While the world's industrialised countries continue to hedge on carbon emission targets, a proposal from a coalition of environmental groups is gaining traction on how those targets should be calculated to break a rich-poor deadlock on who should cut more over the next decade.
Known as the Greenhouse Development Right (GDR) framework, the scheme weighs a country's rate of emissions combined with its wealth to determine an equitable means of emission cuts.
In so doing, the framework also assigns a financial obligation on rich countries to assist poorer nations in making deeper cuts and invest in climate change adaptation strategies.
For example, the US, which currently produces about 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, would be responsible for 32 per cent of reductions.
Thailand, which is responsible for about 1 per cent of emissions, would be responsible for 0.58 per cent of reductions.
Additionally, approximately 60 per cent of US reductions would come through payments to poorer nations like Thailand, which would then use such contributions to double its proportionately smaller share of emissions cuts.
Combined, the strategy aims to allow poorer nations to continue developing and contributing significantly to climate change reduction without severely burdening their emerging economies, said Tom Athanasiou of the US NGO EcoEquity at the Climate Justice Conference hosted last week by the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South.
"Global emissions are growing rapidly. Note that Thailand, with a high growth-rate, is a part of that problem," said the activist. "But the rights to economic development belong to individuals, not the nations. We have to treat luxury emissions differently from survival emissions. We are trying to propose what would be fair."
Athanasiou, along with representatives of UK-based Christian Aid, the Stockholm Environmental Institute and Green Party-affiliated Heinrich Boell Foundation of Germany, first introduced the plan at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali last year.
By December next year, countries are expected to come up with a new strategy - known as the post-Kyoto agreement - on what all countries need to do to tame global emissions within the levels scientists believe will preserve mankind's safety.
The GDR's framework quantifies national responsibility and capacity with the goal of providing a coherent, principle-based way to think about national obligations to pay for both mitigation and adaptation.
Capacity is the economic wealth available to be taxed above an established basic threshold of $7,500 (Bt250,000) per capita. Respon-sibility is based on the amount of carbon a country has been putting into the atmosphere.
The two numbers are combined to generate a country's "Responsibility Capacity Index" (RCI). Utilising this approach, the US is expected to hold the greatest financial capacity to address climate change issues, calculated at 29.1 per cent of the total.
Thailand with 46 per cent of its population meeting the $7,500 threshold, and emitting 10.7 tonnes of carbon per year, yields an RCI of 0.5 per cent.
Aree Wattana Tumma-koed, one of Thailand's principal climate change negotiators, found the proposal intriguing.
"It's interesting and certainly sounds more viable than the sector-based approach that many people are talking about," she said.
She said Japan is keen on a sector-based approach because it could easily export heavy carbon-emitted industries overseas.
Money from taxing the rich could be used to finance poorer nations to invest in clean energy technology, for example, to help them cut their emissions towards a more sustainable development path, Athanasiou added.
Campaigners from developing countries welcome the GDR concept, saying that while it includes them in the reduction equation, it does not overburden the poor, as those with low incomes are not factored into the "responsibility" calculations.
However, some cautioned that making the rich shoulder the costs for climate change might send mixed signals. "We don't want money from the rich, we want them to reduce their luxury emissions," said Chanida Chanyapaet, co-director of Focus on Global South. "Making the rich pay may give them the sense they are entitled to pollute because they are paying for it. They may not make the lifestyle changes necessary to tackle climate change."
Athanasiou noted the rich are unlikely to compromise their lifestyles, so they should be made to pay for their share.
He said Norway had already embraced the concept of its community paying more to help the poor maintain their rights to development.