In 2000, while he was a PhD student in the University of California–Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group, Baer co-founded EcoEquity, a self-described “activist think tank” focused on “political and theoretical work on climate solutions that are fair enough to actually work”.
Baer served as the group’s research director, and his friend Tom Athanasiou as director. Soon after, they began what would become a major collaboration with Sivan Kartha, of SEI-US, co-authoring numerous publications and developing tools that are now used across the globe.
In December 2004, at a side-event at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), they unveiled Greenhouse Development Rights (GDRs), an effort-sharing approach designed to put the principles of the Convention into practice.
GDRs starts from the premise that an “emergency global climate mobilization” is needed, but that just as important is to preserve the rights of all people “to reach a dignified level of sustainable human development free of the privations of poverty”. To achieve both goals together, it provides the tools to calculate each country’s relative responsibility for emissions to date and its capacity to fund mitigation. The goal is to find “a fair way of dividing up the effort” to tackle climate change.
Through a series of publications – most notably The Right to Development in a Climate Constrained World: The Greenhouse Development Rights Framework, first published in 2007 through the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and updated in 2009 – GDRs became one of the most widely cited approaches to equity and effort-sharing under the UNFCCC.
GDRs-based studies for Europe and several individual countries followed. Over time, the three co-authors – joined by SEI’s Eric Kemp-Benedict – adapted the framework into two online tools, the Climate Equity Reference Calculator and the Climate Equity Pledge Scorecard.
In 2014, they published a comprehensive report applying the tools to calculate countries’ “fair shares”, and last year, in the lead-up to the Paris Climate Change Conference, they applied the tools to the Civil Society Equity Review, which evaluated the ambition of countries’ pledges under what would become the Paris Agreement.
Yesterday, Athanasiou posted a heartfelt tribute to Baer on the EcoEquity website, prompting condolences from climate scientists, policy experts and activists around the world. As Timmons Roberts, of Brown University, wrote on Twitter: “We lost a giant in engaged research on #climatejustice this week.”
Michael Lazarus, director of SEI’s U.S. Center, shared the news with SEI staff yesterday, writing that “the world lost one of its more brilliant, committed, and gentle souls”.
Asked how he will remember his friend, Kartha wrote:
Paul was exceptional. He was one of my all-time most committed and brilliant colleagues. He was completely unbounded in his thinking. Who else had mixed philosophy, climate science, economics, and energy policy? Paul thought clearly, he wrote powerfully, he argued compellingly. He influenced my own thinking, I am sure, in more ways than I am even aware of, and was my close partner in the work that I am most proud of having done. He was quick to laugh, a giggle really. But just as quick to fume at the social injustices of the world, injustices that he sought through his work to combat. He will be sorely missed, by his friends, and by the community.