Top-down Proposals for Sharing the Global Climate Policy Effort Fairly: Lost in Translation in a Bottom-up World?

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A range of scholars and policy advocates have proposed formulaic (or 'top-down') approaches for calculating countries' fair shares of the global effort to mitigate climate change. The practical relevance of top-down proposals has become increasingly uncertain as climate change negotiations since the 2009 Copenhagen Accord have adopted a 'bottom-up' or 'pledge-and-review' approach that allows states considerable latitude in how they frame their pledges. With many commentators expecting that the post-2020 climate change agreement currently under negotiation will adopt a largely bottom-up approach, a major concern is whether and how an approach of this kind is compatible with securing equity and integrity in the climate regime. In this chapter I argue that a more nuanced perspective on the top-down/bottom-up debate is required. I proceed by endorsing the commonly held view that top-down proposals typically prioritise distributive equity over institutional feasibility, whereas the converse holds for bottom-up proposals. However, I argue that a more comprehensive evaluation of proposals for sharing national efforts also needs to take account of their procedural equity. Top-down proposals frequently provide less clarity than bottom-up proposals on how procedural equity could be assured. Accordingly, a hybrid approach combining elements of top-down and bottom-up proposals may be better suited to advancing both substantive and procedural values simultaneously. In the latter part of the chapter I argue that, even if top-down proposals are not formally adopted in a multilateral climate agreement, they may nevertheless exert an important positive influence on the equity and integrity of the climate regime. I distinguish three ways in which top-down proposals could boost accountability and deliberative quality: as input into multilateral assessment of national pledges; as an anchor point for civil society campaigns; and as guidance for national policy-makers
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEthical Values and the Integrity of the Climate Change Regime
EditorsHugh Breakey, Vesselin Popovski, Rowena Maguire
Place of PublicationAldershot, United Kingdom
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781315580302
ISBN (Print)9781472469595
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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