widely with respect to their military power, economic might, and strength of their institutions. Nonetheless, the ground rule is that states are bound as equals when international agreements are struck – weak or strong, poor or rich, parties assume undifferentiated obligations. The law of the climate change regime is an exception to this rule, providing the impetus for new norms intended to promote collective responses by states with widely diverging interests and capabilities.
This work analyses fairness dimensions of the climate regime. A central issue in international law and policy is how countries of the world should allocate the burden of addressing global climate change. With the link between human activities and climate change clearly established, and the first impacts of climate change being felt, there is a renewed sense of urgency in addressing the problem. On the basis of an overview of science and the development of the climate regime, this book seeks to identify the elements of a working consensus on fairness principles that could be used to solve the seemingly intractable problem of assigning responsibility for combating climate change. The book demonstrates how an analysis of fairness dimensions of climate change - grounded in practical developments and illustrated with reference to the key issues - can add value to our understanding of the options for international climate law and policy.
Unsustainable patterns of energy use are harming the local and global environment. Global climate change is already making itself felt, from the thinning of the Arctic ice cap to the retreat of glaciers across the world, as well as in the emerging link between climate change and the increase in extreme weather events. At the same time access to safe and effective energy remains largely out of reach in many developing countries. Some two billion people, one-third of the world's population, rely almost completely on traditional energy sources, and are unable to take advantage of modern forms of energy, such as electricity, that are taken for granted in the developed world. For instance, in most of sub-Saharan Africa the electrification rate is as low as ten percent, falling even further in rural areas.
Energy consumption in developing countries, although growing rapidly, remains low in absolute terms (see Table 12.1). Access to modern energy for the poor will not be achieved without massive additional investment, which so far seems unforthcoming. Although the developing country share of energy consumption is low, it is set to grow dramatically – according to some calculations, from thirty percent in 2000 to forty-three percent in 2030 – with long-term consequences for sustainable development. Two important points can be made about the link between energy production and use and sustainable development. The first is the importance of adequate energy services for satisfying basic human needs, improving social welfare, and achieving economic development.
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