Our Common Future at Thirty
Edited by James Meadowcroft, David Banister, Erling Holden, Oluf Langhelle, Kristin Linnerud and Geoffrey Gilpin
Chapter 9: Taming equity in multilateral climate politics: a shift from responsibilities to capacities
Equity has remained a deeply contested concept in multilateral climate politics ever since the Brundtland Commission report, with academic debate and geopolitical conflict alike focusing on how to conceptualize the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’ (CBDR-RC) of industrialized and developing countries in combating climate change, enshrined within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The focus here is on scrutinizing equity-in-practice, i.e. how equity is being operationalized within multilateral climate governance. The authors trace how the two component elements of the CBDR-RC principle (‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ and ‘respective capabilities’) are being operationalized within the obligations and institutional arrangements relating to mitigation and adaptation within the UNFCCC. The focus of equity is shifting away from the ‘responsibility’ component to that of ‘capabilities’ (with capabilities reduced, furthermore, to a technical notion of capacity building). Equity-in-practice is thus increasingly coming to be equated, within the UNFCCC, with capacity building. The authors discuss whether such a taming of equity is also discernible in newer developments, such as negotiating the rule-book for the enhanced transparency framework of the 2015 Paris Agreement, and debating the role within climate policy of climate engineering technologies. The authors draw out the implications of this analysis for the prospects of UN-led multilateralism to deliver on climate equity in the pursuit of sustainable development.
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