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Driving the debate on climate equity

SEI built on its years of work on climate equity to enable civil society organizations to shape discussions at the 2018 UN climate change conference in Katowice.

Photo: UNclimatechange / Flickr.

Date published
29 April 2019
A story from
Katowice, Poland

This impact story is from our 2018 annual report.

In 2015, in the run-up to the UN climate change conference in Paris, SEI helped initiate the Civil Society Equity Review (CSR) – a coalition of more than 200 NGOs and other civil society groups committed to ensuring that countries take on their fair share in climate commitments. The CSR has produced a series of assessments of countries’ climate commitments that have been put on the table at the UN climate negotiations, and SEI has developed the assessment framework, provided technical analysis, and contributed much of the writing.

New focus on inequality and climate change

In Katowice SEI played a key role in leading the Civil Society Equity Review to focus attention on social inequality. In addition to its focus on climate equity and fair global cooperation, this year’s report also examined inequality within countries.

Extreme inequalities within countries are critically linked to the issue of climate change. The 2018 CSR report notes that “the widely differing capacities of countries are directly linked to real differences in human development outcomes such as infant mortality, malnutrition rates and life expectancy. Likewise, widely differing levels of national historical emissions are directly linked to differing levels of travel, fuel consumption, food consumption, access to electricity, and so on.”

“Unless all face up to their fair share of the global effort, we are heading for a three degree world caused mostly by the rich suffered mostly by the poor.”
—Tracy Carty, Climate Change Senior Policy Adviser, Oxfam – member of the CSR coalition

Building a growing coalition

The 2018 report was supported and endorsed by the largest number of civil society organizations yet, with more than 200 organizations signing on. Among the largest were Oxfam, WWF, Christian Aid, Climate Action Network, Friends of the Earth, Action Aid, the ecumenical ACT Alliance network, Care,, Third World Network, and Jubilee South Asia Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development.

The CSR coalition is bought together by a common belief that a robust and effective global response to the climate challenge will have to be widely seen as fair if it is to succeed. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) notes in its most recent assessment report, an agreement that is “seen as equitable can lead to more effective cooperation”. But, with the largely bottom-up regime codified in Paris, any effective process to ratchet up national-level ambition will require some means of reviewing the pledges on the bases of both science and equity.

Convening role

Given that in the coalition many groups hold important and legitimate differences of opinion on what exactly “fair” means, it was a major achievement to create a coalition that was able to able to converge on key issues, carry out analysis, assess countries climate commitments, campaign on common positions, and publish widely cited documents.

Through its convening role, SEI helped to catalyze cooperation and convergence between diverse groups in the coalition, generating dialogue between them and influencing the broader climate discourse.

SEI has pioneered engagement in climate equity for more than 15 years, first in the development of the Greenhouse Development Rights approach and later through its Climate Equity Reference Project. Through academic publications, analytical work and online tools, this work has widely influenced how equitable effort-sharing can be usefully assessed. And the process of building the CSR community has been underpinned by years of working with these civil society groups and building trust, by providing technical input, building capacity, informing strategy, and serving as technical experts in interactions with policy-makers.

SDG 13

Climate action

To meet ambitious climate targets we must transform our energy systems, how we use natural resources, and how we produce and consume goods and food. We must also adapt to climate impacts. SEI focuses on effective, equitable ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change for a safer climate for all.

SDG13 co-benefits. SDG13 is connected to SDGs 1, 3, 10 and 16.

Connecting to the SDGs

Equity in climate action is not a moral or academic nicety, but a practical necessity in meeting the Paris climate goals. It also interacts with other SDGs than climate action, including no poverty (SDG 1), good health and wellbeing (SDG 3), reduced inequalities (SDG 10), and peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16).