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Perspective has a strong effect on the calculation of historical contributions to global warming

Ragnhild Bieltvedt Skeie, Jan S. Fuglestvedt, Terje K. Berntsen, Glen Peters, Robbie Andrew, Myles Allen, Steffen Kallbekken

The politically contentious issue of calculating countries' contributions to climate change is strongly dependent on methodological choices. Different principles can be applied for distributing efforts for reducing human-induced global warming. According to the 'Brazilian Proposal', industrialized countries would reduce emissions proportional to their historical contributions to warming. This proposal was based on the assumption that the political process would lead to a global top-down agreement. The Paris Agreement changed the role of historical responsibilities. Whereas the agreement refers to equity principles, differentiation of mitigation efforts is delegated to each country, as countries will submit new national contributions every five years without any international negotiation. It is likely that considerations of historical contributions and distributive fairness will continue to play a key role, but increasingly so in a national setting. Contributions to warming can be used as a background for negotiations to inform and justify positions, and may also be useful for countries' own assessment of what constitutes reasonable and fair contributions to limiting warming. Despite the fact that the decision from COP21 explicitly rules out compensation in the context of loss and damage, it is likely that considerations of historical responsibility will also play a role in future discussions. However, methodological choices have substantial impacts on calculated contributions to warming, including rank-ordering of contributions, and thus support the view that there is no single correct answer to the question of how much each country has contributed. There are fundamental value-related and ethical questions that cannot be answered through a single set of calculated contributions. Thus, analyses of historical contributions should not present just one set of results, but rather present a spectrum of results showing how the calculated contributions vary with a broad set of choices. Our results clearly expose some of the core issues related to climate responsibility.

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