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Doig: International Equity is the Key to Faster, Deeper Carbon Cuts

Hitting the Paris Agreement goal of keeping average global warming well below 1.5°C will depend on a “frank and open discussion on equity” that drives negotiators toward faster, deeper emission cuts and away from “conventional development paths,” argues Dr. Alison Doig, Head of Policy at Christian Aid, in a blog post published late last week.

Doig opens her post by recalling the day she invited a group of 11-year-olds to calculate their carbon footprints—and realized their answers said a lot about their socio-economic backgrounds. “In short, the wealthiest kids generated more emissions than the poorest, and at the same time held more power to address this,” she writes. “A similar trend occurs when we look at climate action internationally,” with the Civil Society Equity Review attributing more than half of global greenhouse gas emissions to the 10% wealthiest individuals—who overwhelming live in wealthy countries.

By contrast, “the carbon footprint of the poorest 10% can barely be traced,” Doig notes. Which means the “wealthy countries which committed in the UN Climate Convention to ‘take the lead in combatting climate change’ need to recognize the implications of their position of privilege for the scale of action they need to take, both at home and globally.”

Doig acknowledges that climate negotiators’ complicated history with the word “equity” dates back to the Kyoto Protocol, adding that the term is “far less well defined” in the Paris deal. But “in reality, the biggest opponents of a constructive discussion of equity are wealthy nations, which want to evade or minimize their own obligations,” she writes. “They know that equity means changing the way they run their own economies. It also means letting go of some of their global power; sharing their financial and technological wherewithal with poorer nations to help them develop in a climate-smart way.”

So far, the Equity Review found that rich countries are accepting less than one-quarter of their fair share of the responsibility to deliver a 1.5°C limit. “Poorer nations can also go further in taking alternative low-carbon pathways, but to make that choice, they need the wealthy countries to partner with them, sharing finance and clean technologies,” Doig adds. “There is a huge opportunity to work together to keep us all in a climate-safe world.”

Even with the United States, in particular, refusing to uphold its responsibilities under the Paris Agreement, “it is time for a mature discussion on climate justice, urgency, and equity,” she concludes. “For those of us in wealthy countries, this means admitting both our historic responsibility for causing climate change, and recognizing our economic capacity to support the national and global transitions that are needed. Wealthy countries partnering with poorer countries to support the international zero-carbon transition is not charity—it is a necessity and a responsibility. A climate outcome is neither ambitious nor fair if it fails to avert catastrophe.”