Published November 17, 2013
From Warsaw, Poland
This year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is holding the 19th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 19) in Warsaw, Poland’s capital, through November 11-22, 2013.
As the conference is transitioning toward its second week, there is mounting tension on a number of issues, two of which are worth noting here.
The focus on historical emissions:
Last week, Brazil initiated a proposal to use historical emissions levels going back to mid-nineteenth century, in order to determine how much countries should be allowed to emit in the future as part of a new treaty. This proposal has been vehemently rejected both by the United States and the European Union. The proposed framework is not only proving to be highly divisive, it also brings back a principle of corrective justice as a guiding principle for negotiating the terms of cooperation on climate change. This principle uses a retrospective logic to establish fair terms of cooperation, looking back at past actions to determine who has done harm and then allocates responsibility for the future in light of this information. Those who reject this proposal, such as the U.S. and the E.U., insist that they are willing to guided by a principle of equity, but not one that consists of placing blame through retrospective moral intuitions. They seek, instead, forward-looking alternatives for setting the terms of cooperation.
Loss and damage:
The devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines created a highly emotional negotiation environment on the first week of the climate conference. The negotiations are now heavily focused on loss and damage. Recall that an agreement in principle was reached in Doha at COP 18 for addressing loss and damage. The details are yet to be worked out. This year, many developing countries insist that developed countries pay compensation whenever a developing country is experiencing a weather-related disaster. But this too is proving to be emotionally charged, politically driven, and intractably divisive. Although weather extremes are to be expected in a world affected by climatic change, associating a single event with climate change with any accuracy is not yet possible. Again, as long as the logic is that of looking at past actions and making liability claims, the negotiations are running the risk of exacerbating adversity rather than facilitating agreement.
What these two issues share in common is that both proposals follow a retrospective logic for establishing equitable terms for allocating the costs of climate change within a possible treaty. They also frame the issues in a notoriously polarizing way. What the second week will bring is yet to be discovered.
Idil Boran, Associate Professor and Director of the Certificate Program in Practical Ethics, Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, York University. Direct inquiries to: email@example.com