Will Warsaw deliver on equity?

Negotiating parties in Warsaw have started working on the new climate deal that will be signed in Paris in 2015, and those who had found it convenient to push the principle of equity to the sidelines, are being forced to engage with it

By Uthra Radhakrishnan
Published: Thursday 21 November 2013

As the climate talks at Warsaw enter the last phase, negotiators are beginning to work on the details for clinching a deal in Paris—the draft decision text. This is currently being prepared under the Ad hoc Working Group on Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), the working group set up to work out a 2015 agreement.

How a future agreement would treat the principle of equity, embedded in the climate convention signed way back in 1992, is something that has polarised developed and developing countries. But with the foundational elements for a new agreement being laid down, party nations, particularly those who had found it convenient to push it to the sidelines, are being forced to engage with it.

During the ADP open-ended consultations on Wednesday, Xolisa Ngwadla from Swaziland who spoke on behalf of the African Group laid out a framework process on how the principle of equity could actually be used to increase ambition in a new agreement. According to him, parties had already agreed to in 2010 to stay within a 2°C temperature increase target. A certain boundary or threshold had been set. But with parties agreeing to turn in commitments that would be decided by the countries themselves, presently there exists no mechanism to ensure that actions of all parties would together help to achieve the goal of containing global average temperature increase to within 2°C.

Ngwadla suggested using quantitative metrices/indicators to capture qualitative notions such as responsibility and development need could be a way of ensuring that parties' collective efforts were being measured and assessed against a set of indicators, thus ensuring some kind of equity assessment. He also stressed that parties should keep this is mind while they decide on their commitments; this would also ensure that too much focus is not placed just on a corrective or a review process that assesses the commitments once they have been made. Such an approach has come to be known as the Equity Reference Framework.
While several other parties also mentioned the need for a process to assess equity and ambition in the process, only South Africa spoke of specific indicators. Using such quantitative frameworks has been something the US has always opposed. The US negotiator in Warsaw said while his country is open to exploring the issue of ambition and equity, he “cannot see the development of equity indicators”. He reiterated what the US has said several times in the past: “Equity lies in the eyes of the beholder.” He also said that it is “better we talk about equity and the examination of commitments in the context of the agreement.” While on the one hand, the US delegate gave equity some space in its speech, the statement indicated only a trivial amount of consideration given to equity. The US negotiator did not even seem to be supporting its trans-Atlantic friends from Europe who at different points called for an equity review of commitments turned in by parties.

The battle for ensuring any new agreement to be based on the principles of equity has been a long and bitter one. Starting in Durban in 2011 when countries first signed on to have a new agreement by Paris, developing countries have struggled to ensure that equity principles did not lose out in the negotiations.

For many, the departure point for a deal in Paris in 2015 is to not repeat what transpired in Copenhagen in 2009. This means that negotiators will need to be ready with a strong text to hand over to their ministers when they arrive in Paris for signing the deal.


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