Key Issue in COP21: Common But Differentiated Responsibility

After 20 Years of annual global climate talks and of all the dramas behind the scene, “the eyes of the world are on Paris”. The desperation and urgency to come out with the first universal legally binding agreement signed by all nations in the world has pumped the Parties and Secretariat up so much. The schedule was so packed that even the Parties complaint about the insane overlapping of spin-off groups (group negotiation on particular topics) last week.

Everyone is trying hard to get there. But what are the things that blocking the way of the more-than-twenty years effort? What are the ultimate obstacles that thwart the last step of achieving the global goal? Elaine will share some of her understandings and thoughts through the “Key Issues in COP21”series.

Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR), the core principle of the of the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). CBDR plays a very significant role in the Convention because it is affecting many element of the agreement, such as mitigation, adaptation, finance, capacity building, technology transfer and transparency.

What is Common Reponsibility? In the Rio Declaration, the international pursuit of sustainable development is being recognized as the common duty of all Parties. And what is Differentiated Responsibility? As there is inequality between the States, in terms of the historical contribution to the global climate change and the ability of tackling global problems, the concept of differentiating the distribution of obligation is established.

Historical Contribution
During the Industrial Revolution, the Western empires evolved to be the major economies in the world by industrialization. New inventions/machines and factories built were run by burning fossil fuel like coal, causing a lot of carbon from the ground being released into the atmosphere. Not realizing the perilous effects of the carbon emission, the economies became highly relying on the dirty energy and causing the greenhouse gases (GHG) emission to increase at an unabated rate.

Decades after, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), or in simple words, the scientists, proved that we only have 790 Gigaton of carbon budget (quota of carbon to emit) to keep temperature rise 2°C compared to pre-industrial level. Facts and figures in 2011 showed that we have already used up 65% of that budget. So, the developed countries are reckoned to contribute more and take more action to curb climate change due to their historical responsibility

Capacity of Tackling Climate Change
Because of the “past economic exploitation of global commons” (Lucia, 2007), the developed countries become socially, technologically and financially richer than the developing ones. With CBDR, the developed nations are supposed to support the developing countries financially to provide resources like technology and build the capacity of the developing countries so they can do their parts in the global environmental protection.  

In COP21
It is a key issue in the 21st session Conference of Parties (COP21) because many developed countries are trying to break this mandatory principle of the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol. They claimed that many developing countries have already emerged to be middle income nations since the 1994 and that the developing countries can and should put the same effort to fight climate issues. “Things has changed”,”they said. The developed countries tried to re-frame the principle by introducing new phrases such as ‘Parties in a position to do so or willing to do so’ but the developing countries strongly reject the new interpretations as these might jeopardize the core of the Convention. The developing countries are not willing to give up this principle because they will not have the capability to do the same as the rich nations and it is very unfair for them (who actually account a tiny share of the climate issue).

Quoting the Malaysian negotiator, a.k.a the spokesperson for Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDC), Prof Gurdial Singh Nijar, “You (developed countries) created situation which has created this problem for us. You created the problem and now you say that you want us to share – on a equal basis, the responsibility”

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Written by: Elaine See





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