The common but differentiated responsibilities principle

The common but differentiated responsibilities principle

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Ian Lieblich, Global Voices
Climate change presents a threat unlike any other faced in human history. Released earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC’s) Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report confirmed global warming is “unequivocal” with the “clear human influence on climate” capable of causing “severe, pervasive and irreversible” damage to our planet.
In the wake of the landmark agreement on emissions targets between China and the United States, the upcoming climate talks in Lima represent an opportunity for the international community to address one area which has repeatedly caused global action on climate change to break down – reciprocity of effort.Under the Kyoto Protocol countries were annexed via economic capabilities, with developed nations mandated to “take the lead” in combating climate change, whilst developing Parties to the treaty faced no binding requirements to curve emissions. Whilst this categorisation was appropriate when drafted in 1992, the vast economic, scientific, political and technological developments which have shrunk our global village in the 20 years since, have rendered the binary groupings archaic.
The impending superseding of the Kyoto Protocol by a new, universal, agreement – to be signed in Paris next year – represents an opportunity to move away from this outdated system of differentiation. A crucial component of this successor regime must be the recognition of further stages of national development.
Indeed the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) provides the constitutional basis upon which Parties will move away from this system in a post-2020 treaty context, with the recent Bonn Intersessional (a precursor to the upcoming negotiations) confirming that Parties will communicate their own Intended Nationally Determined Contributions for consideration in Lima.
Such Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) represent a departure from the traditional measures which had previously defined International Climate Law, with one welcome consequence being the easy facilitation of matching financial, technological and capacity-building support for Parties’ actions. The associated pairing of Parties to emissions reductions targets they are capable of complying with, will allow a balance to be struck between the need to restrain mercantilist tendencies and the scope for environmentally friendly policies – thus promoting international cooperation on climate change. However considering the wide ranging market factors at play, this balance is far from easy to attain.
Australia, thus far, has been unable to attain said balance.
Climate policies – for example, the notorious price on Carbon – should not be seen as a barrier to Australia’s economic development, but rather as a tool to strengthen diplomatic relations. Irrespective of the commitments Australia might chose to make at Lima, the likelihood that our Leaders will set their own NAMAs – self-determining their own contributions to the international climate regime – ensures that Australia can be held singularly accountable for their decisions made, rather than  grouped with other currently Annexed nations such as the UK and Canada.
Further distinction from this group flows from Australia’s presence in the Pacific, which carves out a unique leadership niche in the area for one of the world’s largest per capita emitters. Scientists and researchers alike can agree that small island states are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, with the world’s first climate change refugees already emerging from nearby Tuvalu. This issue was addressed by Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at the UN’s Climate Summit in New York in September 2014, where she confirmed that “a significant part of Australia’s aid is invested in programmes in the Pacific helping countries build resilience to climate related shocks and manage the impacts of climate change.”
Lima represents an opportunity for the international community to review Australia’s proposed Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, with the current government’s execution requiring tweaking rather than the well-intentioned philosophy at its core.
Climate Change does indeed represent a threat unlike any faced in human history, with Australia in a unique position to determine its own policies and write its own role in this global battle. – Outreach magazine of the Stakeholders Forum

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