This is lesson three of six on climate change. (CC)

Here are links to the other five:

Introduction and the Precautionary Principle:
Lesson 01-01, Lesson 01-02

Allocating Responsibility:
Lesson 02-01, Lesson 02-02

Agreements and Competing Values
Lesson 03-01, Lesson 03-02


Two primary questions impede international climate negotiations: Whose responsibility is it to act first? Whose carbon is it?

If we are to regulate emissions, somewhere along the supply chain a definitive account must be made of energy expenditures. If a stuffed toy is made in China and shipped to Switzerland for sale, how does the environmental cost get incorporated into the price?

Historically, the advanced Western industrial countries have consumed the greatest amount of the world's resources and released the most global warming emissions, but other large and rapidly developing nations are catching up. Does this historical gap confer greater responsibility on the Western nations to spearhead mitigation efforts? What responsibility do the new polluters have in a globalized world? Should they be allowed to develop first and clean up later, or be forced to do both simultaneously?


Read relevant lesson materials. Familiarity with historical trends and current levels of industrial pollution. Familiarity with the ethics of the polluter pays principle. Familiarity with the social discount rate. Familiarity with problems of intergenerational ethics.


A. In-Class Activities
Do: Discussion
Is the polluter pays principle being applied in domestic and international policy? Does it work? How can climate change solutions enhance the right to development, as designed by the United Nations? Where should we set the social discount rate so as to benefit future generations without incurring unnecessary harm in the present? Should developed countries clean up first, or should we encourage policies that will help developing nations leapfrog over dirty industrialization?

B. Assignments To Be Completed in Advance (0-2+ hours)
Polluter Pays Principle, Encyclopedia of the Earth

A brief overview of the history and rationale behind the polluter pays principle.

Contributions to Global Warming: Historic Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Fossil Fuel Combustion, 1900-1999, World Resources Institute (2001)

This map shows the historic contributions of the world's regions to global warming, with the United States and Europe representing 30.3 percent and 27.7 percent, respectively.

Scott Barrett, "Who Should Foot the Bill on Climate Change?" YaleGlobal Online (March 2, 2007)

Is it more cost-effective to invest in climate change mitigation in developing countries, or to develop new technologies in rich countries and give generous adaptation assistance to the developing world?

Declaration on the Right to Development, United Nations (December 4, 1986)


A. How can future generations be given a voice in today's policy debates?

B. How best to protect the right to development?

C. Economically where should we set the social discount rate to ensure fairness?

D. Given their historical contributions to global warming, should developed countries reduce emissions first even if it isn't the most cost-effective solution?


David Farber and Paul Hemmersbaugh, "The Shadow of the Future: Discount Rates, Later Generations, and the Environment," Vanderbilt Law Review 46: 267-304 (1993)

Hal Varian, "Recalculating the Costs of Global Climate Change," The New York Times (December 14, 2006)