Principles in climate change negotiations

At the UN Climate Change Conferences in Copenhagen and Cancun, INS researchers jointly with researchers from School of Business, Economics and Law, Gothenburg University, examined the degree of recognition for different principles for distributing commitments for climate change mitigation and adaptation (Hjerpe et al. 2011).

Another key principle influencing the climate change negotiations is that of historical responsibility. For over 20 years, Parties to the UNFCCC have struggled with the normative significance of history for the differentiation of responsibilities. At the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, historical responsibility was for the first time the recognized by the UNFCCC Parties in a consensus decision. The INS has examined the degree of consensus attributed to the historical responsibility decision, whether delegates believe that the decision will significantly affect future negotiations, and the degree of recognition for conceptual versus proportional formulations of historical responsibility (Friman and Hjerpe 2014).




PRINCIPLES FOR DISTRIBUTING COMMITMENTS FOR MITIGATION

This figure captures the respondents’ degree of recognition for eight principles for distributing commitments for climate change mitigation at two consecutive UN Climate Change Conferences. The principles examined were:

  • Proportional reduction based on current emissions
  • Result in a decreasing share of total emissions, if Annex 1 country*
  • Reduction based in historical emissions since 1850
  • Reduction based on historical emissions since 1990
  • Reduction based on GDP per capita
  • Reduction based on per capita emissions
  • Reduction based on the country’s carbon needs
  • Reduction based on voluntary contribution

* This principle was re-worded in the COP16 survey, which may explain the large difference between the years.

The figure examines whether the degree of support for the principles differ across geographical regions. The figure illustrates the shares of government respondents indicating strong support (captured as a “6” or a “7” in the survey response) and strong opponent (captured as a “1” or a “2” in the survey response) for the eight principles listed in five geographical regions.




PREFERENCES FOR PROPORTIONAL OR CONCEPTUAL HISTORICAL RESPONSIBILITY AMONG ALL RESPONDENTS AT COP 17 AND COP 18, (%)

How should historical responsibility be understood? Proportional understandings of historical responsibility assign responsibility relative to countries’ contributions to climate change. Conceptual understandings posit that developed countries have a moral responsibility to take the lead in combating climate change, but not necessarily in proportion to their contributions. This table shows the preferred understanding of all respondents at COP17 and COP18 divided into Annex I (AI) and non-Annex I (NAI) categories. Notably, 80% of NAI respondents indicated a proportional understanding of historical responsibility, roughly half understanding it as strictly proportional and half as epistemically constrained (contributions since 1990). The understandings of respondents from AI countries were less clear, as indicated by the 41% conceptual and 58% proportional understandings, the latter slightly favouring the epistemically constrained version.



PREFERENCES FOR PROPORTIONAL OR CONCEPTUAL HISTORICAL RESPONSIBILITY AMONG GOVERNMENTAL AND NON-GOVERNMENTAL RESPONDENTS AT COP 17 AND COP 18, (%)

This table shows the overall pattern of differences in interpretations of historical responsibility among all Annex I (AI) and non-Annex I (NAI) respondents is even more distinct among the AI governmental respondents: more of the AI governmental respondents favour a conceptual understanding, and the number of these delegates upholding a strictly proportional understanding is below the average of all AI delegates. The data suggest that the struggle over how to interpret historical responsibility is likely to continue.



LEVEL OF AGREEMENT WITH THE COP 16 DECISION ON HISTORICAL RESPONSIBILITY AMONG COP 17 GOVERNMENTAL RESPONDENTS, (%)

The survey data indicate a high level of agreement with the COP 16 decision among governmental respondents. About two-thirds of all governmental respondents either agree (6 on the scale) or agree strongly (7 on the scale) with the decision. Here, too, the responses diverge between governmental respondents from Annex I (AI) and non-Annex I (NAI) countries. Even though governmental respondents generally indicate agreement with the COP 16 decision, NAI governmental respondents agreed more strongly than did AI governmental respondents. Notably, almost one-third of AI governmental respondents were indifferent to or disagreed with the decision, indicating that formal consensus need not imply unanimous agreement.



SIGNIFICANCE ATTACHED TO THE COP 16 DECISION FOR A FUTURE REGIME AMONG COP 17 GOVERNMENTAL RESPONDENTS, (%)

Similar to the views on agreement, NAI governmental respondents generally ascribe greater significance to the COP 16 decision than do AI governmental respondents. This figure shows that 60% of all governmental delegates indicated that the decision would have either a significant or very significant influence on future agreements. The corresponding shares among governmental respondents are 72% for NAI and 43% for AI respondents.