How transitional justice can help climate negotiations -Sonja Klinsky

Reflections by Sonja Klinsky, Senior Sustainability Scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, Arizona State University & Climate Strategies Member.

Transitional justice – a theory and practice enabling purposeful transitions from periods of deep injustices into more peaceful regimes  – was probably not on anyone’s mind during the last days of COP21, the UN conference that led to the Paris Agreement in December 2015.

However, Paragraph 52 in the Decision text – which specifically excludes liability by developed countries for “Loss and Damage”, or climate change related damages that poorer countries cannot adapt to – remains controversial.

Climate change negotiations are unique in many ways, but they are not the first time humans have faced tensions about the ideal relationship between responsibility for past and future action.  And the fears and frustrations that surround this liability debate are exactly why the climate community might be wise to take a long, hard look at transitional justice as a source of insight for climate negotiations.

Can transitional justice approaches help?

A range of transitional justice processes have emerged, and continue to be developed, as many countries have been faced with the challenge of re-building society and social solidarity after periods of injustice, violence, and oppression.

Although there are key differences in context, transitional justice experiences could indeed provide insights for navigating the difficult political territory between recognising complex, historically rooted justice claims and a future that demands solidarity and collective action.  For instance, many efforts have featured some limits to liability in order to create political space for change. But successful ones have balanced this with actions designed to nurture trust, solidarity and forward-oriented change.

In a recent workshop co-hosted by Climate Strategies and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and supported by KR foundation, participants explored possible insights the climate regime could glean from transitional justice experiences despite the differences in context.  Participants included transitional justice scholars and practitioners, academic and broader civil society climate policy experts, and a range of political decision-makers and stakeholders.  This was the second workshop included in the project “Evaluating peace and reconciliation to address historical responsibility within international climate negotiations”.

One clear message from these discussions is that transitional justice processes are essentially focused on repairing and changing relationships amongst those engaged in deeply damaging conflicts and who are unavoidably bound together.  The key to understanding transitional justice is that it isn’t primarily about compensation for past harms, but about stabilising society and building a sense of solidarity that would allow for a more peaceful future.

However, this movement from conflict to solidarity does not happen automatically or by ignoring past justice claims.  Instead, efforts to acknowledge responsibility are seen as essential in order to allow societies to build solidarity and move forward.  These efforts differ by context and there are a range of mechanisms involved, but they all work by including recognition of responsibility in the consolidation of a new regime.  Responsibility from this perspective is as much about creating legitimacy and buy-in for a future-oriented regime as it is about looking backwards.

A second message was that successful transitional justice processes typically involve multiple mechanisms in order to address the underlying fears and concerns of all involved. In some cases, threats of trials have been crucial in generating the political will needed for productive regime change or consolidation.  However, legal punishment alone would not result in a successful transitional justice process either.

Relying only on the court system is too expensive and unwieldy in light of the harms encountered in transitional justice (or climate) contexts to either genuinely ‘do justice’ or provide the basis for building a more cooperative future. A ‘punishment only’ approach is also unlikely to create the political space or motivation needed for those potentially facing liability to participate.

Finally, it is important to remember that the post-Paris regime is still being created.  The Paris Agreement forms a framework, but interpretation and implementation will extend over the next many years.  How Parties see each other over time, and on how successful they are at building the depth of trust, and solidarity needed for implementation will be crucial for the Agreement to become an effective and legitimate.  This is an ideal time to be thinking about how to enable the type of relationships conducive to the level of action we need.

Achieving a 1.5/2C world will absolutely not happen without massively increased mitigation from all Parties.  Much more support, action and cooperation on all fronts is required in order to facilitate rapid development of low carbon pathways for all countries.  Simultaneously, tensions about historical responsibility and liability are not going to disappear as long as those facing the worst climate impacts do not feel heard, recognised and genuinely included within global climate efforts.

The international climate regime cannot afford to ignore lessons about how to build solidarity, repair damaged relationships, and build trust and cooperation.  Focussing on either only the past or only the future is unlikely to be a winning strategy. Transitional Justice is not a perfect analogy to climate change policy, but even imperfect analogies provide seeds for creative approaches to old problems.

A third and final policy roundtable for this project is being planned for Bonn in May 2016.  Interested participants should contact Eleonora Arcese ( or Sonja Klinsky (

Workshop presentations and a discussion paper emerging from the first workshop (co-hosted by Climate Strategies and the Hague Institute for Global Justice) can be found here.

Interested in some of the concrete details and ideas that are emerging from this project?  We regularly post work emerging from this project, keep checking back here

Could lessons from transitional justice help to realize a fair and effective global response to climate change?

Reflections by Joy Hyvarinen, Adviser to VERTIC. This blog reflects her personal views.

Many have welcomed the new Paris Agreement on climate change, but there is also recognition of its weaknesses. The new treaty includes an aim of holding the global temperature increase to well below 2° C and also to “pursue efforts” to limit the increase to 1.5 ° C. However, current emission reduction commitments do not even come close to holding warming below 2° C, let alone 1.5 ° C. It is increasingly urgent to achieve rapid and deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions.
The Paris Agreement is based on the idea of countries strengthening their emission reductions (their “nationally determined contributions”) with five-year intervals, but it is far from clear if this will happen. Despite the successful adoption of the Paris treaty, fundamental questions remain the same. Stepping up efforts to limit climate change will still need to involve tackling deep-seated differences between countries that have been at the centre of the international negotiations for decades.
The ultimate objective of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (and any related legal instrument, such as the Paris Agreement) is to stabilize “… greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. …” (UNFCCC Article 2). While “dangerous” has never been defined, either by UNFCCC parties or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), vulnerable countries have argued for a long time that the 2° C goal is not safe, and that it should be replaced by 1.5 ° C or lower.
Poor and vulnerable countries that have contributed little to causing climate change are expected to suffer its worst impacts. Human rights, such as the right to food, are being compromised. Some countries expect to lose territory due to sea-level rise – some small island states could disappear.
Adaptation is one response to climate change, but some of the negative impacts of climate change are beyond adaptation. “Loss and damage” has emerged as a priority issue in the international negotiations, with countries that are likely to be damaged calling for compensation and help. The Paris Agreement includes loss and damage (Article 8), but according to the accompanying decision by the Conference of the Parties, this does not provide a basis for liability or compensation (paragraph 52).

Emissions are growing in developing countries, but the UNFCCC recognizes that developed countries bear a historical responsibility for climate change because of their past emissions. It requires them to take the lead in combating climate change.
There are deeply held, long-standing differences between developing and developed countries in the negotiations, with the former calling on the latter to take stronger action to reduce emissions and provide more support to developing countries, and the latter calling on developing countries to do more to limit emissions.

A fair and effective response that limits climate change, protects the vulnerable and minimizes unavoidable loss and damage will require global cooperation on an unprecedented scale. Somehow, future negotiations related to the Paris Agreement will need to find a way forward that makes it possible to overcome the deep differences between countries and achieve this. It may require new approaches, including new legal solutions.
Learning from other areas could help. In particular, learning from transitional justice could help to identify new ways of addressing difficult questions that remain at the heart of the international negotiations and overcoming long-standing and bitter differences between countries. Global climate issues are not in the same category as the terrible circumstances where transitional justice processes have become necessary to enable societies that have experienced violence and gross human rights abuses to find some degree of reconciliation and move forward. However, there are parallels. In the climate change context there is a need to address questions of justice and what many perceive to be historical wrongs, and construct an approach that makes effective global cooperation and rapid emission reductions possible. Climate change is impacting human rights. Questions of potential liability are coming to the fore with climate-related loss and damage. These are among the areas where the global climate response could be informed by lessons from transitional justice.There seems to be growing interest in exploring this possibility. For example, the topic is included in a series of papers on climate justice commissioned by the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice.

An exciting project by Climate Strategies,led by Sonja Klinsky, is currently exploring what international climate policy debates could learn from peace and reconciliation processes, in particular in relation to addressing tensions between past-oriented concerns about historical responsibility and future-oriented desires for deeper climate mitigation.

Joy Hyvarinen is Adviser to VERTIC. This blog reflects her personal views.


Aviation, shipping and climate change policy – Alice Bows-Larkin

Reflections on All Adrift: Aviation, shipping and climate change policy, by Alice Bows-Larkin, published in Climate Policy, Vol. 15, issue 6

“All adrift” was many years in the making. My research journey started with a focus on aviation and climate change in 2003, and it would be fair to say that I was unceremoniously thrown in at the deep end. Looking back, perhaps this was for the best, because had I realised how unpopular and apparently controversial some of my research findings at the time would be, I would have probably looked elsewhere to satisfy my academic appetite. Well before getting an opportunity to see my work formally published, I found myself building substantial radio, TV and other press experience; defending my analysis that suggested that the UK government needed to turn its attention to managing demand for air travel, if it wanted to tackle its CO2 emissions comprehensively. So, while my focus started with attention on the UK, and stirred up interest from activists keen to demonstrate about the importance of climate change, and the contribution of airport expansion, it soon broadened out to consider the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme, as well as the global efforts to curb CO2 from the aviation sector. Then, broader still, to delve deeper into issues around the other ‘difficult’ sector in a similar boat (pardon the pun) – international shipping. Aviation and shipping release their emissions in international airspace and waters, which means that governance of their emissions, and subsequent mitigation efforts (or lack of), presented themselves as topics ripe for in-depth analysis.

From participating in numerous stakeholder workshops, industry conferences and public debates on the topic, what has always seemed clear to me is that these sectors are only doing what many others would like to do – delay any change that, while being good for CO2 emissions, apparently isn’t good for business.  It is easy to criticise the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), and the slow progress made by both towards mitigation. Indeed in the run up to COP 21 in Paris this year, full incorporation of aviation in the EU’s ETS remains on hold until ICAO make a significant move on capping emissions through a market based scheme, anticipated to be in October 2016.  At the same time, the IMO rejected a call from the Marshall Islands, the world’s 3rd largest ship registry, to set a CO2 target for shipping.  But these sectors simply reflect a reluctance by all sectors, especially those in wealthy nations, to accept mitigation measures in line with avoiding the 2°C target that are perceived to create economic losers as well as winners.  Other sectors would probably be doing the same, if not bound by legal agreements.  Moreover, and as the paper in Climate Policy discusses, even if ICAO were to agree a market based mechanism with a suitably stringent carbon cap, and the IMO were to ramp up its efficiency standard, emissions would not be mitigated in line with what is needed to avoid 2°C.  But at least it would move us in the right direction.

The challenge with any of this work, is that the conclusions tend to be rather similar. It’s never been rocket science, even if some analysis in the literature presents itself in such as way as to suggest it is. Emissions rise as economic activity grows, as long as energy efficiency and/or carbon intensity improve at a slower rate than that growth. However, delivering constructive insights can be overlooked at the expense of trying to communicate how far off we are from the 2°C goal that we’ve set ourselves. Nevertheless, this article, and the research underpinning it, does try to provide a few pointers – it’s just that they are not necessarily welcome. For aviation, technical miracles will not be performed in the time left to curb CO2 commensurate with 2°C. Instead, work needs to urgently consider how to implement innovative policies that tackle the demand-side of the problem. Perhaps an easier message emerges from our shipping research to date – there is a whole host of unexploited technical and operational opportunities to curb the CO2 from shipping, but the challenge is the sector’s complicated arrangement of ship owners, operators, charterers, registries and so on. On the other hand, aren’t these two sectors the ones with global governing bodies who could, in principle, establish rules and regulations to cut across complications arising from the traditionally national focus of mitigation policy? Wouldn’t it set a great example if, for once, the COP meeting delivered a few surprises – hard, closed caps for CO2 released in international airspace and waters, led from the front by ICAO/IMO – that would be a fine act to follow!

Read the full article by clicking here.

Adaptation and the private-sector – Pieter Pauw

Reflections on “Not a panacea: private-sector engagement in adaptation and adaptation finance in developing countries”, by Pieter Pauw, published in Climate Policy, Vol. 15, issue 5.

The issue of private sector adaptation and adaptation finance is hotly debated by researchers, climate negotiators, business and civil society alike, with a growing number of publications on the topic, including my ‘not a panacea’ paper in Climate Policy. The data collection for this paper was done in 2012; the final manuscript was submitted in May 2014. What have we learned since? One lacuna of the paper: private maladaptation is not considered well enough.

Adaptation was long seen as a public and secondary response after mitigation. In recent years, however, increasing emphasis has been put on adaptation and the roles of the private sector in its implementation and financing. This is clearly linked to the UNFCCC negotiations. For example, at the COP in 2006, the Secretary General of the United Nations stated that ‘Changes in corporate behaviour, and in the way private investment is directed, will prove at least as significant in winning the climate battle as direct Government action’. At the Copenhagen COP in 2009, the private sector was mentioned as one of the sources of the annual USD 100 billion of climate finance that developed countries pledged to mobilize from 2020 onwards to support developing countries in adaptation and mitigation efforts.

Research followed swiftly. A rapidly growing body of (grey) literature is being produced on the role of the private sector in adaptation and adaptation finance. Most studies provide theories on motivations and potentials, and many showcase successful projects across the world. However, at a more aggregated level, there is no studies providing empirical evidence on the real potential of private adaptation.

My paper in Climate Policy did become more practical – it focuses on one sector (agriculture) in one country (Zambia). I did not just interview the private sector on their adaptation actions, but policy makers, researchers and civil society too. Yet the paper is not empirical either, as it does not assess actual private adaptation interventions on the ground on their effectiveness.

What the paper does make clear is the difference between private action and investments that constitute adaptation, and those that only contribute to it. This differentiation is particularly important in the context of climate finance. Private interventions that constitute adaptation would include only private interventions that specifically aim at adaptation. In principle, such interventions could, if mobilised by developed countries, be counted as part of the annual USD 100 billion of climate finance. However, such interventions were found to be minimal or nonexistent in Zambia.

The paper did however find many private interventions that could contribute to adaptation. In fact, the private sector might sometimes contribute to adaptation without being aware of it, for example when increasing resilience by investing in more efficient irrigation technology. The potential of the domestic private sector is particularly large, both by mainstreaming climate risks in operations (e.g. conservation farming; irrigation) and in capitalizing on new opportunities (e.g. marketing of harvests and farming equipment; development of improved seeds). Examples of potential international private sector contributions to adaptation include corporate social responsibility investments in reforestation and investments in sustainable water management.

The paper does mention the risks of such a ‘contributions’ approach to adaptation. It might advance business-as usual activities rather than innovation. Indeed in the past, a broad approach to adaptation was used by development actors who used adaptation language to garner funding to suit their ends, even when they felt their work was unrelated to adaptation (Ireland, 2012). Clearly, this risk also exists for private adaptation interventions. It should be prevented that business misuse a broad definition of adaptation for greenwashing of BAU activities. It would be even worse, if the private sector would attract public climate finance for such BAU activities, or if developed country governments account such activities as adaptation of ‘their’ multinationals as part of the country’s national contribution to international climate finance.

Now that the paper is published, I realise that even this ‘mentioning of risks’ still argues from the perspective that the net private contribution to adaptation is positive. The paper’s lacuna is that private action and investments potentially cause maladaptation. This word is actually only mentioned twice in the study, and it only provides one (hypothetical!) example explicitly.

This is a consequence of the method used. I asked respondents for examples of private adaptation and adaptation finance, because this is what global climate policy asks for. A similar study with the opposite aim –asking respondents about private maladaptation- would be as useful a contribution to our insights in private adaptation.

The IPCC in its fifth Assessment Report slightly changed its definition of maladaptation. It now recognizes that it does not only arise from badly planned adaptation actions, but also from deliberate decisions where wider considerations place greater emphasis on short-term outcomes rather than longer-term threats, or from decisions that discount, or fail to consider, the full range of interactions arising from the planned action. In this context, maladaptation by the private sector in agriculture could put private actors, local communities, and the entire region at risk, for example when irrigation systems to increase resilience actually deplete water resources; when large-scale monocropping goes at the expense of a higher diversity of crops and varieties that can withstand different climatic conditions; when peatland conversion causes methane emissions; or when crops are grown in highly exposed areas such as slopes and river beds.

The discussion on private adaptation has matured over the last couple of years. It becomes clear that private adaptation is both crucial and possible. New research is needed in two directions. First, empirical evidence needs to show what the actual potential is in different countries and sectors. Second, insights are needed into the potential of private maladaptation, and how to prevent it.

Pieter Pauw – researcher at the German Development Institute/Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik and PhD candidate at the Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM, VU University). Twitter: @wp_pauw

Developing a sectoral new market mechanism – Wolfgang Obergassel, Hans Bolscher, Jeroen van der Laan, Jelmer Hoogzaad and Jos Sijm

Reflections on “Developing a sectoral new market mechanism: insights from theoretical analysis and country showcases”, by Wolfgang Obergassel (né Sterk), Hans Bolscher, Jeroen van der Laan, Jelmer Hoogzaad, Jos Sijm, published in Climate Policy, Vol. 15, issue 4

At the 2011 COP in Durban, Parties decided to establish a ‘new market-based mechanism’ (NMM) to promote mitigation across ‘broad segments’ of developing countries’ economies. So far, they have only defined some broad outlines of how it is to function. The Doha COP in 2012 identified ‘possible elements’ of the NMM to be addressed in the development of the NMM’s modalities and procedures but Parties have so far been unable to make progress on details. At last year’s COP in Lima and the recent session in Bonn, proceedings effectively stalled due to controversies about whether agreeing on details of the NMM at this point would prejudge elements of the Paris Agreement. Nonetheless, submissions by various Parties and groups of Parties such as the Environmental Integrity Group and the EU continue to advocate for the establishment of an NMM. For example, in its INDC, Switzerland explicitly indicated its intention to use the NMM for achievement of its post-2020 targets.

Our article in Climate Policy identifies available options for the NMM elements defined in the Doha decision and reviews these options against a number of criteria, including environmental effectiveness, economic efficiency, political and administrative efficiency, and others. On this basis, the article identifies options that are best suited to fulfil the main objectives of the NMM as decided at the Durban conference, namely, ‘to enhance the cost-effectiveness of, and to promote, mitigation actions’. In addition, the article analyses potential applications of the NMM for five country-sector combinations: the power sector in Chile and South Africa, the steel sector in Brazil, the refineries sector in Indonesia, and the cement sector in Vietnam. The analysis assesses the emission reduction potential that could be mobilized through the NMM as well as the institutional market readiness of the sectors.

Our analysis finds that, although there are often trade-offs, several design options recommend themselves for maximizing mitigation outcomes and economic efficiency. These include broad coverage, starting with indexed targets instead of absolute targets to enhance political acceptability and minimize the risk of over-crediting, keeping crediting/trading periods short to avoid long-term lock-in of low ambition, and establishing independent governance bodies nationally and internationally.

The examination of five country-sector combinations finds that lack of data and of institutions that could manage the NMM are key bottlenecks. In addition, the analysis reveals the existence of substantial no-regret reduction potential, suggesting that either the incentives to improve the efficiency of operations or the means to do so may be lacking, for example due to the existence of monopolies/oligopolies. Governmental capacity building and Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) might be more appropriate in the short-term, preparing the ground for the adoption of market-based approaches at a later stage. For example, if a government has a preferential feed-in tariff for power generated with renewables, the NMM could help provide the financial means to increase the price differential with power from fossil sources or to increase the scope of the policy, either in terms of more expensive technologies or in terms of volume. Such a system would require less preparation than an entirely new programme because the institutional capacity is already largely in place.

Looking forward, the Paris Agreement will pose new issues for the NMM and market mechanisms in general. One key motivation of the NMM’s proponents was the desire to draw developing countries more strongly into global mitigation efforts. This objective may be deemed to have been overtaken by time, given that the Paris Agreement is envisaged to contain mitigation contributions from all Parties. The purpose of the NMM will therefore need to be recalibrated. The most recent submissions by the EU and the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) suggest that the primary route for international emissions trading should be linking of domestic market-based systems. The NMM would in this view have a complementary role, covering countries that do not have domestic systems or do not meet eligibility criteria for linking their systems internationally.

Another aspect is that while the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) so far operates in an uncapped environment, in the post-2020 period, market mechanisms will to a large extent operate within the boundaries of countries’ contributions. In terms of accounting needs, market mechanisms operating in developing countries post-2020 will therefore be more similar to Joint Implementation (JI) than to the current CDM. If not properly accounted for, emission reductions could be claimed double, by both the host countries and by the credit buyers. Therefore, the Paris Agreement will need to contain clear provisions to prevent double-counting of emission reductions.

However, this may be easier said than done. If the pledges under the Cancún Agreements are an indication of what to expect, there may be a broad range of types of contributions under the Paris Agreement, including emission reductions relative to business as usual, intensity targets, low-emission development plans and strategies, sectoral mitigation plans and strategies, or individual policies and actions. How to reconcile transfers of emission units with some of these types of contributions is far from straightforward.

The work on how to operate market mechanisms under the UNFCCC is hence far from over.

From Lima to Paris, part 2: Injecting ambition – Michael Grubb, Heleen de Coninck and Ambuj D. Sagar

In Climate Policy’s latest editorial, Editor-in-Chief, Michael Grubb, together with Climate Strategies Chair Heleen de Coninck and the director of Indian Institute of Technology Ambuj D. Sagar, reflect on the current state of play in the climate negotiations in the run-up to Paris 2015.

They suggest that forming a plurilateral mitigation “club”, including those governments most committed to ambitious mitigation, would provide the most compelling, economically coherent and politically stable package for making genuine progress towards the global 2 degree goal.

They argue that three main areas of coordinated action by club members could mutually reinforce each other, lead to a positive dynamic, and deliver reciprocal benefits for those members.  These would be:
– A domestic price on carbon, or equivalent measures, appropriate to the stage of economic and climate policy development;
– Domestic technology programmes and international technology cooperation, spanning the full chain of innovation from R&D to accelerated international deployment of zero-carbon
technologies; and
– Agreed treatment of international trade in both energy/carbon-intensive commodities, and low-carbon technologies and products, potentially to be taken forward as a plurilateral agreement in accordance with the broad principles of the WTO.

Read the full Editorial, then come back to the blog to comment.  All Michael Grubb’s Editorials 2010-2015 can be found here (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Insights from South Africa – Emily Tyler and Brent Cloete

Reflections on “Combining price and quantity instruments: insights from South Africa”,  by Emily Tyler and Brent Cloete, published in  Climate Policy, Vol. 15 issue 3

The Paris COP in November 2015 is expected to usher in a dramatic change in the international climate negotiations. A global climate agreement is on the cards that for the first time will require all countries, both developed and developing, to undertake actions to combat climate change.  Exactly what form the agreement will take is unclear, however a new concept, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) will be central.  INDCs highlight an evolution of thinking within the UNFCCC processes. In 2009 the Copenhagen Accord called on developed countries to “commit to implement individually or jointly … quantified economy-wide emissions targets for 2020” and developing countries to “implement mitigation actions” on a voluntary basis.  In 2013, at COP 19, these two qualitatively different undertakings now converge into “intended nationally determined contributions … applicable to all Parties”. The Lima Call for Climate Action shed some light on what INDCs could look like, but significant discretion is left up to countries. INDCs are however expected to “represent progression beyond the current undertaking” of countries.

What this is likely to mean from the perspective of mitigation policy development at the country level is that a growing number of developing countries may offer quantitative mitigation aspirations, and that quantity based mitigation policy instruments are thus going to be required.  In many of these countries, including South Africa, an Emissions Trading Scheme, the most efficient way of addressing a quantity goal, may not be appropriate for various reasons.

The 2011 South African National Climate Change Response Policy (NCCRP) called for both a broad-based carbon tax (which had already been under development for quite a while by the National Treasury) and a “carbon budget approach” to drive mitigation action.  At the time it was not clear exactly what form this carbon budget approach would take, but it was expected that it would include the use of quantity-based policy instruments to drive emissions reduction outcomes.  The Department of Environmental Affairs rightly identified that combining the use of a broad-based price instrument (the carbon tax) with quantity-based instruments could lead to policy incoherence and potential unintended consequences if not managed carefully, and it commissioned the research underpinning our paper in Climate Policy to consider how these two approaches could be integrated successfully.  The analysis showed the complexity of such an undertaking, and how beneficial developing both in a co-ordinated manner could be to policy coherence, efficiency and effectiveness.   We hope that the analysis in our paper of the challenge of combining price and quantity policy regime in South Africa will be useful for countries that put forward quantitative contributions as part of their INDCs.

However since our analysis, very little further attention has been paid to this issue in South Africa. The National Treasury has been working incrementally on the carbon tax, and it has successfully remained an item within each successive Budget.  The Department of Environmental Affairs has focused on fleshing out the carbon budget approach, which combines voluntary (initially, at least) sector-level emissions targets (referred to as Desired Emission Reduction Outcomes or DEROs) and company-level carbon budgets. But there is no influential platform for engaging with the design of both approaches together, and exactly how these approaches will interact has not been finalised.  It is also not clear to what extent the two departments driving the different approaches have a common vision of how local mitigation policy is to be implemented (i.e. the role of market-based versus regulatory approaches, the importance of economic versus environmental integrity, etc).

The inability to co-ordinate at a departmental level is most likely rooted in two related factors.  The first is the lack of an executive level commitment to the low carbon agenda beyond the rhetorical. The National Development Plan speaks to both a carbon price and carbon budgets within an ‘equitable transition to a low carbon society’ in its environmental chapter, but these concepts are not integrated into the remaining chapters covering Economy and Employment, Economy Infrastructure, etc. There are major inconsistencies between the National Climate Change Response White Paper, other government policies like the Industrial Policy Action Plans, and the ruling party (ANC)’s State Intervention in the Minerals Sector strategy document.  The country’s on-going and deepening electricity crisis has deprioritised the low carbon issue further down the political agenda, with unanswered questions around the role of a carbon tax in an environment of an electricity monopoly and steeply rising electricity prices.

Secondly, the lack of an explicit strategy as to how the country will transform from one with a high dependence on coal and mining at a central level makes it very difficult for departments to work this out individually. How will the losers in this transition be dealt with? A low carbon transformation is in any event an extremely difficult challenge for South Africa’s coal- and minerals-based political economic structure given the broader development context of fragmenting governance, skills scarcity, resource constraints and corruption. Without a strong steer from the centre, it is going to be very hard to ensure consistent policy implementation.

The South African experience appears to be exemplifying that in developing countries mitigation policy is complicated by complex political economy backdrops (ranging from excessive market power in some sectors to very interventionist government policies in others, often driven by opaque goals), limited capacity (which ironically can lead to very complicated policies as seemingly clever ideas remain unchecked), pressing developmental challenges, and a lack of coordination.  Within such a context, policy co-ordination is especially challenging, and it is likely that what is currently considered unorthodox climate policy approaches in the developed world will become more prevalent.

The paper to which this post relates is thus very topical from a South African, and increasingly from a broader developing country perspective. Both a broad-based carbon price and quantity instruments are quite far down the line in terms of development in South Africa, and it looks as if the issue of how these approaches are going to be aligned is only going to be addressed as they move towards implementation. As suggested in our paper, this is going to seriously complicate the task of aligning these two approaches. And the risk exists that many, if not all, of the potential benefits of combining price and quantity instruments may be lost. Whatever happens, though, this will provide an interesting case study for other countries that are considering going down the same route.

Emily Tyler and Brent Cloete