Initially, when it was first established in 1992, the Common but Differentiated Responsibilities played a vital role in determining how different countries would address climate change. The principle of the CBRD came from an idea of a ‘common heritage of mankind’, which describes a situation where all people across the world are equally responsible. However, although the principle acknowledges the equal responsibility that each country has in addressing climate change, it also acknowledges the differences that each country has in addressing these problems. Depending on economic and technical capabilities, each country may have different methods they might use to solve environmental issues. This principle is included in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), being first mentioned in the 1992 UNFCCC Treaty. The treaty was ratified by all countries involved in it, and they all acknowledged a shared responsibility in addressing climate change. However, in recent years, the role of the CBRD is evolving. Some have even argued that the CBRD doesn’t have the same level of relevance in contemporary times.
Over the years, the CBRD has worked as a guide for the world’s nations to address climate change. However, since 1992, there has been more of a debate about how each country would do so. There has been controversy surrounding the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was established within the UNFCCC to reach certain goals to reduce these emissions. Ratification by Russia put this treaty into effect, although Iceland had already determined that it would happen. According to Michael Greenstone, “the Kyoto Protocol was an agreement that countries could later change their mind about”. After it wasn’t able to meet its commitments, Canada later decided to withdraw from the treaty in 2011. Greenstone also talks about how each treaty which is signed by the UNFCCC is voluntary, and each country is free to leave. He argues that this way of doing things actually has the potential to work.
In recent times, new UNFCCC agreements have suggested that each country should determine how they will deal with emissions. In 2011, the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” was established at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa. The Durban Platform was meant to come to terms about limiting carbon emissions. Durban didn’t result in a treaty, but it did leave the countries involved in a legal binding. However, later in 2015, the terms from the Durban Platform were met in the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement is the first comprehensive agreement on climate change to be established in the world. It is meant to drive divestment in fossil fuels and has also committed to financing “climate resilient development”.
Although there are new aims within the Paris Agreement which lead toward emission reduction, the agreement does not set a rule for the contribution from each country. In other words, each country individually determines their contributions to tackling climate change, based on their own national objectives. The purpose of the agreement is to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius above pre industrial levels. The agreement also works to enhance each country’s ability to tackle climate change by supporting them with financial flows to address global warming in their respective country. This helps developing countries who otherwise would not have necessarily had the funds to tackle the problems of climate change. The agreement also operates through a very transparent framework.
Although the world’s nations have debated about climate change and have come to new agreements on the matter, I think it’s safe to say that the Common but Different Responsibilities still plays an important role in how the world handles climate change. The CBRD laid a foundation for the world to address climate change, and new agreements have been built off of the same principles which were found in the CBRD. Each country that plays an active role in addressing climate change still acknowledges a shared responsibility in this issue. The CBRD never established an all encompassing rule that each country had to abide by, because it was obvious that this would never work. However, acknowledging the importance of the responsibility of all nations to address climate change has allowed these nations to work together in establishing new treaties to tackle this issue.