"User pays," "personal responsibility," "accountability," "no free lunch," words and phrases like these have become part of the modern political lexicon. We hear them used a lot but almost always in the context of denying someone something.
Unfortunately what's sauce of the goose is rarely sauce for the gander. We saw that in practice at the COP 19, climate change summit in Warsaw. That's where the little countries were looking for a little bit of that 'user pays, personal responsibility, accountability' from the rich countries.
You know what it's like. If your kid tosses a ball through your neighbour's window, it's on you to pay to have that window fixed. If you don't, you're a jerk.
That's pretty much what the little countries had in mind. We, the rich countries, are predominantly responsible for the past two centuries of greenhouse gas emissions which are causing such devastating impacts on the weakest, poorest and most vulnerable countries that tend to be closest to the equator. So they would like us to come up with the cash to repair their broken window. And, right now, the last thing we want to do is just that.
Rich countries are desperate to avoid taking the blame for the impacts of climate change on nations with a lot less money but an awful lot more to lose (like their entire country, for example).
More specifically, the developed countries won't let any statements slip into any UN climate document that could be used against them in the future.
But wait, there's more. You see it's not just that we don't want to pay for their broken window, we don't want to stop lobbing that ball around either. We don't want to talk about not breaking any more of their windows or anything else that might cramp our style.