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Greenhouse Development Rights

Developed by Tom Baer, Tom Athanasiou of Eco-equity and Sivan Kartha and Eric Kemp-Benedict of the Stockholm Environment Institute.  This description is taken from the Greenhouse Development Rights website:

“The premise of the Greenhouse Development Rights project, in a nutshell, is that the climate crisis can only be understood against the backdrop of an ongoing, bitter, debilitating development crisis, and that it is both unacceptable and unrealistic to expect those struggling against poverty to focus their limited resources on averting climate change.   And the GDRs work goes on from this premise to explore the necessary conclusions: those who are wealthier and have produced higher levels of emissions must take on the bulk of the costs of a global “emergency program” of mitigation and adaptation.

The world of Greenhouse Development Rights, in other words, is not merely a world divided between North and South.  It is also a world in which both North and South are divided between rich and poor. Which has a very particular implication: developing countries must curb their emissions, but the global consuming class – the elites within the industrialized world and within the developing countries as well – must cover the costs and provide the resources necessary to enable an emergency global transition to a low-carbon economy.

More particularly, the Greenhouse Development Rights framework lays out an effort-sharing framework that is based upon a straightforward accounting of national responsibility and capacity, an accounting that takes explicit care to define both responsibility and capacity with respect to a “development threshold” that excuses the poor, wherever they may live, from any responsibility to bear the burdens of the climate transition.”

Complex challenges:

“None of this is simple, not at least when it comes time to translate it into a viable global climate accord. Which is to say that the road ahead is not and cannot be straightforward. But this we know: as long as there is no serious effort-sharing architecture on the table, one that promises an accord in which a global emergency mobilization does not itself threaten the development of the South, developing countries will conclude that they have more to lose than to gain from serious engagement with the climate negotiations. This has always been the premise of the GDRs work, and nothing about the drift of the negotiations leads us to think it wrong.

It comes to this – the world’s wealthy minority has left precious little atmospheric space for the poor majority. Indeed, even if emissions from industrialized countries were suddenly and magically halted, the dramatic emissions reductions demanded by the climate crisis would still require developing countries to urgently decarbonize their economies, and to do so while combating endemic poverty. This is not only the core of the physical challenge, but also the crux of the international political impasse that now stymies the negotiations. And we will not break that impasse by avoiding the core structure of the climate problem.

The Greenhouse Development Rights framework does not, in itself, point the way to resolution of this impasse.  For the climate impasse – let us be frank – is far too deeply embedded in the geopolitics of a dysfunctional world order to yield to anything as abstract as an effort-sharing framework. But GDRs is, we believe, quite successful in pointing a way forward. This isn’t everything, but it helps.”

Our View
GDRs focuses on the inequity between rich and poor in terms of responsibility for climate change.  It therefore taxes people in proportion to their wealth, since wealthier people have higher carbon emissions.  However, GDRs will require national governments to share tax records with a new supranational carbon authority which would then redistribute funds to climate vulnerable nations.  This will be an immense organisational challenge.  The main uncertainty lies in the ability of GDRs to cut global carbon emissions.  Since its unit of account is dollars rather than carbon, it will be hard to predict how much carbon it will avoid. 

We agree that equity and responsibility for past emissions are key considerations and this is why GDRs are backed by organisations such as Oxfam. 

However, GDRs would effectively require high-emitting industrialised nations to have immediate 'negative' carbon emissions and also pay the lion's share of the cost of global programmes to cut emissions and the construction of new infrastructure to protect poorer, climate vulnerable nations from the impacts of climate change.

It is clearly impossible for the USA, or any industrialised nation, to cut emissions to less than zero overnight. Nor would western political leaders be able or willing to persuade voters to back plans to pay emerging and developing nations what have been described as 'vindictive' reparations for historic carbon emissions. Policy makers only became aware of the link between carbon emissions and rising temperatures in the last few decades. Before that, only a handful of scientists realised that carbon emissions would affect temperatures.

There's a strong ethical argument in favour of GDRs, since past emissions from industrialised nations have caused climate change. Western governments also realise that future strategy on sharing global carbon emissions will be tempered by the idea that each person should have the same share of a limited carbon budget. However, GDRs remain a non-starter for the USA, because it rejects any notion of guilt for past carbon emissions and other nations may share this view.

C&C sidesteps the issue of historic emissions, but its carbon market will load the dice in favour of developing countries and create incentives for all nations to avoid fossil fuels.


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