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Paris Agreement: justice and equity issues, by Marcelo Santos

What would a fair distribution of the charges from fighting the adverse impacts of climate changes be? Since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change set forth a multilateral agreement on the theme should be reached based on cooperation and equity, this has been a fundamental question in the quest to establish a climate governance regime.  

And this is no easy question to solve, on the contrary, it may be one of the most complicated in the history of international negotiations, since it requires the countries choices and decisions that are hard to make for their implications, especially economic ones.  Furthermore, how it would be possible to establish a consensual global regime for climate governance based on cooperation and equity legislation involving this many different actors?

The paper Global Justice and Environmental Governance: an analysis of the Paris Agreement, published in the issue 1/2017 of Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional addresses the process of designing the global climate governance regime as a problem of global justice. With a focus on the normative dimensions of justice and equity, the paper presents an analysis of the new international agreement on climate change achieved at the COP 21 in Paris, 2015.

For the purposes of discussing the process, the author gathers the major contributions of the normative political theory on global climate justice, especially the approaches seen on multilateral negotiations, such as historical responsibility and equal per capita emissions. There are indeed some recurring problems in this discussion that comprises dimensions such as the history of each country’s responsibility on climate pollution and the sharing of carbon emissions in a condition with evident atmospheric limits. As to the theory, the paper concludes that although there some consensus on that the discussion should encompass general principles of responsibility, equity and ability to bear the costs, there is some divergence on the interpretation of the normative principles of justice about these themes.

As regards the negotiations among countries, especially those following Kyoto Protocol, the author identifies difficulties, deadlocks and inoperativenesses in relation to the normative dimensions of responsibilities, the definitions about what should be done, sharing of costs and rights to emit, and the definition of the agents that should bear the charges. Per the study, they result from the different perceptions of the justice and equity principles by the countries. It is no coincidence that Kyoto Protocol’s design — which followed a top-down approach, with a dichotomic differentiation of countries — failed one negotiation after the other, mainly because of the opposition between developed countries and developing countries.

The paper states that the Paris Conference was able to overcome many of the deadlocks on normative questions, reaching a universally accepted agreement. It is the author’s opinion that this was the result of a flexible design, which managed to coordinate dimensions of responsibility, need, and ability with the preservation of national sovereignties. In other words, according to the study, the Paris Agreement set forth a definition on how to operate the principles laid down by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which stated “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances”.

Even though, the author points out some problems revealing that the most complex dimensions of justice and equity have not been completely solved, which may difficult environmental governance operation in the near future. The main problems are the non-binding sharing of the efforts for the reduction of emissions with no reference to the limits of our planet’s carbon budget, and the weak mechanisms for financing, adaptation, capacitation and transference of technology for developing countries.

Being increasingly present on international discussions, the normative political theory can contribute to the formulation of principles for institutional arrangements and international agencies. It can also develop normative references for the assessment of negotiations, treaties and agreements. This is the task we undertook in this study published in Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional.

Read the article

Santos, Marcelo. (2017). Global justice and environmental governance: an analysis of the Paris Agreement. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 60(1), e008. Epub February 20, 2017.


Marcelo Santos – Universidade Estadual Paulista – Faculdade de Ciências e Letras, Araraquara – São Paulo, Brazil (

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Cite this article as: Editoria, "Paris Agreement: justice and equity issues, by Marcelo Santos," in Revista Mundorama, 02/03/2017,

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