This past December at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) summit in Durban, South Africa, 194 countries decided to begin the process of creating a new global climate treaty by 2015. In a striking development, the U.S. opposed an attempt by India to include a provision in the “Durban Platform” that the new treaty establish an equitable distribution of mitigation cuts between developed and developing countries. The U.S. also explicitly denied reference in the platform to the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR), first articulated in the treaty that created the UNFCCC in 1992. The connection is that for some time now CBDR has effectively stood for any notion of equity in this process. At its face CBDR suggests that while all countries have the responsibility to reduce their emissions, developed countries, who have historically emitted more greenhouse gases, should do more. Unfortunately CBDR has come to be interpreted as stipulating that the only fair climate treaty is one that requires developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions but does not require developing countries to do so.
But the outcome in Durban does not mean that notions of equity are now banished from climate negotiations. In fact, it means the opposite. In part because of the dispute between the U.S. and India, the climate diplomacy community has recognized that they must now find a notion of equity in these negotiations outside of the confines of the principle of CBDR. This process began last May in Bonn, beginning with a five hour workshop on “equity and sustainable development.” One month later the World Resources Institute and the Mary Robinson Foundation announced a major new initiative on climate justice which will try to come up with a workable notion of equity to replace CBDR.
These developments should be momentous for philosophers working on climate change. For the first time in twenty years, questions of equity and justice will take center stage. The question though is how philosophers could best contribute to this discussion? I will try to answer this question from my perspective not only as a philosopher interested in interdisciplinary work, but also as a policy professional working closely with an array of government actors in the climate diplomacy world.
As we might expect, a traditional answer would be to simply hand over the many books and articles that have been produced the last twenty years by professional philosophers working on climate justice to those who will craft the new treaty. Much of this work is robustly interdisciplinary. But I will argue that if that is the best we can do then climate ethicists, like so many other environmental ethicists who have gone before them, will find themselves on the side lines of the new climate equity debate. Instead we must approach this question from a more pragmatic angle and seek answers that are as workable in the actual arena of these negotiations as they are philosophically rigorous.