A roundtable during the Global Stocktake Technical Dialogue in June 2022 in Bonn, Germany.

Putting Equity at the Heart of the Global Stocktake

Capturing the world's collective progress towards achieving the Paris Agreement goals requires a look at who is being left behind and what we could do to create an equitable, climate-resilient future for all.

By Jeffrey Qi on November 3, 2022

Since the beginning of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), equity has always been emphasized as one of the core guiding principles by countries and civil society alike. Recognizing the importance and everlasting relevance of this principle, the Paris Agreement is firmly anchored in the equity principle, including in the articles and decisions relevant to the Global Stocktake (GST). In Katowice in 2018, countries decided that the GST should be conducted in a “comprehensive and facilitative manner… in the light of equity and the best available science” (Decision 19/CMA.1). This decision document guides the overall GST process, which focuses on assessing the world’s collective progress in meeting the Paris Agreement’s goals and providing a set of policy-relevant recommendations for countries to enhance their climate ambition.

With the Sharm el-Sheikh Climate Change Conference (COP 27) fast approaching, we look at what it means for the GST process to be equitable and what more needs to be done to ensure a successful, fair conclusion of the GST at COP 28 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

What Do We Mean by Equity?

The definition of equity differs according to the context. The legal definition of “equity” is still contested within climate diplomacy. However, in the context of climate action, the majority of people agree that “equity” refers to the “fair distribution of responsibilities, benefits, risks, and uncertainties, both in the inter-generational but also intra-generational sense,” taking into consideration historical and socially determined disadvantages.

Equity refers to the fair distribution of responsibilities, benefits, risks, and uncertainties, both in the inter-generational but also intra-generational sense.

This means taking a step back and looking at who are the most responsible actors for the greenhouse gas emissions that led to today’s climate crisis, who are the actors most affected by climate change today, and how socio-economic inequality and other systemic injustices lead to compounded risks and intersecting vulnerabilities.

The mismatch between those who have contributed the most to global warming and those who are the most vulnerable today represents extreme inequality in climate change’s causes and consequences. And therefore, this inequality calls for the fair distribution of responsibilities in terms of emissions reduction, adaptation to climate impacts, and the provision of climate finance, which necessitate special attention to be paid to equity in the GST process in order to arrive at a fair assessment of collective progress.

Three Reasons Why Equity Matters for the GST

It is not easy to craft a collective climate story that includes everyone, everywhere, and touches on everything. But it is the job of the GST to do just that—collect as much information from as many sources as possible, comprehensively and accurately assess the state of global climate action, and then construct a picture that tells the story of where we are, where we want to go, and how we get there. From information collection to technical assessments to the final consideration of outputs, equity, in all forms, needs to be ingrained throughout the life cycle of the GST.

Considering equity ensures no one is left behind

The GST will assess the collective progress on mitigation, adaptation, and resource mobilization (finance, technology, and capacity building). Aside from crunching the numbers on how many emissions countries aspire to reduce or how much adaptation finance was offered to developing countries, the human aspect is equally important. Are existing climate efforts reducing the vulnerability of communities and people to climate change equitably? Are countries’ climate actions advancing gender equality and social inclusion for people of all genders and social backgrounds? And are countries developing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating their climate action measures in a gender-responsive, participatory, and fully transparent manner, considering vulnerable groups, communities, and ecosystems?

Equitable sourcing of information for the Technical Dialogues contributes to a fair and accurate assessment of the impacts of existing—and planned—climate actions on people’s lives and livelihoods, as well as the gaps and needs of local communities to enhance climate ambition. In the Technical Dialogues, equity should be reflected in the welcoming of knowledge and inputs from diverse sources, especially from the Global South, marginalized communities, or those most vulnerable to climate change, all of whom lack a voice at the international level.

We have to ensure that we give a voice to people who are often considered voiceless in conversations about climate change and climate adaptation.

Jhannel C. Tomlinson, Jamaican youth climate activist 

To address issues of representation, we ask: Is the input submission process accessible to stakeholders in the Global South, many of whom may not speak English or may not be entirely familiar with the jargon climate negotiators use? Are countries and civil society encouraged to gather inputs from the local level for the GST, such as from those who are on the frontlines of adapting to climate change, from young people who are inspiring change, and from community leaders and country practitioners who are making an impact? Is the process gender-balanced? And is knowledge from Indigenous communities and the Global South being put on equal footing and treated with the same credibility and respect as the knowledge generated by Western knowledge systems?

The GST cannot comprehensively capture the progress, gaps, and needs for enhancing global climate ambition unless the inputs reflect the knowledge, experiences, and realities of both developing and developed countries and the people experiencing climate impacts in their daily lives—particularly those who are typically underrepresented in such processes.

Global North–South equity informs fair assessments

Conceptually, Global North–South equity means recognizing the historical emissions by developed countries and the disproportionate impact of climate change on developing countries. In practice, the GST process needs to critically assess if, collectively, countries are doing enough under the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities: Are developed countries taking on more responsibilities in terms of emissions reductions? Are they providing sufficient climate finance and technologies to developing countries—particularly the most vulnerable among them—for undertaking more ambitious climate actions? And is the current level of adaptation finance enough for developing countries to move from adaptation planning to implementation?

Similarly, the GST is tasked with recognizing the adaptation efforts of developing countries in light of the Herculean nature of addressing cascading climate risks and strengthening resilience. The rising profile of adaptation in the UNFCCC, especially at a time when negotiators are also working to determine what the Global Goal on Adaptation should entail, represents a critical juncture in which developing countries’ adaptation actions can be made more visible than ever before. For instance, this can entail highlighting the record number of countries undertaking the National Adaptation Planning (NAP) process or allocating national funds to climate adaptation. It is also an opportunity for developing countries to highlight the resource mobilization gaps and financing needs for turning their NAPs into reality during the GST.

Capturing these considerations under the GST’s Technical Dialogues allows for a fair assessment of global progress and ambition gaps. Negotiators can then use the results of this assessment to inform the next stage of their GST work, the “consideration of outputs,” where they look at what they have learned and develop policy-relevant recommendations. These same recommendations are directed to countries to help them determine how best to step up their climate ambition and ensure that the provision of climate finance is equitable.

Intergenerational equity reminds us of our responsibilities to future generations

What we do today matters for generations of people in the future, and intergenerational equity is concerned with the fair use and conservation of the environment and natural resources to meet the needs of present and future generations equitably. Commonly applied in the climate justice discourse, intergenerational equity instills a sense of urgency in confronting the climate crisis, highlighting that the type of world that today's youth will inherit depends solely on what we do (and do not do) in the next decade.

In this sense, intergenerational equity matters to the GST in two ways. First, young people need a seat at the table when it is their future the GST is discussing. Making the GST and the broader UNFCCC processes accessible for youth allows their meaningful participation and the contribution of their ingenuity and dedication to solving the world’s biggest challenges, and it prepares them for the difficult road ahead.

On the other hand, intergenerational equity also prompts us to consider not just where we are but how to improve climate action to take us to where we want to go. The forward-looking element—identifying gaps, barriers, best practices, and lessons learned—must be reflected in the final output of the GST to inform countries’ future decision making and implementation. Providing policy-relevant recommendations for governments to step up ambition and improve climate actions is at the core of the GST’s objectives, and keeping an eye on the future reminds us of what we owe future generations. 

Delegates gather for the closing plenary of the Global Stocktake Technical Dialogue (Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth)
Delegates gather for the closing plenary of the Global Stocktake Technical Dialogue in June 2022 (Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth).

Telling an Equitable Climate Story at COP 27 and Beyond

The first Technical Dialogue in Bonn and the entire GST preparation process so far have represented a novel approach to inclusivity by the UNFCCC in terms of its openness and genuine desire to engage with as many stakeholders as possible to ensure diversity and equity. However, there is always room for improvement so that equity can be further reflected in the GST process.

Some observers have noted insufficient inputs from the Global South, Indigenous Peoples, and sub-national-level practitioners, and the participant list lacks diversity and gender balance. Improving the participation of these groups must be a priority for the Technical Dialogue co-facilitators at COP 27 and beyond. Furthermore, developing countries are calling for more attention to and discussion space for the insufficient resource mobilization that is impeding the ambitious implementation of climate actions, as well as ways to overcome the barriers and challenges. IISD’s own submissions have noted the importance of assessing good governance, gender responsiveness, social inclusion, and attentiveness to the most vulnerable people during the GST’s technical assessment component.

At COP 27 and at the two UN Climate Change Conferences taking place in Bonn and the United Arab Emirates next year, countries and the Technical Dialogue co-facilitators must ensure that: 

  1. The Technical Dialogues remain inclusive and accessible for various civil society stakeholders, including Indigenous Peoples, representatives of the most vulnerable groups, children and youth, and local communities.
  2. National and sub-national conversations contributing to the Technical Dialogues are held in an inclusive, participatory, and equitable manner. With many grassroots and local stakeholders still excluded from the UNFCCC process, these country-level consultations are imperative to bringing perspectives from people who cannot be in the room for the GST process.
  3. Adequate and focused discussions on resource mobilization and adaptation finance are taking place.
  4. The final output of the GST provides practical, actionable, and policy-relevant recommendations stemming from countries’ and practitioners’ experiences and lessons learned so countries could improve their climate action and address challenges, gaps, and barriers in an equitable manner.

Together, these elements ensure the GST process could craft an equitable climate story and a cautionary tale for countries to act on and step up their ambition.

The banner image used in this article is by IISD/ENB's Kiara Worth from the Earth Negotiations Bulletin team's reporting of the Bonn Climate Conference in June 2022.