Response Measures: What Are They and Why Are They Important?

On December 4th, 2019, I sat in a meeting of the “Katowice Committee of Experts on the Impacts of the Implementation of Response Measures” (KCI) and for three hours, I listened to world leaders discuss colors. 

What exactly are “response measures,” and why are they a major strand of talks at COP25 in Madrid? 

In a broad sense, “response measures” refer to the wide range of actions countries should take to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and fulfill their commitments to the 2015 Paris Agreement. However, a long-standing issue, led by oil-producing nations like Saudi Arabia, is the need to fully understand the positive AND negative impacts of implementing response measures. 

Image from the Official UNFCCC Flickr Page.

The main purpose of the KCI has been to address the idea that oil-producing nations should be compensated for the decline in oil sales resulting from decarbonization. For many developing oil-producing nations, oil and gas account for nearly half of GDP. The concept of “just transition” has also been incorporated into the response measure conversation because helping workers in the fossil-fuel sector to transition to jobs in other sectors should be included in the six-year work plan to help shift countries to cleaner economies. 

What I witnessed in Madrid during a series of meetings on this topic was circular negotiating that would get stuck for hours on issues as simple as what color the edits to the report should be– a singular blue color, or a mix of three colors. Embedded in this disagreement was something deeper: clear lines being drawn with Saudi Arabia and a number of African nations on one side and Europe and other Global North countries on the other. This is unsurprising as many negotiations about important issues like Article 6, loss and damage, and NDC ambition faced similar challenges that delayed progress. 

Image from the Official UNFCCC Flickr Page.

Although stalled negotiations can be frustrating to both watch and participate in, critical conversations about a just transition should not be overlooked in lieu of expediency. Many countries facing dramatic losses in revenue when oil sales decline are also projected to disproportionately bear the harmful environmental impacts of climate change. They’re facing challenges from all sides– in ways many countries in the Global North are not. 

Since returning to the University of Michigan, I’ve found the KCI discussions on “response measures” particularly salient while leading discussions as a Graduate Student Instructor for Honors 230.010 Violent Environments: Oil, Development, and Discourses of Power. The tangled web of fossil fuels, development, and economics has many of my students questioning the viability of oil revenue-dependent countries if we suddenly reduce demand for oil. On the bright side, I can tell them decision-makers are discussing this issue. On the less-bright side, I also have to share that they’re having a hard time getting past hurdles that seem so simple to the average observer. 

In the second week of COP, after I had already returned home to the University of Michigan, I learned that a work plan was unenthusiastically agreed upon. It will be interesting to see how the KCI continues to incorporate justice into their transition work plan leading up to Glasglow and COP26.

Annalisa Wilder

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