Headline issue

Countries are now seeking to reach a new international agreement on climate change, to be signed in Paris in December 2015. A key element of the international negotiations since the Kyoto Protocol, has been equity, but discussions have focused on narrow and unsatisfactory approaches based on ‘burden-sharing’ and ‘atmospheric rights’. These approaches mainly revolve around the assignment of the ‘right to emit’ or, as it is alternatively framed, the ‘costs and burdens’ of climate change action. Various proposals have been put forward that differ in terms of the principles and formulas applied in determining how the costs and burdens should be shared between countries. These range from historical cumulative emissions to relative capabilities based on GDP levels. Much of this debate, however, has proven divisive and often resulted in the search for a minimum acceptable level of individual action.

Key findings

  • Negotiations about a new international climate change agreement are focusing too much on trying to share the burden of cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Six of the seven different burden-sharing approaches to determining national pledges for reducing greenhouse gas emissions largely produce the same outcomes for individual countries, but they are likely to be divisive and lead to a lack of ambition.
  • Countries should recognise that measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions have multiple benefits, including the reduction of local air pollution and traffic congestion.
  • Countries should recognise that national pledges should be based on realising opportunities instead of ‘burden-sharing’.
  • New approaches to ‘intended nationally determined contributions’ would be based on the principle of ‘equitable access to sustainable development’, rather than on the ‘right to emit’.
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