Belfer Center, Kennedy School, Harvard Univ. / by Valentina Bosetti and Jeffrey Frankel
Those worried about the future of the earth’s climate are hoping that the climate-change convention in Lima, Peru, in December 2014, will yield progress toward specific national commitments to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions. The Lima conference will be hosted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and is a prelude to the make-or-break Paris meeting of the UNFCCC, in December 2015, where a new international agreement is scheduled to be concluded.
The Paris agreement will include voluntarily-submitted pledges from UNFCCC member countries to reduce GHG emissions. For such a system of emission targets to work, there needs to exist some general notion of what is a fair target for a country to accept, depending on its circumstances. This would allow a scorecard of which countries are doing their fair share and which may not be.
Everyone should participate in taking on targets. But it is only fair to take into account countries’ individual circumstances, especially their standards of living. Fortunately, it is possible to describe and even to quantify what targets can be considered fair and reasonable. Three principles:
- Latecomer Catchup: It is fair to expect countries that have increased their emissions rapidly to bring them back down, but not practical for them to reverse fully and instantly.
- Progressivity: It is fair to expect rich countries to accept bigger cuts than poor countries, measured relative to what their emissions paths would otherwise have been (the so-called “Business as Usual” path, or BAU).
- Cost: It is not reasonable to expect any one country or group of countries to agree to cuts that would result in disproportionately large economic costs for them…