Going Round in Circles?


The UNFCCC in Lima is a land of acronyms. If you don’t know your BINGO from your ENGO things can go badly wrong.  So significant are the acronyms that I devoted a whole blog to the ABC of climate change. One of the most important acronyms is the principle of CBDR: Common but Differentiated Responsibilities.

All countries which sign up to the Lima agreement accept a common responsibility to protect the climate, whilst recognising that a country’s level of responsibility should reflect both its historical contribution to climate change and its capacity to address it.

When the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was established at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, countries into two distinct categories: Annex I countries, which were industrialised or advanced transitional economies, and; Non-Annex I countries, which were considered at the time to be developing.  I have italicised the key clause of the previous sentence, at the time, because a lot can happen in twenty years.  The division of the globe had significant implications for the burden of responsibility, and the funding of support.

As countries gathered in Lima prepare to commit to wide-ranging obligations on mitigation, adaptation and finance, the two annex approach seems outdated serving only to entrench a long since vanished global world order (see my earlier blog for concerns over the Non Annex 1 status of China).

The EU and the US have been especially vocal on this point on the need to eliminate the firewall between the two annexes. US Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd Stern, has argued that maintaining the firewall ‘would be inimical to ambition and would undermine the political cohesion we need to build an effective and durable climate system’.

Despite the rhetoric from the EU, US and other big donors countries, developing nations remain determined to retain two annexes separated by a strong firewall. In an attempt to resolve this emerging impasse, Brazil has proposed a reconfiguration of the model to limit temperature rises to 2oC above pre-industrial levels.

Countries are grouped into ‘three concentric circles’  (see attachment). The inner circle consists of developed countries with absolute, economy-wide mitigation targets. The middle ring consists of developing countries with reduction targets relative to national GDP, economy intensity or population size. The outer ring consists of the least-developed countries which have committed to objectives on reducing emissions but with non-economy-wide targets. The ambition over time is to encourage the countries to gravitate towards the centre.

Whilst the Brazilian concentric circle approach introduces differentiation between developing countries and may indeed facilitate voluntary graduation toward ever bolder carbon reduction targets, the proposal has been criticised by some developed countries because it could weaken the commitments of some of the biggest carbon emitters including China, India and (of course) Brazil itself, by allowing these countries to set targets which are not measured against an absolute economy-wide reduction.

It is clear that the days are numbered of any model which excuses the wealthiest and heaviest polluting nation in the world - China - from serious financial commitments to reduce carbon emissions.  Whether the Brazilian rings will solve the conundrum remains to be seen...