Differentiation of commitments

Heleen Groenenberg summarizes a discussion session held during COP-6 on the differentiation of climate commitments and underlying principles.

The author is currently working on her doctoral project at the Department of Science, Technology and Society, Utrecht University, in The Netherlands.

During the Sixth Conference of the Parties held in The Hague, The Netherlands, in November 2000, several side sessions took place focusing on equity in the global climate change debate.

One of the sessions was organized in a joint effort by a number of European institutions. These included the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), The Netherlands Energy Research Foundation (ECN), Utrecht University, and the Centre for Climate and Environmental Research-Oslo (CICERO). During the session, a number of approaches to differentiation of climate commitments were presented, after which a panel and the attendants had a very interesting debate on equity and the mitigation of global climate change.

The basic premise of the symposium was the notion that it should be possible to support future climate negotiations on reduction objectives with a particular scheme for the differentiation of commitments. Such a scheme should entail a fair distribution of the global climate mitigation effort, taking into account specific national circumstances including the deprivation in emissions of developing countries.

Asbørn Torvanger from CICERO started the session with three salient equity principles that popped up regularly in the discussion. These were need, capacity and guilt. He formulated a basis for criteria that any differentiation scheme should meet if it is to bring the negotiating parties together.

First and foremost, a differentiation scheme should be based on more than one principle of fairness. Among these principles, there should be, at the very least, the principle of need, which is interpreted as basic human needs. Furthermore, the three equity principles – need, capacity and guilt – all suggest that industrialized countries should take the lead in combating climate change.

The next speaker was Marcel Berk from RIVM who introduced the multi-stage approach as a useful scheme to differentiate climate commitments.

In this approach, pre-defined threshold levels (for example, based on emissions or income per capita) determine the participation of countries in the climate regime in different stages. The number of parties and level of involvement in global emission control gradually increases over time.

This approach would result in:

  • no commitments for low-income countries which can participate in the Clean Development Mechanism;
  • de-carbonization targets for the economy in the lower middle income countries which can participate in Joint Implementation/Clean Development Mechanism projects and emissions trading;
  • stabilization of emissions in the upper middle income countries which can also participate in Joint Implementation/Clean Development Mechanism and emissions trading; and,
  • full participation in emission reduction regimes in developed countries.

Marcel Berk also introduced the FAIR model (Framework to Assess International Regimes for differentiation of commitments), which is a tool devised to evaluate various differentiation schemes. These include environmental consequences such as multi-stage, convergence and the triptych approach as discussed below.

The FAIR model was developed to evaluate the implications of different initial allocations of emissions rights. The model relates burden-sharing schemes to global climate protection targets and calculates the respective regional emission permits.

The model has been used to assess specific proposals for burden sharing under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and in science-policy dialogue settings, such as part of COOL (Climate OptiOns for the Long term). It was developed at RIVM by Michel den Elzen, Marcel Berk, Sandra Both and Bert Metz and can be downloaded from www.rivm.nl/fair/.

Kornelis Blok from the Department of Science, Technology and Society at Utrecht University presented the triptych approach to differentiation of commitments. This approach proved useful for differentiation of the reduction efforts within the European Union among the various European Member States.

The triptych approach takes various equity principles for granted (need, guilt, capacity) and accounts for national circumstances such as fuel mix in power generation, population size and growth, energy efficiency in the energy-intensive industry and climate. It also distinguishes three sectors: the energy-intensive industry, the electricity production sector and the domestic sectors which comprise households, commercial activities, transport, light industry and agriculture.

The approach takes, as a point of departure the premise that, in the domestic sectors emissions per capita should converge towards the same level for all world citizens within decades. Emissions in the energy-intensive industry and power generation are subject to criteria with respect to energy efficiency and fuel mix.

The results, partly driven by assumptions on the speed of convergence and baseline scenarios, indicate the largest reduction obligations in Eastern Europe and in the former Soviet Union, followed by the United States and the European Union, respectively. Developing countries are allowed to grow substantially.

Christoph Böhringer led discussion on the economic application of a contraction and convergence emission reduction scenario. He addressed the case of contraction of global carbon emissions by 25 per cent over 1990 levels, simultaneously with convergence towards equal per capita emission rights by the year 2050 using a high growth scenario, known as the SRES A1 scenario.

If such a regime were to be introduced without emissions trading it would provoke substantial welfare losses for most developed countries. In addition, it would result in significant negative international spillovers, even for developing countries without binding emissions constraints. Emissions trading, on the other hand, yields large efficiency gains compared to a business-as-usual scenario, including major developing countries like India.

Discussion participants concluded that emissions trading is essential for a contraction and convergence scenario and that such a scenario also works as development aid.

Finally, it was noted that the allocation scheme for permit rights is not only crucial for the potential efficiency gains from emissions trading but also for the distribution of these gains via the market.

Jaap Jansen introduced the multi-sector convergence approach. This approach entails convergence of per capita emissions in eight sectors separately. For each of the sectors an ultimate convergence level of per capita emissions would need to be agreed. Furthermore, this framework would offer policy makers the chance to have a say in the year of ultimate convergence, base-year and target years and in the thresholds for taking up commitments.

The multi-sector convergence approach proposes to correct a country’s allowances for climate, a low population density, potentials for renewable energy or limited financial resources due to the transition to a market economy. The specification of allowance factors for major-specific conditions is an essential issue for operationalizing the method.

The multi-sector convergence approach has been designed as a flexible and transparent method that requires only parameters that are easily available. It may well result in emission credits for low emission countries.

The meeting concluded with a panel discussion and a discussion with the audience. The discussion centred around the idea that we have to go from burden sharing to resource sharing, together with an effective long-term regime.

In general, the terms ‘burden sharing’ or ‘burden differentiation’ place too much emphasis on the status quo of the current fossil fuel society and on efforts to reduce emissions by means of energy efficiency measures.

Such measures cannot be an adequate response to global warming. A joint global effort requires an approach in terms of resource sharing rather than burden sharing. Models need to be changed to address differentiation of commitments in terms of per capita entitlements.

Unfortunately, the subsequent discussion did not elaborate in detail the consequences for the scientific community of this idea of resource sharing as opposed to burden sharing. For the time being, a gap exists between the aspiration to let per capita emissions converge on the one hand and, on the other, the problems that are being encountered in the transition from a fossil fuel based society towards a zero-emissions future. Schemes for differentiation of commitments may help to bridge this gap.

Pier Vellinga, who chaired the meeting, concluded the symposium by observing that, while the negotiators at COP-6 continued to focus on the survival of the Kyoto Protocol, this side session meeting took a much longer time perspective.

For future agreements, fairness should be the main underlying principle, based on entitlements and resource sharing. The level of contraction and the timing of convergence will then be at the centre of the debate.

Further information
Heleen Groenenberg, Department of Science, Technology & Society, Utrecht University, Padualaan 14, 3584 CH Utrecht, The Netherlands. Fax: +31-30-2537601. Email: h.groenenberg@chem.uu.nl.