Comparisons Ain’t Odious

4 April 2011

The word ‘comparable’ in English carries a double meaning, meaning both ‘capable of being compared’, and ‘similar or equivalent’.

The capability of being compared remains a vital component to the evolving climate regime – otherwise we have no climate regime and will be in a completely bottom up world, with all the lack of ambition and massive destruction that this implies. The targets of developed countries need to be addressed through mandatory and uniform accounting rules, so that ‘special national circumstances’ (i.e. individually devised loopholes) are not used as a means to obfuscate the amounts of pollution each country is contributing to the atmosphere. The need for this common, complete, accurate and transparent information was recognized in Cancun. Is the US backtracking on the Cancun agreement already? The US seemed to be the only country yesterday speaking out against a rules-based system that includes common accounting of emissions.

It’s a great thing if, as the honourable delegate from the US explained, the US intends to assess reductions based on economy-wide emissions of all sources and sinks, and that the US target refers to complete domestic reductions. As far as Annex I countries are concerned, this target would therefore have a lot of integrity, if calculating emissions were the only important issue – and if ambition counted for nought. The honorouable delegate from the US went on to say that it was important to gauge the adequacy of country reduction targets as an aggregate, which contradicts his lambasting the idea of agreeing metrics to assess the adequacy of individual reduction targets. The US appears to be the only country opposed to this notion. Should we take this as another unfortunate example of US ‘exceptionalism’?

In truth the US is not the only developed country that would rather go it alone instead of playing well with others. As we have seen in interminable KP workshops, when asked to define comparability, meaning ‘similarity or equivalency’, developed countries come out with an astonishingly self-serving arrays of metrics that serve to minimize their ambition for clean sustainable development and mean that their eventual decarbonization will be steeper and far, far more expensive than early action would have allowed. While developed countries, each and every one, are not doing all they can possibly do to reduce their reductions in the face of this global crisis, then their actions are not, in this sense, comparable.

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