New Study proposes ‘fair mechanism’ for global greenhouse emissions reduction

A country's obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should be determined according to equitable criteria that take account of current emissions, economic strength and scope for reduction, says a new study released just days before the Buenos Aires climate change summit.

The ‘examination of global equity’ by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, takes a constructive approach to one of the thornier issues of the agreement – namely the role of developing countries.

For the first time, it differentiates the obligations of countries based on three criteria: responsibility for the emissions that cause climate change, standard of living or the ability to pay for mitigation, and the opportunity countries have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Using these criteria, the report, “Equity and Global Climate Change,” suggests that countries can be grouped into three tiers each with a different level of commitment to reduce emissions. The first tier is comprised of countries that must act now. The second tier includes countries that should act now but differently than the first tier. And, the third tier is made up of countries that could act now if feasible.

“We cannot begin to address the climate change issue until we are able to resolve what is fair to expect of each country,” said Eileen Claussen, Pew Center Executive Director and a co-author of the report. “Until now, people have assumed that there would be one standard for the industrialised countries and another for developing countries. To tackle the climate change problem fairly and effectively, we must get beyond these simple divisions and agree upon a sound and constructive framework.”

The Pew Center on Global Climate Change analysis confirms many assumptions about the responsibilities of certain countries but it also produces some surprises. For example, under the framework suggested by the study:

Tier one is comprised of 30 countries that have the greatest obligation to act because of their high emissions and standard of living. Many of these countries also have opportunities to improve their energy efficiency. This tier covers most industrialized countries including the U.S. and European nations, but also countries like Argentina and South Korea.

Tier two includes 52 countries that fall in the middle range using the three criteria. These countries should act in order for the international community to effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but their obligations should be somewhat different than the first tier, typically because their standard of living is below the world average. Both developed and developing countries fall into this tier including China, India, Brazil, Russia, and Bulgaria.

Tier three countries, 74 in total, contribute less to the problem and have fewer resources to mitigate their emissions. This tier includes countries like Vietnam, Bolivia and Morocco.

A copy of the report, “Equity and Global Climate Change,” is available on the Pew Center web site.

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