Climate change is often described as a global collective action problem, in which the costs are borne by countries that act, while the benefits are shared by all. Although this understanding has long framed global climate policy debates, it is increasingly wrong. Climate solutions are now often cheaper and provide greater economic and social returns than higher-carbon alternatives. As a result, many (but certainly not all) of the actions needed to contain climate pollution are “socially beneficial”: they will increase the overall welfare and advance the equitable development goals of the countries that take them, even before climate impacts are considered.
Although these socially beneficial mitigation opportunities are widely available in all countries, the Paris regime has not explicitly encouraged countries to seize them. Prioritizing these opportunities in the Talanoa Dialogue and the rulebook could increase overall ambition by alleviating the global free rider problem, expanding countries’ understanding of what they can achieve, and helping countries avoid the difficult trade-offs associated with higher cost actions. In addition to promoting ambition, this approach is also consistent with the Paris Agreement’s other core principles of equity and national interest.
Countries could strengthen their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) as they increase social welfare by capturing more of their socially beneficial opportunities. The Talanoa Dialogue should help countries do this by highlighting the scale and range of these actions, and encouraging countries to consider them as a leading source of new measures to enhance their existing NDCs. Likewise, the Paris rulebook should encourage countries to share how they are capturing these opportunities, and should ensure that their scope and scale is considered in the global stocktakes.
Renato Redentor Constantino is a member of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) Experts Advisory Group and heads the Manila-based international policy group Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC), which published the pioneering literary anthology on climate change, Agam: Filipino Narratives on Uncertainty and Climate Change (2014). He is the author of The Poverty of Memory: Essays on History and Empire (2006) and contributed to the Paloma Press anthology Humanity (2018).
Selamawit Desta Wubet is a legal expert with the Ethiopian Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change. She has been a member of the Ethiopian delegation to the UNFCCC negotiations and other climate talks since 2014. She is the lead negotiator on mitigation for the Least Developed Country group, and the Ethiopian focal point for the Climate Vulnerable Forum. She holds a bachelor of Law (LLB) from the Addis Ababa University School of Law.
Steven Herz is a Senior Attorney with the International Climate Program of the Sierra Club, the largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States. His advocacy focuses on international climate policy, environmental and human rights law, sustainable development, and energy policy. Steve is the author of numerous articles, book chapters, reports, and submissions on these issues. He holds degrees in government (B.A.), law (J.D.) and history (M.A.) from the University of Virginia.