Our Common Future Under Climate Change

International Scientific Conference 7-10 JULY 2015 Paris, France

Tori Rector

Tori Rector

A new and dynamic interpretation of equity in the post-2015 climate agreement


By Rosa Manzo, University of Oslo

The IPCC has restated in its AR5 Synthesis Report that human influence on the climate system is unequivocal, and that recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. This changes everything. 

The call from IPCC for sharp reduction of greenhouse gases through global action raises the expectations for the next Climate Agreement. The more countries that will agree to cut their emissions, the higher the chance of reaching the 2°C goal.

The new agreement has to be seen as equitable in order to be signed by a majority of country states. So far climate equity has been interpreted through the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR/RC). 

The current interpretation has brought the so-called firewall between developed and developing countries: the former bound to cut emissions; the latter bound to carry out adaptation actions through financial support gained by the former. 

Since the signing of the UNFCCC in 1992, there have been substantial changes in economy and society. The current division of mitigation efforts can therefore not be regarded as equitable and should be changed.

This situation reveals the need for a new understanding of the principle of equity, in order to move beyond the current treatment of the CBDR/RC principle. A dynamic interpretation appears to be one way to accomplish a change in this approach. Basically, a dynamic interpretation is an interpretation used where a term is given a meaning that changes over time.

Conducting dynamic treaty interpretation is important in order to make agreements work as intended in light of new circumstances. This method’s results are well-grounded in international law. 

There exists a need in international law for dynamic treaty interpretation. International treaties are living instruments that aim to rule over lasting and solid relations. A dynamic interpretation makes a treaty able to develop with society.

A dynamic approach to equity would highlight national circumstances rather than responsibility for global warming as a criteria for designing commitments.

Several proposals have been put forward on what indicators could depict a country’s condition. All of them offer a new and dynamic interpretation of equity. To date three approaches the Global Carbon Budget Approach, the GDRs Framework and the Mutual Recognition Approach have gathered momentum.  Every approach has strengths and weakness from an equity perspective.

Currently the ADP has been working on a non-paper on elements for a draft negotiating text. This text addresses all countries to take actions, and in this way allows to overcome the “development divide”. 

It restates the CBDR/DR principle, referring to “evolving common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities”. The idea is that international commitments should adapt to new and changing circumstances. ADP’s message supports the principle of equity as a dynamic concept.

Equity dynamism calls for flexibility and variety. The next climate agreement should be shaped as a flexible agreement in its contents. Mitigation commitments should be tailored to what a country is willing and able to afford. This would bring different commitments to different countries. 

It also implies an array of commitments including emissions caps, policy targets, and technology agreements. The idea is to move beyond traditional top-down and bottom-up schemes, by fostering a hybrid approach to face global warming.

What could be the limits of such a dynamic approach? Could there be further applications of equity as a tool of dynamic treaty interpretation?  Would an equity-based interpretation allow to review and update commitments? These questions remain to be answered.

Rosa Manzo is a researcher with particular expertise in general international law and international environmental law. She is currently working as a Ph.D Candidate in Climate Change Law at PluriCourts’ Environmental Pillar at the University of Oslo

This is part of a blog series profiling climate scientists, economists, social scientists and civil society members who are presenting and discussing innovative climate science at Our Common Future. For more follow @ClimatParis2015 and #CFCC15 on Twitter.

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