A key challenge for a future climate change agreement is allocating emissions targets for individual developed countries that are perceived as equitable given differing national circumstances. Many economics-based frameworks for evaluating future targets use as a key criterion for individual country targets the notion that mitigation measures should result in similar costs (specifically, that the required mitigation actions relative to baseline emissions result in a similar percentage reduction of individual countries' GDP in the target year or period). Such an economic criterion provides a transparent and objective basis for comparison, but it does not necessarily mean that comparable targets for individual countries are also equitable. A set of thought experiments demonstrates that such an approach indeed does not reflect equity between countries. This is because future business-as-usual emissions, against which the costs of mitigation are assessed, depend on past policy choices and mitigation pathways. An approach that sets future emissions targets at a specific date based on comparable costs, without regard to past policy choices and commitments, would penalise countries that have taken early action and provides a disincentive for taking strong domestic mitigation actions in future. This analysis suggests that the choice of 'business-as-usual' emissions against which the future costs of mitigation are assessed needs to receive more attention if economic comparability is intended to also reflect equity of emissions targets over time.
Greenhouse gas mitigation equity of emissions targets comparability economic impact path-dependence optimal policy design