Greenhouse Development Rights – a solution to the climate crisis?

Recently I was reading about the idea for a new framework, check out my summary and post you comments!

The general idea of the Greenhouse Development Rights (GDRs) framework, written by Paul Baer, Tom Athanasiou, Sivan Kartha, and Eric Kemp-Benedict for the Swedish Environment Institute (SEI), the Heinrich Böll Foundation (HBS), EcoEquity and ChristianAid, is to keep global warming due to anthropogenic climate change below 2° C without having a global climate apartheid regime. It is based heavily on two principles, central to today’s climate thinking: the Polluter Pays Principle and the Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility. It dares to assign huge targets to high-income countries but also assigns responsibility to wealthy Indians or Africans. The GDRs framework “lays out a straightforward operationalization of the UN’s official differentiation principles” (p 18).

„The GDRs framework, in other words, is designed to demonstrate how a global emergency mobilization to stabilize the climate can be pursued while, with equal deliberateness, safeguarding the right of all people to reach a dignified level of sustainable human development.” (p 13)

    Figure 1: “The South’s Dilemma. The red line shows the 2°C emergency pathway, in which global CO2 emissions peak in 2013 and fall to 80 percent below 1990 levels in 2050. The blue line shows Annex I emissions declining to 90 percent below 1990 levels in 2050. The green line shows, by subtraction, the emissions space that would remain for the developing countries.” (page 38)

Figure 1: “The South’s Dilemma. The red line shows the 2°C emergency pathway, in which global CO2 emissions peak in 2013 and fall to 80 percent below 1990 levels in 2050. The blue line shows Annex I emissions declining to 90 percent below 1990 levels in 2050. The green line shows, by subtraction, the emissions space that would remain for the developing countries.” (page 38)

The current situation is highly problematic, “since carbon-based growth is no longer a viable option in either North or the South” the “rapid decarbonization in a world sharply polarized between North and South” is necessary (p 14). The question the GDRs framework is trying to answer is how to bring global emissions rapidly under control without taking the right to develop away form those who need to do so. To differentiate between those in need of more development and those who are able to start consuming luxury in addition to necessities, “the GDRs framework codifies the right to development as a development threshold – a level of welfare below which people are not expected to share the costs of the climate transition.” For each nation, obligations have to be calculated without putting a burden on the poor. For this, each nation has a capacity (measured according to their GDP) and a responsibility (emissions since 1990) – in sum of all people above the development threshold.

For this, a baseline is necessary. The question of how much emission reductions are needed for getting to the 2° C-aim has to be answered. This can then be divided up. The same goes for the bill for adaptation etc. needed. A result could be a “global climate tax” which can (and should) then be resulting in exemptions for the poor and progressiveness on the national level. Generally it’s worth mentioning that more equally constituted countries profit from a greater amount of exemption. The Responsibility-Capacity-Index (RCI) indicates how much each country should contribute at a global agreement on climate change – using estimates one can also calculate numbers for future years. The results are clear, in the year 2020, the USA should according to GDRs carry 29.1% of the global climate burden. China will by then have a 10.4% share of the global bill – tendency rising. But China does not have to do this mitigation alone:

“Distributing the global mitigation requirement in this way yields some striking results. For one thing, it demonstrates that a major commitment to North-South cooperation – including financial and technological transfers – is an inevitable part of any viable stabilization architecture. This is because the national mitigation obligations of the high-RCI countries of the North vastly exceed the reductions they could conceivably make at home. In fact, by 2030, their mitigation obligations will typically come to exceed even their total domestic emissions! Which is to say that wealthier and higher-emitting countries would be given ‘negative allocations’, as is necessary in order to open enough atmospheric space for the developing world.”

The US would have – alone – to reduce 60% of its emissions by 2020 and 100% by 2030. It cannot do this alone and has to invest in other projects abroad. The GDRs need a lot of interconnectedness in global climate efforts, exponential more than today’S tiny CDMs can offer. Thus, to save the world much trust-building is needed – it is the North’s turn to produce some of this by coming forward with a strong proposal and by – for once – keeping their commitments.

Figure 2

Figure 2

“It is action and not legal commitments that matter, and people must learn to make the necessary distinctions” (p. 25)

It will be not easy to implement a framework like GDR. The rich nations of the North have to reduce emissions more radically than they ever thought and help developing nations to do almost the same in some (less than thought) time later. Further,

“this assignment clearly violates a second, almost universally shared presupposition of today’s climate politics: that developing countries cannot be asked to incur any mitigation costs. We [the authors] hope that, in so doing, we have at least shown ourselves willing to be unrealistic on both sides of the great divide” (p 48).


Figure 3


Figure 5: This wedge belongs to the EU. It becomes obvious that the obligations are so high that the EU has to make some mitigation abroad (light blue). It is not defined, however, how big htis share has to be.

The Greenhouse Development Rights framework was first published in Bali and has been object to further thinking and some proposals until today. Nevertheless, it is rather unlikely that an approach as radical as GDRs will be sufficiently included in the post-Kyoto regime. However, it is important to further work out the ideas, promote the general direction of the framework and address the critical points in it.
The framework is not only highly idealistic regarding the obligations that have to be taken by developed countries, it is naïve concerning the national burden sharing that would have to be implemented globally. Do countries really make a progressive taxation, especially since not all countries are democracies (and even in such, the elites will work hard against GDRs). Another point is the issue of “offsetting” which is meant in a good way (for the climate) but if the US has to invest so massively in CDM-projects (or whatever it would be called), you can be sure that social and ecological standards are not the primary concerns.
Aside the naiveté seem to exist some methodological flaws: Even though the authors did “not claim that the quantification [they] provide here is the only conceivable” (p 49), it is unclear how the baseline should be determined, what a “business-as-usual” scenarie (that will never happen thanks to some climate policies) would look like and what the “no-regrets” options inlcude.
Last, the concept seems a little eurocentristic due to the strong focus on universalism and individualism. There is an absolute lack of thinking about the collectivism in some cultures like the Chinese. The absolute individualism, even though it is necessary incomplete in practice (national, not individual obligations are determined and must be put into law), might trigger fierce resistance. Some elite might “hide” behind the poor not out of rational thinking, but (also) out of an understanding of “oneness” of their people. The “global consuming class” as having above 7.500 $US is maybe too universalistic. In Nigeria this might be a lot, but in Germany this amounts to still fairly more than the “Harz IV”, the infamous and asocial amount of given “social-help” to the unemployed. The GDRs framework is revolutionary in taking into account the South withn the North and the North within the South, but it has to be more perfect and be promoted more aggressively to have a chance in contributing to a global climate partnership strategy.


Figure 4: Share of global mitigation obligations by country.


The whole report is free to download (2nd revised edition) at:

Revised second edition
Berlin, November 2008
© the authors and the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung
All rights reserved

Layout: graphic syndicat Berlin
Photos: Damaris Nunda is a Kenyan farmer dealing with the consequences of a changing climate, Christian Aid/Andrew Njoroge Caption (title), Wolfgang Radke/KNA-Bild (4), dpa (8, 34, 92), Christian Aid/Claire Shelley (12)
Printing: agit-druck Berlin

ISBN 978-3-927760-71-4

This report can be ordered from:
Heinrich Böll Foundation, Schumannstraße 8, 10117 Berlin
p (+49[0]30) 285340 F (+49[0]30) 28534109 e i


Über GYGeorg

Global. Young. Green. Drei Eigenschaften von Georg, der lange u.a. bei den Global Young Greens (GYG) aktiv war und mittlerweile für den Kohleausstieg in Deutschland kämpft.

Veröffentlicht am April 5, 2009 in Climate Policy und mit , , getaggt. Setze ein Lesezeichen auf den Permalink. Hinterlasse einen Kommentar.

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