Equity is a central piece of the new, international climate agreement that will be decided under the UNFCCC in 2015. This paper looks at various trade, human rights, and environmental regimes--such as the Montreal Protocol--to see how they address equity, drawing out the lessons that the UNFCCC can learn from these regimes. This analysis reveals that equity has been critical to achieving consensus and can neither be eliminated from the negotiations nor solved in isolation.

Key Findings

Differentiation of Commitments

  • A variety of modes of differentiation have been used in a number of multilateral regimes, both for differentiating among parties and for differentiating among the actions they will take; exploring various approaches will be useful for the next steps in the UNFCCC. Differentiating the timing of obligations applicable to parties has been a good model for achieving success in some regimes and may be particularly important to consider in the climate context.

  • Establishing an effective process for determining differentiation is key. Differentiated commitments can be agreed through a process in which a basket of objective criteria provide a starting point for discussion, but conclusions are reached through negotiations. Though there are clear differences between European Union (EU) policy and the UNFCCC, the EU experience with a process to determine effort sharing for greenhouse gas emissions reductions may provide an instructive model for the UNFCCC process.

  • Exploring ways in which the climate regime can be strengthened over time may be valuable. Multilateral regimes can grow more robust over time as those with less capacity are given time to develop before taking on greater commitments. In addition, flexibility of forward movement by leaders, with some parties signing elements of an agreement that enable them to go farther than others, may also help create positive momentum in the regime.

Equity through Institutions, Support, and Procedures

  • Finance and other support to enhance access to specific technologies, as well as providing capacity and know-how, are key to achieving equitable and effective outcomes. Access to technology is essential to move from a mindset about sharing burdens to galvanizing opportunity.

  • Attention to equity in establishing procedures and institutions is important for strengthening compliance and participation. Facilitative modes of promoting compliance, rather than sanctions, have been useful for developing countries in many multilateral regimes.

  • Country ownership of strategies and plans, along with effective monitoring of whether finance is meeting its intended objectives, are important in achieving equity. Attention must be paid not only to amounts of assistance, but also to effective means for implementation; countries receiving finance should play a lead role in strategizing about how to make effective use of resources. In addition, it may be helpful to explore models for monitoring and review of outcomes.

Executive Summary

Equity issues will be at center stage in the negotiations for an international climate agreement in 2015. Starting from the moment that the Durban Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2011 launched the negotiating process leading to a 2015 agreement, equity has become a central question in those discussions. The new climate agreement is meant to apply to all Parties, thus raising obvious questions about which countries will take what actions and how equity should factor into making those determinations. The core principles in the UNFCCC of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR-RC) lie at the heart of this debate.

To shed light on these equity discussions within the UNFCCC, Equity Lessons from Multilateral Regimes for the New Climate Agreement examines other international regimes as a source of lessons for the climate negotiations. We undertake an overview of several regimes, including environmental, trade, and human rights regimes, and provide examples of how these regimes have handled equity issues. In part, we considered the issues of differentiation among countries, particularly between developed and developing countries. A central, overarching lesson from our review of these regimes is that equity must be considered not only by the way in which agreements differentiate among the commitments of parties, but also with respect to the institutions, support, and procedures that facilitate participation or create conditions that promote the objectives of the regime. The paper is focused on questions such as whether and how fair commitments are defined; whether countries are supported, based on principles of fairness, in achieving key objectives; whether countries receive fair benefits; and whether institutions and procedures are fair in the way they treat different nations. Based on the lessons from across the regimes, we offer some recommendations and conclusions about what the lessons suggest for the 2015 climate agreement.