Since 2011, the focus of international negotiations under the UNFCCC has been on producing a new climate agreement to be adopted in 2015. This phase of negotiations is known as the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. The goal has been to update the global effort on climate for long-term cooperation. In this period, various changes have been contemplated on the design of the architecture of the global climate effort. Whereas previously, the negotiation process consisted of setting mandated targets exclusively for developed countries, the current setting requests of each country to pledge its contribution to the climate effort in the form of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The shift away from establishing negotiated targets for rich countries alone towards a universal system of participation through intended contributions raised persistent questions on how exactly the new agreement can ensure equitable terms. How to conceptualize equity within the 2015 climate agreement, and beyond, is the focus of this paper. The paper advances a framework on equity, which moves away from substantive moral conceptions of burden allocation toward refining principles of public reason specially designed for the negotiation process under the UNFCCC. The paper outlines the framework’s main features and discusses how it can serve a facilitating role for multilateral discussion on equity on a long-term basis capable of adapting to changing circumstances.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
The most vulnerable among them are members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), as well as low-lying developing countries, such as Bangladesh.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC 1992) http://unfccc.int/files/essential_background/background_publications_htmlpdf/application/pdf/conveng.pdf.
For reference, see also Bodansky (2004, p. 30).
For further discussion, see Boran and Shockley (2015).
The substantive framework dominates the literature on climate justice. In fact, it is so predominant that Simon Caney has called it simply “burden sharing justice” (Caney 2014b, p. 127). What characterizes the literature on climate ethics and climate justice is a debate between allocative patterns, including those informed by a polluter pays principle, principles of distributive justice, or what is termed equal-per-capita emissions rights. Examples include, but are not limited to Caney (2014a), Neumayer (2000), Gardiner et al. (2010), Jamieson (2012), Singer (2002), Vanderheiden (2009).
This is to be distinguished from an equal-per-capita approach to cost allocation. The equal-per capita approach prescribes equal division of atmospheric sink on a per-capita basis over the global population. This provides a formula to calculate how much each country would be entitled to emit in a global carbon trading system. For a critical analysis, see Posner and Weisbach (2010, chapter 6).
Jamieson (2012) asserts that there are internal inconsistencies in the theoretical foundations underlying international paretianism as defended by Posner and Weisbach. This illustrates the multiplicity of reasons for resisting this position. The details of the arguments, however, are not within the purview of this paper.
For a succinct critical review, see Scheffler (2008).
Special thanks to Hugh Breakey for this point.
This is in keeping with Rawls’s idea that “the content of public reason is given by a family of political conceptions of justice, and not by a single one” (Rawls 1999, p. 581). Here, I provide three examples of political values, but additions to this list can be made.
Thanks to Hugh Breakey for helping me clarify this point.
Thanks to Karsten Löffler for insights on this point.
Aldy, J. E., & Stavins, R. N. (2010). Introduction. In J. E. Aldy & R. N. Stavins (Eds.), Post-Kyoto international climate policy: Implementing architectures for agreement (pp. 1–28). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Babiker, M. J., & Eckaus, R. (2002). Rethinking the Kyoto emissions targets. Climatic Change, 54(4), 399–414.
Bodansky, D. (2004). International climate efforts beyond 2012: A survey of approaches. Pew Center on Global Climate Change. http://www.c2es.org/publications/international-climate-efforts-beyond-2012-survey-approaches. Accessed June 27, 2015.
Bodansky, D. (2010). The Copenhagen climate change conference: A post-mortem. American Journal of International Law, 104, 230–240.
Bodansky, D. (2012). The Durban Platform: Issues and options for a 2015 agreement. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. http://www.c2es.org/publications/durban-platform-issues-options-2015-agreement. Accessed June 27, 2015.
Bodansky, D., & Diringer, E. (2014). Building flexibility and ambition into a 2015 climate agreement. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. http://www.c2es.org/publications/building-flexibility-ambition-2015-climate-agreement. Accessed June 27, 2015.
Boran, I., & Shockley, K. (2015). COP 20 Lima: The ethical dimension of climate negotiations on the way to Paris—Issues, challenges, prospects. Ethics, Policy, Environment, 18(2), 117–122.
Breakey, H. (2015). COP 20’s ethical fall out: The perils of principles without dialogue. Ethics, Policy, Environment, 18(2), 155–168.
Brunée, J., & Streck, S. (2013). The UNFCCC as a negotiation forum: Toward common but more differentiated responsibilities. Climate Policy, 13(5), 589–607.
Caney, S. (2014a). Just emissions. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 40, 255–300.
Caney, S. (2014b). Two kinds of climate justice: Avoiding harm and sharing burdens. Journal of Political Philosophy, 22, 125–149.
Gardiner, S., Caney, S., Jamieson, D., & Shue, H. (Eds.). (2010). Climate ethics: Essential readings. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Heath, J. (2008). Political egalitarianism. Social Theory and Practice, 34(4), 485–516.
Jacoby, H. D., Schmalensee, R., & Wing, S. (1999). Toward a useful architecture for climate change negotiations. Report No. 49, MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.
Jamieson, D. (2012). Consequentialism, climate change, and the road ahead. Chicago Journal of International Law, 13(2), 439–468.
Klinsky, S., & Winkler, H. (2014). Equity, sustainable development, and climate policy. Climate Policy, 14(1), 1–7.
Macaspac Penetrante, A. (2013). Common but differentiated responsibilities: The North–South divide in the climate negotiations. In G. Sjostedt & A. Macaspac Penetrante (Eds.), Climate change negotiations: A guide to resolving disputes and facilitating multilateral cooperation (pp. 249–276). London and New York: Routledge.
Maguire, R. (2013). The role of common but differentiated responsibility in the 2020 climate regime. Carbon and Climate Law Review, 4, 260–269.
Morgan, J., & Waskow, D. (2014). A New Look at Climate Equity in the UNFCCC. Climate Policy, 14–1, 17–22.
Neumayer, E. (2000). In defence of historical accountability for greenhouse gas emissions. Ecological Economics, 33, 185–192.
Otto, F. E. L., Frame, D. J., Otto, A., & Allen, M. R. (2015). Embracing uncertainty in climate change policy. Nature Climate Change, 5, 917–920.
Posner, E. A. (2006). International law: A welfarist approach. University of Chicago Law Review, 73(2), 487–543.
Posner, E. A., & Weisbach, D. (2010). Climate change justice. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Posner, E. A., & Weisbach, D. (2012–2013). International paretianism: A defense. Chicago Journal of International Law, 13(2), 347–358.
Rajamani, L. (2015). Differentiation in a 2015 climate agreement. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. http://www.c2es.org/publications/differentiation-2015-climate-agreement. Accessed November 28, 2015
Rawls, J. (1985) . Justice as fairness: Political not metaphysical. In S. Freeman (Ed.). John Rawls: Collected Papers (pp. 388–414). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Rawls, J. (1997) . The idea of public reason revisited. In S. Freeman (Ed.). John Rawls: Collected papers (pp. 573–615). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Rawls, J. (1999). The law of peoples. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Rawls, J. (2001). Justice as fairness: A restatement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Scheffler, S. (2003). What is egalitarianism? Philosophy & Public Affairs, 31(1), 5–39.
Scheffler, S. (2008). Cosmopolitanism, justice, and institutions. Daedalus, Summer, 68–77.
Singer, P. (2002). One world: The ethics of globalization. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Stone, C. (2004). Common but differentiated responsibilities in international law. American Journal of International Law, 98(2), 276–301.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). (1992). Text of the convention. http://unfccc.int/files/essential_background/background_publications_htmlpdf/application/pdf/conveng.pdf. Accessed November 28, 2015.
Vanderheiden, S. (2009). Atmospheric Justice: A Political Theory of Climate Change. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Winkler, H., & Rajamani, L. (2014). CBDR& RC in a regime applicable to all. Climate Policy, 14(1), 102–121.
Work on this paper began during the UN Climate Change Conference, June 2014, held in Bonn, Germany. An earlier version was presented at the workshop on climate science and policy in June 2014 at Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands. I wish to thank Sabine Roeser for organizing the workshop and for inviting me. As well, I wish to extend my thanks to workshop participants for their insightful comments. I am thankful to Karsten Löffler, who has read earlier versions closely, for his detailed insights. I am also thankful to Hugh Breakey, Sabine Roeser, Ray Spier, as well as two anonymous referees, who have provided incisive written comments. I have benefited from ongoing conversations with Andrew Light, Joanna Patouris, and Kenneth Shockley. Nevertheless, I am responsible for any limitations the paper may have. I wish to acknowledge Dawn Bazely, Department of Biology, York University, for her continuous support and for facilitating my participation in the UNFCCC meetings as accredited observer. The final revisions on this paper were done at COP 21 at Paris-Le Bourget. I wish to extend my thanks to the UNFCCC for providing an inclusive environment for research organizations. Last but not least, funding support from the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies at York University and from York University’s SSHRC Small Grants Program is gratefully acknowledged.
About this article
Cite this article
Boran, I. Principles of Public Reason in the UNFCCC: Rethinking the Equity Framework. Sci Eng Ethics 23, 1253–1271 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11948-016-9779-9
- International climate change negotiations
- Paris Agreement
- Agreement architecture
- Institutional structure
- Public reason
- Reasonable pluralism
- Political conception of justice
- Common but differentiated responsibilities