The equity enigma in climate change

The principle of equity has been disputed in climate change negotiations for 30 years. In her doctoral thesis, Rosa Manzo has investigated the role of equity as a legal concept in international law.

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Rosa Manzo has studied equity in the international climate change regime. Here from the disputas in October 2020. Photo: PluriCourts

Equity has been a controversial issue in international climate change negotiations for decades. According to PhD, Rosa Manzo, the 2015 Paris Agreement tries to tie all the different interests together. Earlier this fall, she defended her thesis «Equity as a legal concept and its role in the development of international law on climate change».

«Equity has been on the table in international climate change negotiations for years, but no countries have agreed on one definition of equity. I was trigged by the enigma of equity and whether it is possible to find some core elements that all countries can agree on,» says Manzo.

In the thesis, Rosa Manzo investigated the role of equity as a legal concept in international law, specifically in climate change law. Through the lenses of an equity prism, she has analysed the climate change regime since 1992 until the adoption of the Paris agreement in 2015.

Equity as a legal concept

«I concluded that equity is a multifaceted concept that can be represented as a prism with four phases: distributive equity, corrective equity, intergenerational equity and procedural equity. The Paris Agreement can be understood as the peak of equity because it tries to reflect all the four phases; it has embedded an impartial understanding of equity. Therefore, we should not consider equity as an abstract word, but as a legal concept.»

Traditionally, the principle of equity has been understood synonymously with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.

«This has put the burden of mitigation obligations exclusively upon developed countries, as those are historically responsible for CO2 emissions. The adoption of the Paris Agreement challenges the common understanding of equity because it allows parties to ask for compensation in case of damages due to climate change and because it includes a progressive clause, which forces the parties to upgrade their policy every five years,» Manzo explains. 

The Paris Agreement tries to tie all the different interests

«Why has equity been so controversial in international climate change negotiations?»

«Climate change is a global problem and cannot be solved by one state unilaterally; it needs universal cooperation. However, not all countries are equally responsible for causing climate change, whereas other countries feel more hit by the consequences of emissions, and are consequently more concerned. Some countries will also benefit from the changes in the climate». 

«Then there is the question of future generations, and how much responsibility we have towards them, and if so, for how many generations. This question regards to all states. To find an equitable agreement means for this generation and for future generations and between developed and developing countries. Because the parties bring different needs and interests on the table, the Paris Agreement tries to tie all the different interests».

Tags: Climate law
Published Dec. 16, 2020 11:50 AM - Last modified Feb. 22, 2021 9:34 AM