Common but Differentiated Responsibility
Common but Differentiated Responsibility
What is the CBDR?
The Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) is a policy outlining state responsibility to global environmental issues, most recently with the rise of climate change as a global challenge the policy enforces a nation's responsibility to global carbon emissions. The concept of ‘common’ but ‘differentiated’ responsibility engages with the history of global carbon contribution as a common global issue, however, the state’s capacity to maintain economic sustainability can differ based on their state of economic development. Hence, responsibility is shared amongst states and allocated based on a capacity to continue economic growth while altering their carbon emission contribution. The international policy engages with both the need for protection and the reduction of threat in a continued effort to half global warming, however, has experienced difficulty in making states accountable for their lack of involvement in slowing the rapid impacts of global warming. This is often due to the contentious nature of the political debate and differing opinions surrounding the accuracy of climate change.
The Purpose of the CBDR
The purpose of the CBDR is both to bring the issues of global environmental issues to light at an international level and laying the groundwork for a responsibility that requires compliance by the international community to reach global environmental goals. The CBDR suggests that historically, carbon emissions have originated in developed countries, the exploitation of resources without regard for the future environmental ramifications had allowed for rapid economic advancement that now places them at a more steady and sound position to invest into sustainable resources without diminishing the economic development of their state. Dealing with sustainable development and environmental governance, the policy allows for future agreements to be built of the premises that the CBDR lays. The true complexities of global environmental governance are explored by Grubb in “these challenges operate at scales which transcend anything humanity has had to face, or even think about before”.  The groundwork that the policy provides and its direct influence on the international communities’ decisions impacts national development and the resources that can be devoted to sustainable development and climate change. The premise underlying the policy is that all states are encouraged to participate in ethically and environmentally friendly practices however sustainability is known to hinder the economic development of states. Therefore the ‘differential’ aspect of the CBDR is a nation must first focus on their economic development before issues of environmental concern can be addressed. The ‘differentiated responsibility’ ultimately skews the standards in the international community in that some states are required to do more in meeting reductions in carbon emission contributions, whereas others are not accountable for their contribution. They can instead invest in technology and resources that foster economic growth to be able to compete at an international level and achieve global influence. Although the historical practices of environmental degradation contribution have altered, developing nations are considered to not be in a position that permits them to restrict their carbon contributions, as doing so diminishes that nations ability to develop. Hence the CBDR claims that action against climate change falls within the responsibilities set out by the policy and most projects should be conferred onto the developed states.
The likelihood of a mass conflict at a global level emerging between ‘poor and rich countries’ (Dixon, 1999) is described by scholars to arise as a result of indifference, and the ineffectiveness in rectifying the damage of global climate change relying solely on the policy of the CBDR. Western scholars have argued that the ineffectiveness of the policy lies within the premise that it is built on the concept of equality yet impedes on the distinct rights ensued onto states under their sovereign status. Rather, the lack of parity has established a term described as the maxi-mini principle, where the countries that inflict the damage on the environment reap “maximization of their rights and minimization of responsibilities.”  The ability of the developing states to no longer be liable for their contribution to climate change allows for advancement in their technological expertise, investment of resources and funding into competitive markets to progress and advance their markets to compete at an international level that supposedly ‘diminishes’ global economic disparity. The term “free ride” was used by Christopher D stone to suggest that the enforcement of carbon contributions is essential to avoid disparity.  Instead, many believe that the power that has been conferred onto states to foster growth to create a homogenous environmental governance has instead been abuse to Christopher D Stone uses terminology such as the “free ride” to express the behaviours of the developing world, as to suggest that limitations to carbon contributions must be placed on these states.
Scholars often deem international climate policy to diverge from traditional international law principles that require legal equality between states. The principle of the CBDR is not enforceable by law as it is a regime that is attempted to be enacted into international governance, however, it is argued that its principle directly infringes on the sovereign status of nations and their right to create economic opportunities that branch from the use of carbon emissions. The dichotomy between the developed and developing nations is described as “reflect[ing] neither scientific knowledge nor political realities.”  The changing nature of climate policy and carbon contributions now sees economies from the developing world, such as China and India that are exempt from responsibility as determined by the CBDR, to currently be the world’s largest contributors to carbon emissions. A critical revision of the policy has been called for where these previously economically disadvantages states no longer are distant from the developing world and to ensure consistency in international climate policy, accountability for this contribution must be conferred.
The asymmetry of global commitments in international environmental policy is the doctrine that underpins the CBDR. However, it is the assumption that the policy is a derivative of the concept of climate change. The differing views that are publicly stipulated are the certainty and accuracy of climate change science. This divergent view stems from opinions surrounding the legitimacy of science, with select few countries that follow strict faith can disassociate from evidence and science and deny that data results in fact. A similar competing view is that many are unable to discern the existence of climate change as they are unaware of how it came to be, with claims that disprove human intervention to be a direct result of environmental degradation. It is important to consider that some state parties pursue this aspect of the debate and therefore dismiss the credibility of the CBDR as being the framework to international environmental governance and this impacts the overall benefit that the policy aims to enact on global governance and sustainable development.
Future Potential for the CBDR
Functioning as the driving principle for climate policy in the 1990s, establishing the legal basis in the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and underpinning the conduct as demonstrated in the Paris Agreement in 2015, the CBDR has historical significance and hence functions under the UNFCCC as the focal point in global environmental governance. Scrutinised by many Western scholars with arguments that both the policy has been rendered ineffective as it no longer represents the history and present reality of carbon emission contribution and economic advancement, as well as the differing opinions surrounding the validity of climate change as debated by the public, has sparked deliberation over a reevaluation of the policies accuracy in the dynamic modern world. A revision of policy would require an accurate representation of the modern world that allows for responsibility to be established and divided equally among nations and no longer an indication of the historical contribution that does not account for modern-day misconduct. Global climate governance can no longer be refined to simply the divide between developing and developed nations but rather a present contribution and advancement. Although there are varying opinions and believes surrounding the international policy of the CBDR, and its relevance or irrelevance to the modern world, it remains as a framework that underpins global environmental policy and the changing nature of the international law that has constructed present global environmental governance.
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Common but Differentiated Responsibilities
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