Greenhouse Development Rights

The Greenhouse Development Rights (GDR) framework, proposed by Paul Baer and Tom Athanasiou of EcoEquity and Sivan Kartha of the Stockholm Environment Institute tries to answer the oft-repeated criticism about inequity in emission within the developing world. It incorporates the rich, even in the developing world, to share the burden of reducing emission by 80 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050.

To fix responsibility for the climate problem and also ascertain the
capacities of nations to pay for a solution, gdr divides countries into two groups based on income. People below a certain income level—the development threshold—are absolved of responsibility, and not required to bear costs. gdr sets US $9,000 per year (in terms of purchasing power parity, ppp) as the development threshold.

Those above this threshold are assumed to have realized their right to development and expected to pay for climate mitigation. To determine how many people have to pay and how much, gdr introduces two concepts: responsibility and capacity index.

The capacity ‘C’ of a country is the sum of all individual incomes above the development threshold. For example, let’s assume that in a country 10 per cent people have yearly incomes above US $9,000. In that case, the individual incomes of this group above the threshold are added up to arrive at the country’s capacity index.

Responsibility index ‘R’ is calculated as the total of a country’s cumulative per capita CO2 emissions from fossil fuel consumption since 1990, above the developmental threshold.

GDR deems emissions related to the share of income below the development threshold—equivalent to the part of national income that is not considered in calculating a country’s capacity— as survival emissions. Emissions linked to income above the development threshold are luxury emissions and they have to be accounted as country’s responsibility.

GDR then combines these two concepts to calculate a Responsibility and Capacity Indicator (rci), which assigns each country its share of the mitigation and adaptation costs. According to the method, the us must shoulder a little more than a third of the global costs and the eu roughly, a quarter. China’s share is less than one-fifteenth while India’s is less than one three-hundredth.

Under gdr, all Americans earning more than us $9,000 will on an average pay us $780 annually to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The burden on Indians in the same bracket will be us $51 and for China us $142
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GDR unpacked by CSE

There is nothing wrong in asking the rich in the developing world to pay for emissions reductions; in fact national governments should tax the rich and use the money to invest in clean energy and technology. But this should be part of national agendas and not international burden sharing arrangement.

There is also a problem when ‘survival emissions’ entitlement of a rich country is far higher than that of a poor country and survival emission
entitlement of a polluting country is far higher than a clean one.

For example, consider India and the us. India’s per capita income in 2005 was US $3,452 (ppp adjusted) while its cumulative per capita CO2 emissions between 1900 and 2005 was 3.5 tC. So the survival emissions at the threshold of us $9,000 (ppp) is calculated to be 9.1 tC for India.

The US, with per capita income of us $41,565, and per capita CO2 emissions of 80.4 tC, is entitled a survival emission of 17.4 tC. So, for the same development threshold, an American gets a higher emission entitlement (17.4 tC) than an Indian (9.1 tC). Any emission above 9.1 tC in India will be taxed, whereas this level is 17.4 tC for the us.

Countries that have a large majority below the development threshold stand to lose their emission entitlement compared to richer nations. For example, in India more than 95 per cent of the population falls below the development threshold of US $9,000.

This implies the emission entitlement of most Indians is equal only to their current emissions level. In contrast, 90 per cent of Americans are above the development threshold, and get an emission entitlement corresponding to the threshold emission level.

In this sense, the GDR framework deprives most Indians of their basic development entitlement.

The other problem with gdr is that it seems to reward historical and heavy polluters. By taking historical emissions from 1990—and not 1950 or even beyond, for which we now have robust data—gdr dilutes the ‘polluters pay’ principle. To say that emissions before 1990 “were usually (though not always) made in ignorance”, misses the moral point that people have benefited from the actions of their ancestors in overdrawing environmental assimilative capacity.

The current standard of living in the developed world would not be as high today if previous generations had directed more resources to ghg reductions. If the present generation has acquired assets from previous ones, it must also accept their liabilities. It is important to recognize that the climate change is primarily due to ghgs which were emitted when the developed world industrialized over the last two centuries.

A ‘burden-sharing’ framework must recognize this fact.
The proposal also needs review because it rejects per capita entitlements for future emissions. Under gdr, the per capita entitlement—so-called developmental rights—of developed countries between 2011-2025 period is far higher than that of the developing countries.

For instance, the per capita CO2 emissions allowed to the us between 2011-2025 is about 12 tonnes per annum; for the uk it is about 9 tonnes per annum, while India is allowed a mere 1.65 tonnes per annum.

A recent Heinrich Boll Foundation sponsored study by Ecofys Germany exposed a few shortcomings of gdr and other burden-sharing approaches. It found that developing countries like India and Pakistan, which have low responsibility capacity index will not require to cut down much on emissions in the short term. However, these countries will be committed to far stringent commitments in the long term.

Despite these drawbacks, GDR shows that massive emission reductions are required from the developed world. It also shows how developed countries have over-consumed the global common environmental sink. Under the framework, wealthier countries have to reduce emissions by more than 90 per cent over 1990 levels by 2050.

Indeed, for wealthy countries like the US, the UK and Germany, reduction obligations exceed even total baseline emissions (see graph: Hypothetical emissions reduction target under GDR). So even if these countries were to reduce their emissions to zero, they would still be bound to pay for emissions reductions elsewhere.

Editor's page
The just framework for climate

By Sunita Narain

Let’s cut to the chase. If we are serious about climate change then we have to be serious about changing (drastically) the way the world generates and uses its energy. But even as the rich world talks glibly about ‘decarbonisation’ of its economy it has done precious little to reinvent its energy system and to wean itself from its fossil fuel addiction. Between 1990 and 2005, emissions from fossil fuel have actually increased, in these countries.

In this period, their emissions from energy industries have increased by 24 per cent and from transport by a massive 28 per cent. The only reductions, marginal at that, have been in the manufacturing and construction sectors, which many would say is only because production has moved to China and other countries.
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