Providing Space for Climate Equity in the Preparations for Paris: Science-Based Equity Review of iNDCs

by Rixa Schwarz

Who does how much on domestic emission reduction and international support? This is becoming an omnipresent question in the preparations to Lima and Paris. Some countries have started preparing their initial Nationally Determined Contributions (iNDCs) while some wait to see what others offer.  Where contributions are prepared nationally, is there space for equity in this bottom-up world? Will there be space for a science-based equity review of iNDCs? Will such a review include responsibility and capability for potential up-scaling?

Requesting a Science-based Equity Review

Both CAN and CANSA have requested a science-based equity review since the preparations for Warsaw’s COP-19, last year. The Convention forms the foundation of the science-based equity review of iNDCs. This comprises three core principles:

  1. A precautionary approach to adequacy – The collective obligations of countries to undertake and support urgent and adequate global action to prevent dangerous impacts of climate change, and provide effective adaptation to unavoidable impacts, as an inadequate agreement cannot be equitable.
  2. Common but differentiated responsibility and respective capability (CBDR+RC) – The obligation for action and the right to receive support for action, are a function of both historical and current emissions, and of capability to act.
  3. Equitable access to sustainable development –  The right of all countries to lift their people out of poverty and provide their citizens with sustainable and universal living standards. Sustainable, meaning “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”  Universal, meaning living standards that could be made available to the citizens of all countries.

Each of these three principles are compatible with equity indicators. In total, only five indicators are necessary to sufficiently represent the core equity principles for their implementation: adequacy, responsibility, capability, development need, and adaptation need[1].

How Would the Equity Review Operate?

The proposal of the science-based equity review is to assess the iNDCs communicated by countries before the Paris COP21 in December 2015.

First, this assessment would regard the iNDCs’ science-based adequacy – or whether the joint effort of all iNDCs in sum allow the world to stay below 2°C temperature rise above 1990 levels. As such, a science-based equity review requires comprehensive information on the communicated iNDCs like the base-year and the type of commitment. Using the budget-approach, the sum of the communicated iNDCs would indicate if the 2°C limit would be kept with the countries’ planned efforts.

Second, the review would assess countries’ attempts to meet their fair share in emission reduction using the five equity indicators. This assessment phase should take place between the iNDCs communication in the first quarter of 2015 and the Paris COP.  A session during the workshop, by mid-year 2015, would provide space for the assessment to be presented.  A complete science-based equity review in an assessment phase before Paris- perhaps conducted by an independent group of scientists- allows countries to increase their commitments reflecting their fair share. Hence, at COP-21 ambitious and equitable contributions could be decided.

Another essential element required to close the giga-tonne gap and stay below 2°C equitably, is the “ratcheting-up” mechanism, which ensures a regular review and increase of commitments. Adequacy and equity considerations, as described above, should shape this mechanism. The legal form of the 2015 climate deal, including compliance, needs to support this equity approach.

Developing Countries’ Benefit of a Science-based Equity Review

The objectives of the science-based equity review are ambitious, involving equitable emission reduction contributions and agreements for financial support from developed countries. Therefore, there are good reasons for developing countries to support the approach.

First, developing countries benefit from adequate mitigation commitments by developed countries for staying below the 2°C limit. This is the first and most important element of the science-based equity review, seeking to implement the Convention’s equity principles such as CBDR+RC (including per capita emissions). It will also help develop a tool to identify mitigation action that the developed countries need to deliver.

Second, a tool to encourage developed countries to eventually meet their fair would help reduce the impacts on developing countries and avoid emission reduction efforts being transferred to developing countries. A stronger tool to trigger developed countries’ action will result in greater benefits in the form of lower pressure for developing country action, and more comprehensive support for the action undertaken in developing countries.

Third, only an equity review, based on agreed or at-least transparent equity indicators, identifies leaders and laggards according to the Convention’s core equity principles. Thus, an equity review enables cooperation. Once leaders are identified, cooperation with them enables others to establish effective mitigation measures. Addressing the leadership vacuum might be supported by this attempt.

Forth, the equity review can shrink the economic gap between developed and developing countries by stimulating support for developing countries’ initiatives. Annex 1 action clearly needs to go beyond ambitious domestic mitigation action and include the provision of sufficient international support in terms of finance, technology cooperation, capacity building and education. Developing countries come on-board the transition to a low-carbon and resilient society based on the principle of equitable access to sustainable development. Instead of creating a new divide between developed countries and developing countries, adaptation needs and development needs could be addressed together when leapfrogging towards low-carbon economies.

Thus, substantial reasons for developing countries, especially India, to support a science-based equity review, hold true. As a traditional champion of equity, India should contribute to establishing an equity review to assess the adequacy and equitability of countries’ iNDCs. It is in India’s interest to create such a mechanism reflects the core equity principles, and work to implement such a mechanism to reach an equitable climate deal. Such decisions need to be taken in Lima.


[1] see CAN’s paper “The core Convention-based equity indicators” at

About The Author:

rixaRixa Schwarz is Programme Coordinator of the Sustainable Business and Climate Change Group at Centre for Environment Education (CEE) India, a CANSA member organisation. She is one of the coordinators of the CAN Effort-Sharing Group and has been following the UNFCCC negotiations since pre-Copenhagen days. Rixa also holds a position as policy officer at the NGO Germanwatch. She has almost 10 years working experience in climate change policy and Education for Sustainable Development.