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Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR)

As described by Lucia (2007), Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) principal has two matrices. The first is the shared responsibility for shared resources. In fighting climate change, there are common responsibilities all States should accept due to the common resource which is the environment we share.  The second is the differentiated responsibility because of the variations in the economic, social and technological levels of States. Under this notion, because developed nations have a higher capability they should lead the fight against climate change. Also, because the developed nations gained their current capability by “past economic exploitation of global commons” (Lucia, 2007), they should shoulder greater responsibilities.


“Fairness to all parties of the UNFCCC/Kyoto Protocol is addressed via the concept of historical responsibility” which is based on CBDR (McManus, 2009). To be fair, the Kyoto Protocol had to enforce differentiated obligatory commitments on the developed nations based on their historical development activities. Hence,  Article 3 (1) of the Kyoto Protocol, states that the Annex 1 (developed countries) should reduce their overall emissions of Green House Gases (GHG) by at least 5 per cent below 1990 levels in the commitment period 2008 to 2012 (UNFCCC). The developing countries are under no such obligations.  The 5% reduction is a differentiated responsibility of all developed nations compared with developing nations.


The 5% reduction is the common responsibility of all developed nations. But, based on their capability, individual developed nations have different commitments. Differentiated responsibilities based on capability.  This concept is incorporated in to Kyoto mechanisms; emissions trading, clean development mechanism (CDM) and joint implementation. All three mechanisms allow developed nations to take on responsibilities based on their capabilities higher than developed nations.


Another area where Kyoto Protocol employs CBDR is in providing financial assistance to developing countries. Kyoto Protocol establishes differentiated “general obligations” on developed countries to assist developed countries in mitigation and adaptation through Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and Adaptation Fund (Lucia, 2007). With the financial capacity of developing nations, their responsibility towards other social and economical development is greater than climate change adaptation and mitigation.


I believe CBDR is a necessary tool in all global negotiation, especially global climate change negotiations. The common resources and concerns of climate change are greater than any other international affair.  The necessity for differentiated responsibility is also more distinct in the climate change issue.  The historical responsibility and differentiated responsibilities based on differences in economic and technological capacity is much more imperative in the fight against climate change.


I think the reason why Kyoto Protocol is not as effective as it should be is because of the way the parties of the protocol are divided and because it focuses only on the emission levels of those countries. By measuring commitments only based on emission levels the issue of climate change is undermined and division of countries based on just development is not in accordance to the CBDR principal. A developed country like Switzerland might not have to take much action to meet their KP commitment since it’s not a big emitter to begin with. But, they have the financial capacity that developing nations do not. So, they should have differentiated financial commitments, not emission commitments.  Similarly, China might not have the same financial capacity as Switzerland or the historical obligations as Russia, but it does have affordable technology which can be provided to other developing nations. So, it should have technological commitments. Since USA has technological and financial capacity and historical obligations, it will have the same commitments as China in terms of technology, same commitments as Switzerland in terms of finance and same commitments as all developed nations because of their historical responsibility. Through this concept, post Kyoto Protocol should fully embody CBDR by moving away from dividing the parties based on the dichotomy of developed and developing.

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