Putting equity into practice

Equity is important when we take stock of action on climate change. Equity and ambition go together, because the climate is a global commons. The temptation is to ‘free ride’, but if you know that others are doing their fair share, you will also be more likely to push a little harder. At least that is the theory – equity enables ambition.

Equity has started to be put into practice of the global stocktake (GST). The GST is a five yearly process, the first one to be held in 2023. What we know at this point is the equity and fairness are included in the inputs to the GST. And equity is part of the ‘modalities’, the way the GST will be run. Inputs and modalities were agreed at COP24 in Katowice in 2018, as part of the Paris rule-book. In my paper for Climate Policy, ‘Putting equity into practice in the global stocktake under the Paris Agreement’1, I reflect on the hooks for bringing equity into the GST.

The Paris rulebook includes equity across all three components (or phases) of the GST: inputs, assessment and consideration of outputs. Equity is cross-cutting in that sense. And also in that it is applied not only to mitigation (who reduces the most), but also adaptation (who is most vulnerable to impacts), support (who pays), as well as loss & damage and response measures. Long list – those are the five thematic areas of the GST.
Equity is salient to all. On each of these, the paper suggests overarching questions, modalities and inputs relating to equity that could be used in future.

Inputs by countries have particular standing in any UNFCCC process. So the fairness in NDCs is also examined briefly in the paper. Most countries have explained how their NDCs are “fair and ambitious”, but pretty much everyone could do a better job (as we showed in another paper). The outcomes of the GST will inform countries as they prepare their next NDCs.

IPPC reports are also critical inputs to the GST. The special report on 1.5 report included a chapter that looked at “sustainable development, poverty eradication and reducing inequalities”. The sixth assessment is currently being written – and should assess the literature on equity across all its working groups. There are opportunities for constituted bodies to make inputs. For example, the Adaptation Committee will prepare a report for the GST, and should consider in injustice that those least responsible for
impacts are most vulnerable – and make suggestions on what could be done on the
basis of equity.

The inputs also include “voluntary submissions by Parties” on equity. That is more or less a blank cheque – if you can persuade your government or UNFCCC focal point that inputs on equity should be prepared, those can be submitted.

The analysis in the paper suggests that more equitable outcomes can be achieved, thereby enabling ambition. The GST is often colloquially referred to as a ‘ratchet mechanism’, i.e. to ratchet up the ambition in nationally determined contributions (NDC), which we know collectively won’t keep 1.5 or well below 2 °C in reach. The opportunity has been created for equity to be an enabler of ambition. However (and the article touches less on this), too often in practice, countries have used equity as an argument to do less. Too often does one hear that it is not fair to ask us to do more – we are small emitters / my country with special circumstances / the USA / pick your excuse. Equity needs to be used not defensively, but proactively, to enable ambition. The door has been opened with the rules for the GST having been written. It is up to us to put equity into practice fully, when information for the first GST starts being collected in 2022.

Read the full paper for free as part of the Editors’ Choice collection for COP 25.

Harald Winkler is Professor at the University of Cape Town, researching climate change mitigation and inequality.

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