Should climate change initiatives follow CBDR?

Should climate change initiatives follow CBDR?

- CBDR or the principle of international environmental law namely Common but Differentiated Responsibilities is attracting its fair share of supporters and dissenters at the Paris climate conference.

- CBDR was first formalised in the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development at Rio de Janeiro. Idea of common responsibility underlies the notion of common heritage of mankind.

- In legal terms, CBDR embodies the shared obligation of 2/more states towards saving environmental resources. It was first featured in the Stockholm declaration in the 1970s. At the Conference of the Parties of UNFCC in Paris, Article 3 of the Convention which refers to CBDR has become a Number 1 concern. Policymakers and opinion leaders in EU and US are trying to put pressure on developing nations such as India to dilute or set side the principle.

- CBDR states that parties concerned should protect the climate system for present and future generations based on principle of equity and CBDR as well as respective capabilities.

- But the climate change debate has just heated up, with a growing divide between developed and developing nations over who should share the maximum burden of combating global warming and more. Let us see whether the principle of CBDR should be followed in the world’s climate change plan.


1. The responsibilities of developed nations : Asking countries to reduce their emissions without differentiating between rich or poor nations is wrong. The current global climate regime cannot operate as if all countries are equally responsible for GHG emissions. US is accountable for roughly 1/4 of the rise in average global temperature of the atmosphere since pre-industrial period. It is also the second largest emitter of GHG after China and has made the smallest commitments in comparison to the damage it has inflicted on the environment. In contrast, countries like Brazil and South Africa have made more contributions to the fight against climate change though they are responsible for less than 2% of the global anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere. Even India is being more committed to climate change. Developed countries need to take their responsibilities seriously in the battle to combat climate change.

2. Historic injustice : Rich countries are more responsible for the current state of the climate and have greatly contributed to the rapidly deteriorating situation. They must take more action to redress the balance and right historic wrongs.

3. Poor countries cannot afford to take a greater burden : Countries like the US have developed and grown at the cost of humanity’s welfare. Moreover, poor countries do not have as many resources as these countries. It is the obligation of the rich nations to provide development space for poor countries, financial support to combat climate change and technology transfer for capacity development.

4. GCF could expand only if rich nations contributed more : At the COP-16 meeting in Mexico, GCF or Green Climate Fund was set up to create USD 100 billion annually by 2020 to fight climate change. It is the obligation of rich countries to see that GCF expands to pay for and support developing countries in their bid to lower GHG emissions and adapt to climate change.

5. Renewable technologies will only grow if investments are made : Financing from developed nations is a must for transition to a low carbon path. This requires development of expensive renewable energies which only rich nations can afford.

6. Funding aid for development cannot be included in climate change : The rich nation’s position that it is helping poor nations through development aid and therefore, CBDR is not needed is invalid. Poorer nations deserve climate funds in addition to development because of historical obligations of rich countries for capturing the ecological space. Climate finance should be predictable, scalable and found to recognise and account for obligations of developed nations.

7. Man made climate change is a massive challenge : Anthropogenic climate change is a massive challenge yet countries contributions to global GHG emissions and climate change impact they are facing are split wide open. Without the assistance of developed nations, a challenge as big as this cannot be combated.


1. The logic of CBDR is flawed : Differences in countries capacities and development levels have been acknowledged through CBDR and Respective Capabilities under UNFCC. But the original differentiation between developed and developing countries represents neither current scientific knowledge nor prevailing existing political realities.

2. Mitigation by industrialised countries alone is not enough : If climate change has to be combated, equal effort needs to be made by developing nations to battle the phenomenon. Climate change is a dangerous threat to humanity.

3. China and India are emerging economies with plenty of resources : Developing countries like China and India are emerging economies with a most massive contribution to GHG emissions and consequent climate change. Diversification of state groups and national coalitions among developing countries warrant a reconsideration of CBDR

4. Other approaches are more equitable : The approaches which have been put into practice in international regimes and political settings including the Montreal Protocol and the WTO as well as the SDG point to the need for different approaches for allocating responsibilities based on emissions criteria and means that allow for education and limitation of emissions and support equal participation in CBDR.

5. Country coalitions must be taken into account : Multiplication of country coalitions in developing countries such as BRIC and ASEAN and their consequent contribution to growth and pollution should also be taken into account while framing the responsibilities of the rich and poor nations towards combating climate change.

6. Development needs of industrialised countries are no less important : Developed nations need to sustain their growth and development too. It is unfair to assume that just because developing nations are on the path to growth, developed nations do not deserve equal considerations when it comes to the development debate.

7. CBDR is just a roadblock : Differentiation implies adoption and implementation of varied commitments for different states while taking their developmental needs, capacities and historical contributions into account. It has proved to only be an obstacle to formulation of meaningful climate change initiatives. CBDR has been an issue in pre 2020 negotiations and the 2015 agreement.


There are too many reasons why CBDR remains fair despite changing economic realities. Firstly, the no harm principle is that sovereignty of states does not include the right to harm others in the name of development. Another point is the polluter pays principle whereby polluter bears price of attaining acceptable environmental quality and avoiding harm. Another important point is the obligation to avoid harm to the world, even in the absence of scientific certainty regarding who caused this harm. It also takes into account aspects like political and ethical principles, policy principles and capacity to pay. CBDR is a necessary precondition for climate change initiatives to succeed. Without this, the future of humanity hangs in balance, even as equity becomes an obstacle in climate change negotiations.
Post your comment


  • RE: Should climate change initiatives follow CBDR? -Deepa Kaushik (12/04/15)
  • Every initiative has its own pros and cons. It mainly depends on the individual perception whether we give more weightage to the advantages or to the disadvantages to accept or reject the initiative. CBDR is a good step forward to get the different nations of the world more closer.

    When we talk of our nation, we always talk of unity in diversity which remains our soul strength and helps in the development and security of our nation. CBDR is a similar perspective on the global scale. An initiative to get the nations of the world more closer and make them work on a uniform platform for the world to progress altogether and develop world economy.

    If the climate change initiative follow CBDR, then the developed nations would come to the aid of under-developed and developing ones. This would also help in uniformity in the economic distribution and better living standard for the human beings all over the world. Such an initiative, if accepted and delivered honestly as per the intent of the policy, could provide better living conditions for everyone globally.
  • RE: Should climate change initiatives follow CBDR? -kulkarni hrishikesh sanjeev (12/03/15)
  • See, firstly India has to use the resources which harm the nature so that it will be in the que of developed nation from developing nation.Secondly there has got nothing to do with the conflict of values,there has got something to do with what we consider as urgent.India demands development.The UN and developed countries come together to stop the developing countries because they know if these countries get developed it will affect them.So India should punch above its weight and lead this by the front by making the group of developing countries like it.otherwise let developed nations speak and do whatever we want.