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Executive summary

Our overall objective is to strategize methods to break the North-South impasse.  A combination of a lack of trust between developed and developing countries, as well as negotiations which fail to involve all actors’ interests are identified as the key barriers to reach consensus.  We therefore propose three actions related to mitigation, adaptation and negotiation which can help bring agreement towards reaching a 50% reduction of 1990 levels of carbon emissions by 2050 while limiting CO2 concentrations to 350 ppm and average global temperature rises to 2 degrees Celsius.

With regards to action on mitigation, we believe that a regional approach is more effective by establishing Regional Mitigation Clusters (RMCs) that enable North-South cooperation and peer-to-peer monitoring and enforcement of greenhouse gas emissions reductions.  With regards to action on adaptation, an autonomous Adaptation Fund will allow developing countries—particularly Least Developed Countries (LDCs)—to receive the attention and funding it urgently needs and ultimately foster an environment of trust between Annex I countries and the G77.  With regards to our suggested means of reaching consensus, we propose that climate negotiations pay increased attention towards reaching international consensus on adaptation, which (once reached), will create the level of trust and institutional foundations for creation of a global climate mitigation treaty and regime.  

Ultimately, our approach is two-pronged and proposes that rather than attempt to reach agreement on all issues at once, reaching consensus on the low-hanging fruit (which we argue is climate change adaptation) first as a stepping stone towards reaching consensus on climate change mitigation will lead to greater chances of reaching an overall agreement.  While a two-step approach may seem more time intensive, our observations of current climate negotiations would suggest that today’s approach of getting consensus on all issues is wrought by frequent stalemates that prove unproductive to the whole process.   


Christophe Chung: Christophe is a second-year Master in City Planning candidate in the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP).  His academic concentration is International Development.  Prior to coming to MIT, Christophe worked as a Programme Assistant for UNDP Equator Initiative, which aims to promote and support local community efforts that alleviate poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.  Christophe's contributions to this proposal include an autonomous Adaptation Fund as well as exploring adaptation as a means to reach consensus.  

Shoko Takemoto: Shoko is a second-year Master in City Planning candidate in the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP).  Her academic concentration is Environmental Policy and Planning.  Prior to coming to MIT, Shoko worked as an environmental consultant based in Tokyo, Japan on issues related to renewable energy and sustainable development.  She has also worked on developing sustainable development projects under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), between Japan and Southeast Asian countries.  Shoko's contributions to this proposal include the Regional Mitigation Clusters (RMCs) as well as exploring REDD as a means to break the North-South divide.  

What: Actions and impacts

Action towards Mitigation:
Implementation of Regional Mitigation Clusters (RMCs): Regional Mitigation Clusters (RMCs) create communities of nations, which foster peer-to-peer monitoring of emissions reductions.  The division of 192 countries by regions brings together developed and developing nations into singular RMCs which commit to reducing carbon emissions by 50% by 2050 as a collective.  While an RMC would sign on to a collective carbon emissions reduction, such clusters allows for flexibility within, by allowing nations to negotiate amongst themselves (a) how much each country should reduce in carbon emissions and (b) how finance, technology and capacities are transferred from North to South—or, more broadly, from rich to poor states.   

This mechanism will enable each region to take into account regional particularities which cannot be articulated in a global treaty.  Such a system will also allow some countries to continue emitting, if it is more cost-effective to offset emissions through reductions in other countries within the same cluster.  Thus, a cluster would be held accountable to its collective emissions target of 50% reduction of greenhouse gas by 2050 (compared to the 1990 levels) with monitoring and enforcing regimes growing out of existing regional organizations which exist within such regions.  Organizing regions in this manner is also advantageous as regional organizations already serve as diplomatic forums to create consensus amongst members, thereby providing an additional institutional framework through which agreement can be reached.    

The RMCs emissions reduction methodologies should utilize not only existing flexible mechanisms within the Kyoto Protocol—such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and joint implementation (JI)—but should also be coordinated with the development of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) initiative and Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA) in Developing Countries.   Intra-cluster collaboration towards achieving regional emissions reduction goals will therefore take the shape of (a) traditional CDM projects which clean up polluting industries in developing countries and (b) innovative forest conservation and management efforts.  Pursuance of the two strategies ensures that both middle income countries and LDCs of the G77 benefit from mitigation funding.    

The proposed clusters are as follows:

  • The Americas Cluster: all countries of North America, South America and the Caribbean.   Existing regional organizations which fall within this cluster include the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and MercoSur.

  • The Eur-Africa Cluster: all countries of Europe (including the entirety of Russia and Turkey), Israel and sub-Saharan Africa.  Existing regional organizations which fall within this cluster include the European Union (EU), the African Union (AU), the Eastern African Community, the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).  

  • The South Asia, Middle East and North Africa Cluster: all members of the League of Arab States, all members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and former Soviet Central Asian Republics.  Most countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Eurasian Economic Community (EAEC) are included within this region.

  • The Asia-Pacific Cluster: China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Southeast Asian countries, Australia, New Zealand, and Oceania.  Existing regional organizations which fall within this cluster include the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as many countries of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).

Action towards Adaptation:
Creation of an Autonomous Adaptation Fund:  While mitigation and adaptation both address the issue of climate change, the two efforts lie on opposite sides of the equation; the former seeks to address the human-induced causes of climate change as the latter works to address its potential effects.  Both efforts are equally as significant, but unfortunately the Kyoto Protocol pays more attention to mitigation; adaptation finance is coupled with administrative fees of CDM in said treaty.  The Copenhagen Accord does well to draw the attention and international commitment needed towards adaptation, and we therefore propose the creation of an independent, international fund solely focused on climate change adaptation.  While an adaptation fund exists under the management of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), it lacks the financial and political support and autonomy needed to implement large-scale projects in a timely manner.  

Actively separating the existing Adaptation Fund from CDM, while forming the new entity along the lines of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) will bolster efforts needed to be carried out urgently.  Building off of the existing Adaptation Fund, such an entity would identify and finance adaptation projects, liaise with national governments and private foundations, and inform local communities of best management practices carried out by local communities in other locations.  We propose that the new Adaptation Fund continue to draw funds from a 2% levy on CERs, while independently soliciting funds directly from national governments, private donors, grassroots fundraising, and intergovernmental agencies.  Taxes on air and sea transport (as well as other economic activities) will be slowly phased in throughout RMCs and equally shared between mitigation and adaptation finance.      

Action towards Agreement:
Decouple Adaptation Negotiations from Mitigation Negotiations: We propose that negotiations surrounding adaptation and mitigation be separated.  Adaptation negotiations would entail an international commitment to finance adaptation projects in the developing world. Institutions for adaptation should be separated from that of mitigation with its own COPs, MOPs, AWGs, and negotiation processes falling beneath the oversight of the Secretariat of the UNFCCC.  Even though mitigation and adaptation both entail sustainable development, the majority of the G77 has not picked up on these negotiations as the existing mitigation structures of North-South technology, finance, and capacity transfers have only benefited the most developed of the developing countries.  The overwhelming majority of CDM finance has been allocated to China, India, Brazil, and South Korea.  For this reason, it is no surprise that the majority of the G77 does not feel that the current negotiations fail to take into account their interests and concerns.

Reaching international agreement on adaptation is the low hanging fruit that can help break the impasse in current climate negotiations.  As mitigation is inherently connoted with penalties, benchmarks, limitations, and adverse impacts on national economies, it will take some time and a significant amount of negotiations to compel all 187 signatories to sign on to emissions reductions.  For this reason, we propose that agreements surrounding adaptation finance, technology and capacity transfers be negotiated first as existing goodwills surrounding adaptation already exist.  This belief is drawn from the fact that all developed countries have robust development agencies and we propose that existing bilateral development funding be targeted towards projects which entails some form of adaptation.  As adaptation spans across various sectors and issues and have more flexible pathways, many existing bilateral development projects (i.e. environmental conservation, food security, urbanization, civil society support, gender and youth empowerment, indigenous and minority rights, poverty alleviation, and disaster mitigation, etc.) already fall within adaptation practices, thus making it less difficult for developed nations to redirect finances, technologies, and capacities towards an autonomous Adaptation Fund.  

Importantly, the demonstration of such commitment to developing country concerns (particularly of the LDCs) will work towards creating a more trusting relationship between North and South on the issue of climate change.  We foresee this as a stepping stone towards creating consensus on an international mitigation treaty.

Why: Rationale for the proposal

One of the greatest challenges of the current climate change treaty negotiation process is the North-South divide that has emerged in virtually every aspect of negotiations.  In order to overcome this impasse, there is an urgent need to redesign the current negotiations discourse (which polarizes North-South interests) by creating a new system that fosters trust and innovation between the developed and developing nations.  Implementation of the Regional Mitigation Clusters (RMCs), creation of the autonomous Adaptation Fund, and the separation of adaptation negotiation from the mitigation negotiations will better enable the North-South coordination needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the potential impacts of climate change.

Seeing as it’s been difficult to reach consensus amongst 187 signatories to the Kyoto Protocol, creation of an intermediary Regional Mitigation Cluster (RMC) enables decentralization of the monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, and fosters peer-to-peer enforcement and collaboration to reach emission target goals in innovative ways.  We have intentionally grouped developed and developing countries together to help break the impasse between North and South.  Seeing as countries and regions bear intricate specificities, it is no surprise that reaching a global agreement on a one-size-fits-all model has been extremely difficult.  For this reason, RMCs work in the context of this diversity, and enables the flexibility that allows for details to be negotiated in smaller regional settings, while fostering creativity and innovation.  RMCs will ultimately help create a stronger environment of collaboration for collective reductions and co-creation of innovative solutions for mitigation.

Creation of an autonomous Adaptation Fund that is separated from mitigation finance is crucial to address the urgent need for adaptation, in addition to mitigation.  Until today, mitigation efforts--a major concern for developed and middle income developing countries--have often overshadowed the implementation of adaptation projects, which are central concerns for LDCs and small island nations.  As the main stakeholders for mitigation and adaptation are distinct, separating the funding pool is a vital step towards re-framing climate change negotiations as relevant to the poorest countries of the world.  Ultimately, establishing a separate fund for adaptation (into which many developed nations will contribute as part of their existing development policy), will be a strong symbolic gesture that indicates developed country commitments to the developing world.  Such a move will build trust and promote collaboration between the North and South.

Similarly, separating the negotiation process for adaptation and mitigation can create an opportunity for multiple parties to gain from the climate change treaty, as mitigation is an issue that is primarily of concern to developed and middle-income developing nations, while adaptation is a major concern for the majority of developing countries.  By separating and better focusing these two negotiations, it is more likely that agreement will be reached on each respective issue.  Ultimately, we foresee the separated negotiations resulting in developed nations agreeing to support (financially and technologically) developing nations for their mitigation (regionally) and adaptation (internationally) efforts, while developing nations can agree to participate in emissions reduction efforts, with the support from developed nations to plan and implement mitigation and adaptation projects.  By separating the negotiation process, interests and capacities of the North and South could be better aligned.

How: Feasibility of proposal

Changing the environment of climate change treaty negotiation to foster North-South collaboration requires significant leadership and commitment.  It is a task that would be difficult to implement by a single country or a group of countries and should therefore be brought to the negotiation table by a neutral third party, the UNFCCC Secretariat.

The UNFCCC should initiate the deliberation and discussion of the RMCs, autonomous adaptation fund, and separate adaptation-mitigation negotiations.  We propose the following set of actions:

Future energy technology mix: The UNFCCC Secretariat should emphasize the need for greater collaboration between North and South on energy technology dissemination within RMCs.  National governments of the North can do so through tax incentives to private corporations who commit such technologies, allocation of development aid money to the same private corporations, and research grants given to academic institutions who develop innovative, low-cost, energy-efficient technologies which can be disseminated to developing countries.  Greater amounts of development aid should also be targeted towards grassroots organizations, microfinance cooperatives and Southern NGOs which disseminate clean energy technologies and capacities, such as the Barefoot College in India.  

New policies and political mobilization that will lead to their enactment: The connections the UNFCCC Secretariat has with environmental and developmental NGOs can be utilized to initiate political mobilization amongst domestic constituencies throughout the world.  Such influence should be used to pressure governments to adopt new policies, redirect developmental aid, and provide incentives for private corporations to participate in North-South financial, technological, and capacity transfers to support mitigation and adaptation practices in the developing world.  UN agencies can also be requested to increasingly direct their attentions and activities to achieve such objectives and can include: UNDP, UNEP, UNIFEM, UNESCO, UN-Habitat and the World Bank.     
Social and behavioral change:  Through international awareness campaigns, the UNFCCC can help promote social and behavioral change.  Also, the greater UN body can have a major influence by setting an example as well.  Such actions can include: (a) factoring in carbon offsets as costs incurred from international travel and transport of all UN staff and goods, (b) constructing and retrofitting all UN facilities to be energy efficient, and (c) celebrating innovative developments of mitigation and adaptation technologies through an award system similar to the Nobel Prize.