W e all accept the idea that different countries have different responsibilities for causing climate change, and therefore also different responsibilities for solving climate change. Generally, in the US we are aware that our status as a wealthy, industrialized, powerful country should mean that our country has a particularly large responsibility for fixing the climate crisis.
The US Climate Fair Share project aims to turn this feeling into something more concrete. By quantifying the US “fair share” of climate action, compared to the fair shares of other countries, we can create much more specific, concrete demands around which to campaign and organize. Over the past decade-plus, the Climate Equity Reference Project has created and refined a methodology for quantifying what individual countries’ fair share of global climate action should be.
In the US, a process to apply this methodology to our own country was led by several organizations within the US Climate Action Network (USCAN, an umbrella of 185+ organizations ranging from small local grassroots groups to large national and international NGOs) – ActionAid USA, the Center for Biological Diversity, EcoEquity, and North Carolina Interfaith Power & Light. These organizations received a “member alignment grant” from USCAN to facilitate a process by which USCAN would agree, as a full network, on a quantified US fair share based on assumptions that we all felt were ethically justifiable.
The bulk of this work took place after the onset of COVID-related lockdowns, so the process consisted of a series of four online sessions in the first half of 2020, followed by a session at the USCAN Virtual Annual Meeting in June 2020. The first two online sessions were webinars in which the basic framework and methodology was explored with USCAN participants; the third and fourth sessions were roundtables in which, empowered by their new familiarity with the framework, USCAN members weighed in on what specific ethical positions they were comfortable with plugging in to the methodology. Discussions centered around how to measure historical responsibility (e.g., should we count emissions going back to 1850 as part of a country’s responsibility, or only back to 1950? Or, should the emissions associated with, for example, heating the home of the poorest count the same as the emissions associated with the discretionary luxury emissions of the rich?) and capacity for action (how do we take into account deep economic inequality and historical injustices when figuring the amount of money available to a country for climate action?).
After the webinars and roundtables, the lead organizations named above drafted a proposal that was then adopted as a shared USCAN position at the USCAN Annual Meeting in June 2020 . This is the consensus position that you see reflected on this website, in the infographic, background paper and other materials.
Importantly, the United States is just one of several nations in which civil society groups are using a fair-shares analysis to inform the demands they make of their governments. Canada, Quebec, and the UK have embarked on similar projects, and more are in the works. And note that the methodology was used in 2015 by a vast coalition of civil society organizations (NGOs, social movements, labor unions, youth organizations, indigenous peoples’ organizations and more) to inform the UN climate negotiations that led to the Paris Agreement in that year.
During those UN negotiations, countries made voluntary “pledges” of climate action. Many of us demanded that countries or the UN analyze those pledges from two perspectives: first, were they ambitious enough to solve the global climate crisis; and second, were they fair relative to one another – that is, was the US pledging enough compared to Canada, or compared to China, or compared to Rwanda?
Countries agreed to do the first analysis (which inevitably found that, no, the individual pledges did not add up to anything close to what is needed to stop the worst impacts of climate change). They refused to do the second – countries did not want to be compared to one another for fear of looking bad. Since governments and the UN refused to take on this task, civil society did, creating the Civil Society Equity Review of national pledges to the Paris Agreement. This analysis showed that rich countries like the US were pledging far below their fair shares, while many developing countries were doing a better job.
The coalition overall stressed that all countries must live up to their fair shares in order for us to have any chance at limiting global warming to 1.5° Celsius. For wealthier countries that means bringing domestic emissions to zero as quickly as possible while ramping up international assistance to support poorer countries to fully decarbonize as well. The US Fair Share project brings this overall analysis into a more specific US-focused policy and campaigning context.