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Research backgrounder: Climate change, equity, and stranded assets

International equity concerns around climate change have focused on the notion of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ as a means to ensure that developing countries do not shoulder an undue burden as the global economy is decarbonized.

While equity concerns have largely been dominated by questions of who should be allowed to consume hydro-carbons (and therefore produce Carbon Dioxide), the question of who should get to sell those hydrocarbons (and therefore benefit from their potential revenues) has been largely unaddressed. Given that preventing dangerous climate change will require that the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves should not be used, and should instead be left in the ground (thereby creating stranded assets) it is notable the question of equity and stranded assets has seen so little attention.

In order to address this lacuna, this paper explores six research questions aimed at advancing thinking on the issue of equity and stranded assets: i) Should the notion of common but differentiated responsibilities be expanded to include stranded assets? ii) Has there been any work to date that has explored the equity dimensions of stranded assets? iii) Do any of the existing policy tools for decarbonization take into account the equity dimensions of stranded assets? iv) By which determinants should countries be prioritized for preferential treatment in extracting their fossil fuel reserves? v) What would an equity approach to stranded assets mean for the current distinctions between annex I and annex II countries in the UNFCCC? vi) Would introducing the notion of equity around stranded assets pose risks for the UNFCCC process?

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