Finalizing an “ambitious and equitableinternational climate agreement by 2015 is a key step in transitioning the world to a low-carbon economy and building resilience. Figuring out what that kind of agreement looks like, though, can be difficult—especially when it comes to the equity component.

The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has set in motion a process for countries to propose their own climate actions– their “intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs)” – next year, ahead of the Conference of Parties in Paris (COP) at the end of 2015. How those contributions reflect equity is a central question. In addition, the UNFCCC has set a temperature goal to collectively limit average global temperature rise to 2 degrees C in order to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. Discussions of equity frequently revolve around which countries are responsible for what share of global emissions reductions. More recently, experts have begun to include other issues in equity discussions, such as countries’ capacity to adapt to climate impacts and their financial and other resources to take action.

So, how should countries decide what to put into their contributions, and how should they be evaluated? What should governments, civil society, and the private sector take into account in thinking about the equitability of a country’s actions?

WRI’s new online tool, the CAIT Equity Explorer, aims to help answer these questions.

A New Tool for Viewing Equity

Rather than providing a formula, the Equity Explorer enables users to look at a variety of quantitative indicators and consider a holistic picture of a given country’s emissions and ability to act, including level of development, capacity to adapt to climate impacts, potential for mitigation action, and other factors. The size of countries’ indicators in the radar charts created in the tool —as well as how they compare to other nations’—point to what level of contribution might be appropriate.

Take a look at the comparison between four different nations to see how the tool works:

United States

In the graphic to the left, the United States’ radar chart is relatively full. Two “slices” in particular—historical emissions per capita and GDP per capita—go out to the edge of the circle, meaning that the country ranks fairly high in those indicators as compared to all other countries in the world. The United States’ relative level of current emissions is, however, somewhat smaller, as seen in the two radar indicators for current emissions.
The chart also shows that the United States’ capacity to adapt to climate impacts is relatively high because of its level of economic development in relation to the impacts it faces. Combined, these factors suggest that the country has reason to set ambitious goals when it comes to climate action—including both domestic emissions reductions and the finance it should provide to help other countries mitigate and adapt to climate change.

For other indicators, however, the United States may look somewhat different. For example, it has taken steps that others may not have taken to reduce emissions that cause local air pollution. As a result, even though the country can reap substantial benefits by improving local air quality, other countries may have even more to gain from reducing emissions.


China’s picture falls between that of the United States and other countries. Its historical emissions are much lower than those from the United States, but the chart shows that its current emissions are significantly higher than many other developing countries, including India, another major emerging economy. China also has a lot of potential to reduce its local air pollution, as compared to other countries, so aggressive emissions reductions domestically would gain the national benefit of cleaner air while also contributing to the global benefit of reducing climate change. China’s economic capacity to adapt to climate impacts is also relatively high. Given these results, a tool user might expect that China will also put forward significant mitigation targets as well as resources to help other countries reach their mitigation and adaptation goals.


Unlike the United States or China, India’s relatively lower GDP per capita and capacity to deal with climate impacts mean it has fewer resources available to take climate action. Like China, however, it could reap local and national air quality benefits from reducing emissions. The chart also shows that, in comparison to Least Developed Countries (LDCs) like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), India does have capacity to use its own resources to take action. Thus, a tool user might expect that it would not need to rely heavily on the international community for financial support.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

The DRC has limited economic resources and capacity to adapt to climate impacts or reduce emissions. It also has relatively low total emissions, though its current per capita emissions reflect the impacts of deforestation, suggesting that resources and support to reduce emissions from deforestation is vital. Finance for that kind of action, as well as for increasing its ability to adapt to climate impacts, will need to come from sources outside the country—such as through climate finance provided by countries with greater capacity.

Creating an Equitable Global Climate Agreement

These glimpses into the challenges and opportunities countries experience become more nuanced as the user chooses different indicators. Each country has a slightly different story to tell. Through the Equity Explorer, users can get a better understanding of what climate equity means—both in their own countries and internationally.

  • LEARN MORE: Find out how to use the Equity Explorer by watching the video below.