Ethics & International Affairs Volume 23.3 (Fall 2009): Features: Treaty Norms and Climate Change Mitigation [Full Text]

Sep 11, 2009

For a PDF version of this article, go to Wiley-Blackwell.

Currently the international community is discussing the regulatory framework to replace the Kyoto Protocol after 2012. This framework can be expected to establish enforceable constraints on greenhouse gas emissions deriving from developed countries and to establish norms—perhaps short of requirements—for emissions from developing and underdeveloped countries. At a 2007 Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), participating governments agreed on a roadmap, including the establishment of two ad hoc working groups.1 The Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action (the Working Group) is tasked with developing "a shared vision for long-term cooperative action, including a longterm global goal for emissions reductions." The plan also includes "measurable, reportable, and verifiable nationally appropriate mitigation commitments of action, including quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives, by all developed country Parties"; and "nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing country Parties in the context of sustainable development."2

The unveiling of the new regulatory framework is scheduled to occur at the December 2009 COP in Copenhagen. The stakes are high since any treaty will affect the development prospects of per capita poor countries and will determine the climate change–related costs borne by poor people for centuries to come. Failure to arrive at an agreement would have grave effects on the development prospects of poor countries, many of which will experience the most severe effects of climate change. The original UNFCCC treaty recognizes these kinds of concerns and requires that further treaty negotiation pay them heed. Any agreement will be required to conform to UNFCCC norms related to sustainable development and the equitable distribution of responsibilities. In this paper I argue that UNFCCC norms tightly constrain the range of acceptable agreements for the distribution of burdens to mitigate climate change. I conclude that any legitimate treaty must put much heavier mitigation burdens on industrialized countries. Of the various proposals that have received international attention, two in particular stand out as possibly satisfying UNFCCC norms regarding the distribution of responsibilities.

In the next section I discuss the relevant UNFCCC norms that serve to direct the demands of a legitimate climate treaty. These are norms established by the prior agreement of the original UNFCCC. Consequently, they have status in international law, and legitimacy requires their satisfaction; but by protecting policies that facilitate development in impoverished countries, they also serve the moral end of eradicating poverty. I then apply the UNFCCC norms to five plausible principles for distributing the burdens of climate change mitigation, and argue that the norms restrict the options to two, both of which require very deep CO2 emissions reductions on the part of rich industrialized countries. Finally, I discuss some of the threats to satisfying the UNFCCC norms that exist in the current negotiations for a post-Kyoto climate treaty.

UNFCCC NormsAt the dawn of the industrial revolution the atmospheric concentration of CO2 was about 280 parts per million (ppm).3 By 2005 this figure had reached 379 ppm.4 The contribution of increased concentrations of CO2 to climate change has been the subject of a broad international consensus for over twenty years. In 1988 the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 43/53,

noting with concern that the emerging evidence indicates that continued growth in atmospheric concentrations of "greenhouse" gases could produce global warming with an eventual rise in sea levels, the effects of which could be disastrous for mankind if timely steps are not taken at all levels.5

Since the 1992 drafting of the UNFCCC there has been an international consensus that:

human activities have been substantially increasing the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, that these increases enhance the natural greenhouse effect, and that this will result on average in an additional warming of the Earth's surface and atmosphere and may adversely affect natural ecosystems and humankind.6

The final clause of the UNFCCC affirms that the parties are "determined to protect the climate system for present and future generations."7

Article 2 of the UNFCCC states the treaty's goal as the "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system."8 There is much that could be said about how to identify the threshold of danger.9 Various temperature goals have been considered by climate experts, and it is not my objective here to adjudicate among these important disputes.10 For the purposes of this paper, however, two considerations are sufficient to favor the goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius.11 One is risk aversion. The prospect of saving millions of people from the miseries of disease, drought, and flooding must weigh heavily in any judgment of the temperature goal. The second is that the 2 degrees limit has significant international legitimacy. This goal has been endorsed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the European Union, the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ITUC), and several large NGOs, such as Christian Aid and Greenpeace.12 None of the proposals before the June Bonn meeting of the Working Group included temperature goals above a 2 degree increase. Little that is practically relevant will be gained by moral arguments about proposals that do not fall within the range of a broad international consensus.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), halting warming at 2 degrees probably requires stabilizing CO2 concentration levels in the range of 350 to 450 ppm, a very ambitious target.13 It is estimated that limiting concentrations within that range would require global CO2 emissions reductions of 50 to 85 percent below 2000 levels by 2050. As is well known, CO2 emissions are strongly correlated with economic activity and development. Unless additional mitigation strategies are adopted, emissions are projected to increase by an additional 40 to 110 percent between 2000 and 2030. Two-thirds to three-quarters of the increase is expected to come from increased emissions by developing countries, where economic growth is highest.14 The EU is committed to the goal of 20 percent reductions by 2020, and has expressed a willingness to commit to 30 percent. This is currently the most ambitious commitment to emissions reductions by any governing body, but even this might not be ambitious enough to achieve the 2 degree mid-century warming limit. Whether it is depends largely on climate sensitivity—that is, the measure of the degrees above pre-industrial levels of the average temperature of the earth, given a doubling of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. Some climate scientists argue that if the climate sensitivity is 3.5 degrees (only 0.5 degree higher than the IPCC's best estimate), achieving the 2 degree warming limit would require global emissions to decline to zero by 2020.15

The preamble to the UNFCCC affirms that "responses to climate change should be coordinated with social and economic development in an integrated manner with a view to avoiding adverse impacts on the latter, taking into full account the legitimate priority needs of developing countries for the achievement of sustained economic growth and the eradication of poverty." Furthermore, Article 3 states that "the Parties have a right to, and should, promote sustainable development."16 I call this norm the right to development. Insofar as the UNFCCC is the framework in which an international climate change treaty must be negotiated, no proposal can be legitimate that fails to observe the right to development. This right limits the range of acceptable treaties to those that do not prohibit macroeconomic policies directed toward rapid economic growth or make them too costly to pursue.

Three additional UNFCCC norms are important for the evaluation of the five principles of mitigation discussed below. These are equity and the requirements to recognize differentiated responsibilities and capabilities. Article 3 states that Parties must negotiate climate change policy "on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities."17 The language here is vague, but the distinction between responsibility and capability seems to involve distinguishing between agents who bring about an outcome and agents with the resources required to remediate the outcome.18 These three UNFCCC norms require assigning differential burdens to address the problems of climate change. In particular, insofar as CO2 emissions correlate with economic development, satisfying these requirements requires heavier burdens on industrialized developed countries.

Mitigation Principles I now consider the merits of four principles for the assignment of emissions reductions on the assumption that only a 50 percent reduction in global CO2 emissions from 2000 levels by 2050 is required to meet the goal of limiting temperature increase to 2 degrees.

1. Equal Burdens. Each state is required to reduce its emissions by a share of the burden of the overall emissions reductions that is equal to the burden of every other state.

The burden of mitigating climate change is a function of, among other things, the current level of emissions of a country. Thus, this principle endorses picking a historical baseline, such as the 1990 baseline stipulated by the Kyoto Protocol, and requiring countries to make differential reductions in accordance with that baseline. Broadly speaking, this is an approach endorsed by many developed countries that already have experience with conforming to the Kyoto Protocol and argue that the protocol can be strengthened and expanded. A proposal made by Australia to the Working Group contains several principles, one of which draws on the Equal Burdens approach: "All Parties should aim to undertake a similar level of effort to others at a similar level of development and with similar national circumstances."19

A version of Equal Burdens is defended by Martino Traxler, who argues that a treaty should equalize the burdens of emissions reductions—rather than the amount or percent of reductions—across states.20 Equalizing the burden is equivalent to equalizing the marginal disutility of compliance. In this way the proposal also maximizes utility, although Traxler does not defend it on that ground. Traxler's account of the proposal is expressed in terms of equalizing the opportunity costs of compliance, which amounts to the same thing as equalizing its marginal disutility. On the face of it, this is an attractive idea. If parties must carry a burden, and are guided by the idea of equality, it seems plausible that the burdens should be equalized, if all other things between parties are equal. The idea is that the opportunity that one party forgoes in sharing the burden should be no greater than the opportunity that another forgoes in sharing the burden.

To see how this would work, imagine the following simple scenario. Two people must share the burden of repairing the building in which they live. This costs $20. According to Traxler, their contribution should be based on the opportunities that each must forgo by contributing and, in particular, these forgone opportunities should be equalized. Millie is rich with $40 and Dolly is poor with $10. Due to her poverty, Dolly would forgo significant opportunities if she contributes more than $1. Suppose that the value to Dolly of her lost opportunities when she pays $1 is about equal to the value to Millie of her lost opportunities when she pays $19. Happily, then, they can agree to a distribution of burdens, which leaves Dolly with $9 and Millie with $21 after making the repairs. Such a distribution seems to respect the differentiated capacities of Millie and Dolly: From each according to her ability.

Traxler argues that the proposal is also attractive on important pragmatic grounds because it gives each state "no stronger reason to defect from doing its (fair) share than it gives any other."21 According to Traxler, the principle equalizes reasons for defection, if the following three conditions are met: (1) it is publicly known that each state is carrying a burden identical to that of every other; (2) cooperation and defection can be publicly monitored; and (3) each state is satisfied that the burdens are equal. As long as the accounting between Millie and Dolly is clear and they understand the equality of their burdens, neither has more reason to complain than the other.

Despite its attractiveness, this proposal contains significant moral and pragmatic problems. First, consider three moral problems. One is that the proposal assumes present holdings as the moral benchmark against which to equalize burdens. Present holdings establish present opportunities and therefore the opportunities that will be lost if the burden is carried. But if the background is one of injustice—if, that is, the holdings are not necessarily justly held—this benchmark loses its credibility. If, rather than paying for common provisions, Millie and Dolly are repaying a debt incurred by a crime they committed, it seems implausible to endow their present holdings with the moral authority to set their contribution levels. Perhaps, for example, Millie was far more involved in the crime and benefited much more from it. In the case of climate change mitigation, given the failure of states to reduce CO2 emissions over a twenty-year period despite the international consensus that this is necessary for the sake of future generations, it is not unreasonable to take current emissions as unjustly high in the aggregate. If it is the case that present emissions levels are generationally unjust, it is inappropriate to treat the current emissions levels of the various states as the unquestioned benchmark against which a burden is measured. In other words, under background conditions of injustice differentiated rather than equalized, burdens might appropriately play a role in establishing payment.

There is another related moral problem with the proposal, one that Traxler is aware of. Equal Burdens can in principle weigh the losses of luxuries to the rich more heavily than the losses of essentials to the poor. For example, this approach is generally solicitous of rich state spending on such matters as health care research for restoring hair loss or erasing facial wrinkles, precisely because such research is very expensive. If opportunities lost are measured by their market value, then the loss of funds for cosmetic research could amount to greater opportunities forgone than the loss of funds for the provision of primary medical care, even if we take into consideration decreasing marginal utility. Equalizing opportunity costs, then, could in principle require poor countries to forgo comparatively inexpensive essentials, rather than requiring rich countries to forgo expensive luxuries. There is no guarantee, therefore, that the proposal respects the right to development.

As mentioned above, Traxler is aware of this problem. He responds by asserting that a non-welfarist conception of well-being, such as Amartya Sen's capability conception, could be employed instead of the market value of the opportunity cost, and that some such non-welfarist conception could be agreed upon in international negotiations.22 The idea, presumably, would be to equalize the marginal loss of average (non-welfarist) well-being across states participating in the mitigation scheme. For example, a proponent of this view could claim that burdens are equal if they result in equal marginal losses to a country's Human Development Index (HDI).23 But it is implausible to believe that equality is best served by Sierra Leone, in last place in the 2007–08 HDI rankings, losing an HDI value equal to that of first-ranked Iceland.24 Further, this implausibility also casts doubt on the larger project of seeking to equalize marginal losses to well-being among highly unequal parties. The problem in the example is not the particular measure used (the HDI), but that desperately poor parties should be subject to losses of well-being, however construed, that are equal to those incurred by very rich parties.

Finally, the third moral problem with Equal Burdens builds on the concerns of the preceding argument. The principle requires all countries, even underdeveloped ones, to share some part of the burden (it is, after all, burdens that are equalized) of reducing CO2 emissions. But the point of asserting a right to development is that it would be unfair to ask poor countries to pay costs that would stall development in order to maintain more privileged lifestyles in developed countries. In order to permit development in poor countries and achieve the 50 percent reduction in overall emissions, states with a high degree of social and economic development will have to reduce their emissions by much more than 50 percent in order to allow for both lesser reductions in developing countries and even increases in emissions in the least developed countries.25

For the least developed countries, given the relatively high costs of cleaner sources of electricity, there is no realistic path to social and economic development other than by means that include increased CO2 emissions. Driven by economic and population growth, total electricity consumption in non-OCED countries is projected to double between 2005 and 2050, and with this comes increased CO2 emissions.26 Indeed, electricity consumption is essential for human development. The UNDP Human Development Report 2007/2008 notes that the indoor pollution caused by the burning of wood and animal dung—because of a lack of electricity—results in 1.5 million deaths per year, mostly children under the age of five, exceeding the number of annual deaths from malaria and rivaling those from tuberculosis.27 The report continues, "Electrification is often associated with advances in health status. For example, in Bangladesh, rural electrification is estimated to increase income by 11 percent—and to avert 25 child deaths for every 1000 households connected."28 A principle that does not permit emissions increases in many of the poorest countries, therefore, is incompatible with the right to development. Equalizing marginal losses to well-being, however measured, is incompatible with allowing some countries to increase their emissions.

Let us now consider the pragmatic advantages that Traxler attributes to his proposal. Recall that he argues that no state would have greater reason than any other to defect if (1) it is publicly known that each state is carrying a burden identical to that of every other, (2) cooperation and defection can be publicly monitored, and (3) each state is satisfied that the burdens are equal. But the first and third of these conditions seem exceedingly hard to satisfy in light of the moral problems presented above. If there is significant controversy over what constitutes human well-being, then it is unlikely to be widely agreed publicly that states are sharing equal marginal losses to their average well-being, and it is unlikely that states themselves will be satisfied that they are experiencing equal losses. Moreover, relying on international negotiations in a world marked by huge inequalities in wealth and power seems like an unreliable way to arrive at a noncontroversial measure of well-being. Hence, Equal Burdens is implausible on both moral and pragmatic grounds.

2. Polluter Pays. Each state is required to reduce its emissions in proportion to its historic contribution to the global excess in emissions.

The "Negotiating Text" prepared by the Chair of the Working Group presents several principles for the distribution of the burdens of mitigation for negotiation purposes. Polluter Pays is represented by option 5.1, which calls for a reduction of emissions on the basis of historical responsibility.29 The distinguishing feature of this principle is that it assigns responsibility for emissions reduction in proportion to fault. There is considerable prima facie plausibility to a fault-based principle. In part this is due to the existence of the UNFCCC norm of differentiated responsibility. But the plausibility of the norm goes deeper than its conventional recognition. The idea that recent and present generations are at fault for exceeding sustainable emissions seems plausible, given that there has been international consensus going back to General Assembly Resolution 43/53 (1988) that emissions reductions are needed. But overall emissions have continued to grow. If it seems plausible that fault is appropriate generally, then it is also plausible that a proportional division of fault is appropriate.

Polluter Pays, however, distributes the burden of emissions reductions without any distribution of permissions for emissions increases. Where there is no significant contribution to the problem, presumably emissions reductions would be zero—but there would be no positive allotment for emissions growth, either. As I argued above with respect to Equal Burdens, a principle that does not permit emissions growth in underdeveloped states is incompatible with the right to development. This, then, renders Polluter Pays unsatisfactory.

It is worth considering whether a modified version of Polluter Pays—one that provides permission for poor countries to emit in the process of development—might be more acceptable. One version of such a principle is as follows:

3. Modified Polluter Pays. Each state that is required to reduce its emissions must reduce them in proportion to its historic contribution to the global excess in emissions, and the overall reduction required of each of these states is sufficient to offset emissions increases by poorer states.

This principle has several advantages. It seems to conform to all three UNFCCC norms requiring respect for the right to development and assigning burdens on the basis of differentiated responsibility and capability. It therefore merits serious consideration.

The question to consider with respect to Modified Polluter Pays is whether there is a non-ad hoc way to make the distinction between states that must reduce and states whose emissions may grow. The Kyoto Protocol does this by distinguishing between Annex-1 and non-Annex-1 countries as developed in UNFCCC.30 In order to allow subsequent admission into the Annex-1 group, so as to include more countries in the group required to make reductions after they achieve a threshold of development, Modified Polluter Pays might be understood as requiring countries to begin reducing once they reach the level of per capita emissions of the Annex-1 country with the least per capita emissions. But that seems arbitrary insofar as it is development that Modified Polluter Pays is meant to allow, not emissions for the sake of emissions. Instead, then, perhaps the principle could be understood as permitting countries unlimited emissions until they reach the UNDP's threshold of "high human development," which is an HDI of 0.800. As of the 2008 report this group consisted of seventy countries, a much larger set than the thirty-eight Annex-1 countries.31 In other words, the suggestion would be to assign all of the reductions to members of the high human development group, and allow unchecked emissions in those countries outside of this group. But this second suggestion encounters two problems. First, it departs from the original motivation for the proposal to assign reductions on the basis of fault. For example, Brazil, ranked 70 with an HDI of 0.800, just makes it into the high human development group. But Brazil's total and per capita emissions of CO2 are comparatively low; in 2005 they were 360.57 mmt (million metric tons) and 1.94 mt (metric tons) respectively. Second, the suggestion suffers from the defect of false nonarbitrariness. After all, why draw the line between high and medium human development at the index of 0.800 rather than 0.799? These two considerations compound when we compare Brazil to St. Lucia. With an HDI of 0.795 and a rank of 72, St. Lucia is nearly at the top of the medium human development group but has higher per capita CO2 emissions, 2.22, than Brazil. Or compare Brazil to China, which is also near the top of the medium development group, with an HDI of 0.777 and a rank of 81, but has the highest total emissions in the world.

It seems unlikely that any principle that would distinguish the states that must reduce their emissions from those whose emissions may grow—in order to permit development—can survive the charge of being ad hoc if the point is to assign responsibility for reductions on the basis of fault. This has both moral and pragmatic implications. Insofar as the principle would assign development benefits and burdens arbitrarily, it contains an injustice. Moreover, insofar as it is reasonably suspected of doing this it will be unable to serve well as the basis of an international agreement among parties that are willing to accept burdens only if they are part of a just overall commitment to global reductions. Despite the initial promise of Modified Polluter Pays, the principle seems unlikely to be able to overcome the charge of being ad hoc when it comes to making its crucial distinction between those states that are allowed to increase emissions and those that are required to reduce them.

4. Equal Shares. Each state is required to reduce its emissions to the level that is attained by multiplying its 2050 forecasted population by the average per capita emission permissible given the global reduction required.

This principle has been championed by several NGOs, including the Centre for Science and the Environment and the Global Commons Institute.32 In the "Negotiating Text" prepared by the Chair of the Working Group, Equal Shares is included as option 5.2.33 When assigning per capita burdens one can avoid the incentive for states to increase their populations in order to increase total emissions allotment by indexing the allotment to the population at a particular year. Peter Singer argues sensibly that the year should be approximately fifty years in the future rather than the present or the recent past so as not to place heavier burdens on states that presently have populations that are younger than average (something that cannot now be changed by policy) and can therefore be expected to grow more quickly.34 For this reason I use the projected global population in 2050.

Assigning burdens on an equal per capita basis is a plausible interpretation of what equality requires with respect to the use of a common resource to which no one can claim a natural or preexisting individual entitlement. I argue below that it also goes further toward satisfying the norms of the UNFCCC than the other principles discussed. In addition, it has pragmatic appeal, for it undercuts the claims that a state is being asked to take on heavier responsibilities than others.

The per capita amount is the product of halving the year 2000 total emissions and dividing that by the projected 2050 global population. This number is then multiplied by the projected population of a given state to get its total emissions allotment. The U.S. Census Bureau projects the global population in 2050 to be 9,538,988,263.35 Half the total CO2 emissions for 2000 is 11,875.51 mmt CO2. Using these numbers, the 2050 average per capita CO2 emissions should be 1.24 mt CO2. (I use 2000 as the reference year for reductions simply to conform to the analysis of the IPCC's "Fourth Assessment Report.")

In light of the criticisms I have pressed against Equal Burdens and Polluter Pays, the demands of Equal Shares on developing and underdeveloped countries must be assessed. What sort of permission for increased emissions does a 1.24 mt CO2 per capita limit establish? Consider the example of Bangladesh, mentioned above. The 2005 per capita emissions for Bangladesh were 0.28 mt CO2.36 A 1.24 mt CO2 per capita limit would allow for per capita emissions in Bangladesh in 2050 that were 4.5 times those of 2005. The 2005 per capita CO2 emissions for India were 1.07 mt.37 India would, then, be allowed just under a 20 percent emissions increase between 2005 and 2050. But several developing countries would be required to reduce their emissions by 2050. Brazil's 2005 emissions were 1.94 mt CO2; St. Lucia's were 2.22 mt CO2; and China's were 4.07 mt CO2, over three times the limit allowed by 2050.38 The biggest hits, of course, go to those states in which per capita CO2 emissions are now comparatively high. The United States' 2005 per capita emissions were 20.14 mt CO2. According to these requirements, the United States would have to reduce its emissions by nearly 94 percent by 2050.

Insofar as CO2 emissions strongly correlate with wealth production, by assigning the biggest reductions to the largest per capita producers, Equal Shares can plausibly be seen as conforming to the norms of both differentiated responsibility and capability. Moreover, to the extent that it gives permission to increase emissions to states that are below the 2050 per capita requirements, it accommodates, in part at least, the right to development.

The requirement that some states carry out large emissions reductions from year 2000 levels by 2050 is somewhat softened by three considerations. First, scenarios for the stabilization of CO2 concentrations do not require immediate global CO2 emissions reductions in all states. Global emissions must, however, peak by about 2015, according to IPCC scenarios of keeping warming under 2 degrees. Second, Equal Shares is consistent with a market in emissions permits. States for which it would be more efficient to emit less than their target and sell the remaining entitlement could be permitted to do so to states for which it would be more cost-effective to purchase the entitlement than to cut emissions more. Since CO2 dissipates uniformly in the atmosphere, it is appropriate to attend to meeting the global reduction target rather than the target of any individual state, and a trading scheme is consistent with that. For underdeveloped states with very low per capita emissions, such sales could be a major source of revenue. Third, since the goal is a global reduction, it could be permissible for states to earn credit against their target by investing abroad in a way that lowers emissions elsewhere, as long as this reduction is not double counted as reduction both for the investing and host country. Such institutional mechanisms also augment the capacity of Equal Shares to satisfy the right to development.

Beyond a 50 Percent Global ReductionThis analysis of the demands of Equal Shares in conjunction with a 2 degree warming limit is based on the optimistic assumption that such a limit requires "only" a 50 percent global reduction in emissions. In fact, the IPCC's projected reduction range for that warming limit extends as high as 85 percent. The IPCC associates an 85 percent reduction in emissions with an atmospheric concentration target of 350 ppm. Recently, James Hansen has argued the 350 ppm target is the most realistic one "to maintain the climate to which humanity, wildlife, and the rest of the biosphere are adapted."39 An 85 percent reduction of year 2000 emissions, divided by the 2050 projected population, yields a per capita emissions limit of 0.37 mt CO2. All of the forty countries with per capita emissions below this limit in 2000 were in the bottom half of the UNDP's Human Development Index.40 It is doubtful, then, that Equal Shares could satisfy the UNFCCC norm of a right to development if meeting the goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees requires an overall emissions reduction of 85 percent. In that case Equal Shares would require emissions reductions of 99 percent in the United States, 65 percent in India, 81 percent in Brazil, and 91 percent in China by mid-century.

If avoiding dangerous climate change requires limiting warming to 2 degrees, and if meeting that limit requires reducing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 by more than would be achieved by means of a 50 percent emissions reduction, then in order to satisfy the UNFCCC norm of a right to development even greater reductions of CO2 emissions must be made by developed industrialized countries. In light of this, it is useful to consider a fifth principle, proposed by Paul Baer, Tom Athanasiou, Sivan Kartha, and Eric Kemp-Benedict. The goal of this principle is to keep atmospheric concentrations of CO2 under 420 ppm, based on the assumption that doing so requires a reduction of emissions of 80 percent below 1990 levels.41

5. Greenhouse Development Rights. Each state is assigned an emissions entitlement that is a function of both its responsibility (taken to be its total emissions minus the total of those arising from productive activity under a development threshold) and its capacity (understood as its aggregate income minus the aggregate of people below a development threshold).

My statement of the Greenhouse Development Rights principle is deliberately general. In contrast, its authors advocate a specific development threshold, a particular time period for assessing responsibility for emissions, and a weight for both responsibility and capacity. They take the development threshold to be a personal annual income of $7,500, the time period of responsibility to be 1990 to 2005 (which corresponds approximately to the time during which emissions grew after international recognition of the dangers of climate change), and the weight of responsibility and capacity to be equal. The general framework can, however, accommodate different amounts for the development threshold, modifications to the time frame, and alternative weightings of the other two factors. I shall refer, however, to the authors' specific interpretation of the principle simply as the Greenhouse Development Rights principle. I believe that the Greenhouse Development Rights principle merits serious consideration, including an assessment of the general framework independent of the authors' specific interpretation, but that assessment is beyond the purposes of this paper.

The product of multiplying the responsibility factor by the capacity factor (in both cases minus the portion of the population below the development threshold) is the Responsibility-Capacity Index (RCI), or the share, as a percent of the total, that each state must contribute to the required global emissions reduction. The principle assigns the United States an RCI of 33.1 for 2010, decreasing to 25.5 by 2030; for China the respective numbers are 5.5 and 15.2; for India 0.5 and 2.3.42 Because the principle employs an index that explicitly includes judgments of responsibility and capacity, it provides a possible interpretation of the UNFCCC norms of differentiated responsibilities and capacities.

The chief virtue of Greenhouse Development Rights is that, by means of subtracting the development threshold from both the capacity and responsibility factors, it is capable of satisfying both the UNFCCC norm of the right to development and the 2 degree warming limit, even if the latter requires overall reductions larger than 50 percent. Of course, it accommodates both of these desiderata by requiring even larger emissions reductions in rich industrialized countries than Equal Shares requires. While China is allowed to increase its emissions nearly threefold above 1990 levels by 2030, and India nearly three-andone- half-fold, the United States is required to reduce its emissions by 120 percent from its 1990 levels, and the European Union is required to reduce by nearly 140 percent. The practical force of the negative emissions requirement is that the United States and EU must steeply reduce their domestic emissions and contribute to emissions reductions in other countries in order to achieve their total emissions reductions requirements.

The demands on rich industrialized countries are especially onerous. If, however, there is sufficient reason to believe that a 50 percent global emissions reduction is inadequate for remaining within the 2 degree warming limit, then the reductions required by the Equal Shares principle to remain within that limit will not likely satisfy the right to development. Another alternative would be an international agreement relaxing the 2 degree threshold in order to allow rich industrialized countries to emit more CO2. For example, the IPCC projects that global warming might be kept below 3 degrees by global emissions in the range of 30 percent less to 5 percent more than 2000 levels.43 Some may believe that an international agreement should simply be purchased at the price of increasing the warming limit. But a climate treaty based on a higher limit, say 3 degrees, is also more permissive of the risks caused by warming, which may include the suffering and deaths of millions of people due to river flooding and sea-level rise, hunger and famine due to droughts, and increased incidence of tropical disease. Such events befalling developing and underdeveloped countries would constitute serious human development setbacks. Consequently, if a 50 percent global reduction is insufficient, there may be no way for an agreement to satisfy the right to development without making very heavy demands on rich industrialized states.

Threats to the UNFCCC NormsAchieving agreement on a plan that includes specific reductions from specific countries will be extremely difficult. The United States has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and has per capita emissions of over 20 mt CO2. Meanwhile, China's economy is growing rapidly, and it is achieving remarkable development gains. Although China's per capita emissions are currently only about 25 percent of the United States', they are continually increasing.

The proposals for an emissions reduction regime that the Working Group could make seem to fall into one of three categories: (A) a regime that is sufficiently demanding of global reductions to be reasonably likely to satisfy the norm of avoiding dangerous climate change, but that is insufficiently permissive of emissions in underdeveloped and developing countries to satisfy the right to development; (B) a regime that is sufficiently demanding of global reductions to be reasonably likely to satisfy the norm of avoiding dangerous climate change, and that is sufficiently permissive of emissions in underdeveloped and developing countries to satisfy the right to development; and (C) a regime that is sufficiently permissive of emissions in underdeveloped and developing countries to satisfy the right to development, but that is insufficiently demanding of global reductions to be reasonably likely to satisfy the norm of avoiding dangerous climate change.

Two aspects of the conditions of the richest countries lend them strategic bargaining advantages that could make an agreement on a proposal of type (A) seem most likely. These are their geographic location and their greater capacity to fund adaptation. The greatest human suffering caused by climate change is projected to occur in poor countries, not the wealthiest.44 Moreover, the richest countries have much greater means to implement infrastructural plans for adapting to climate change. Wealthy countries might then decide that it is in their interest to forgo a strong international agreement and spend on adaptation instead—or at least to pose the credible threat of doing so. Such threats could make weaker and poorer countries more willing to accept a type (A) proposal. Such reasoning might explain the United States' resistance to joining Kyoto and its aversion to binding emissions limits at the 2007 UNFCCC talks in Bali.

In contrast to this sober analysis, there may be reason for hope. As long as the countries of the developed world see the value of reaching an effective mitigation agreement, they will be eager to draw in the countries of the developing world, especially those with large and quickly growing economies producing a great deal of CO2. This gives at least some developing countries more bargaining power than they would have in international negotiations over policies in which their participation is less needed. The Annex-1 countries, for example, need the participation of China for there to be any meaningful path toward a global emissions reduction. Some observers take this to be a reason for optimism that an agreement on a proposal of type (B) could be achieved.45 According to the optimists, climate change fundamentally alters global power relations, making realistic the possibility of more just global institutions.

This hopeful conclusion is not, however, the only one that could be drawn from the analysis above. One reason for tempering optimism derives from a structural feature of the negotiations, which by metaphysical necessity renders members of distant future generations unable to veto proposals of type (C). But representatives of states that would be made to carry significant burdens are at the table to veto proposals of type (A) and (B).46 Given the heavy global burden of the proposals most likely to avert dangerous climate change, there might be significant pressure on the Working Group to produce a proposal of type (C). Indeed, the threats to both global and intergenerational justice that a type (C) agreement poses could well be the ones that we should guard most against. If the negotiators pursue the interests of their populations within a fairly limited time horizon, there may be considerable pressure toward an agreement of this type. On the other hand, a lively sense of justice in the minds of citizens in countries in which the popular will can be given voice could produce sufficient pressure on the negotiators for them to change their understanding of their role to include serving the interests of future generations.

I am indebted to Michael Pendlebury and two anonymous referees of this journal for comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Versions of this paper were presented to the Philosophy Department at North Carolina State University, the seminar on Political Economy and Contemporary Social Issues at Columbia University, and the Institute for Health and Social Policy at McGill University. I would like to thank the organizers of these talks for inviting me to present and the audiences for enriching my thinking by means of their comments and criticisms. My thinking about this subject also benefited from discussions with Paul Baer and Sivan Kartha concerning their greenhouse development rights proposal. I would also like to acknowledge that I received partial support from San Diego State University for the leave time that I enjoyed while writing this paper. It was written while I was a member of the School of Social Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Studies and supported by a stipend from the Friends of the Institute for Advanced Studies. I am very grateful to both the Institute and the Friends for their support.


1 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), "Report of the Conference of the Parties on its thirteenth session, held in Bali from 3 to 15 December 2007," Addendum, Decision 1/CP/13 (accessed October 21, 2008).
2 Ibid., p. 3.
3 "Parts per million" in this context is the ratio of the number of greenhouse gas molecules to the total number of molecules of air.
4 See Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), "Summary for Policymakers," in S. Solomon et al., eds., Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution ofWorking Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 2 (accessed October 15, 2008).
5 United Nations General Assembly, Resolution 43/53, 1988, "Protection of Global Climate for Present and Future Generations of Mankind" (accessed October 15, 2008).
6 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 1992 (accessed October 15, 2008).
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid., art. 2.
9 Compare Darrel Moellendorf, "A Normative Account of Dangerous Climate Change" (unpublished).
10 Stephen H. Schneider and Janica Lane discuss mitigation under 3.5 degrees Celsius as the goal in their "An Overview of 'Dangerous' Climate Change," in Hans Joachim Schellnhuber et al., eds., Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 7–24. Yu. A. Izrael and S. M. Semenov advocate a goal of 2.5 degrees in their "Critical Levels of Greenhouse Gases, Stabilization Scenarios, and Implications for the Global Decisions," in the same volume, pp. 73–79.
11 Throughout this paper, "degrees" is used in reference to degrees Celsius.
12 For the EU's view, see Commission of the European Communities, "Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Limiting Global Climate Change to 2 Degrees Celsius, The Way Ahead for 2020 and Beyond," October 1, 2007 (accessed May 4, 2009). For the United Nations Development Programme's advocacy of this goal, see their Human Development Report 2007/2008 (accessed December 15, 2008). See also the 2008 WIDER lecture, "The Climate Challenge," by UNDP head Kemal Dervis (accessed October 16, 2008). The ITUC's endorsement of the 2 degree limit is found in its submission to the Working Group (accessed May 25, 2009). Christian Aid's position is discussed at here (accessed February 2, 2009). Greenpeace endorses the 2 degree limit in its proposal to the Working Group (accessed May 25, 2009).
13 IPCC, "Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report: Summary for Policymakers," pp. 20–21 (accessed October 15, 2008).
14 IPCC, "Summary for Policymakers," in B. Metz et al., eds., Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 4 (accessed October, 15 2008).
15 For the claim that emissions must be reduced to zero, see Jae Edmonds and Steven J. Smith, "The Technology of Two Degrees," in Schellnhuber et al., eds., Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change, p. 388.
16 UNFCCC (see note 7).
17 Ibid.
18 The first norm seems to be applying to states what Tony Honor'e refers to as outcome responsibility, "being responsible for the good and harm we bring about by what we do." See his Responsibility and Fault (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 1999), p. 14.
19 "Title of the Post-2012 Agreement" (accessed May 28, 2009).
20 Martino Traxler, "Fair Chore Division for Climate Change," Social Theory and Practice 28 (2002), pp. 101–34. Traxler's principle of burden equalization in eschewing equalizing percentages of CO2 reductions is distinct from John Stuart Mill's principle of equality of sacrifice in taxation, which holds that people should be taxed at equal rates. See John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy, Pt. II, Bk. V, chap. II: "Setting out, then, from the maxim that equal sacrifices ought to be demanded from all, we have next to inquire whether this is in fact done, by making each contribute the same percentage on his pecuniary means." Mill contends that generally it is so done. I am indebted to an anonymous referee for alerting me to Mill's discussion. The Mill text is available in The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume III (1848; accessed April 25, 2009).
21 Traxler, "Fair Chore," p. 129.
22 Ibid., p. 133.
23 The Human Development Index was developed by the United Nations Development Programme under the guidance of Sen's capabilities framework. It assesses average human well-being within states by combining measures of income, health, and education. The UNDP's Measuring Human Development: A Primer is available here (accessed October 21, 2008). 24 The 2007–2008 Human Development Index rankings are available here (accessed October 21, 2008).
25 This is a basic moral point made admirably clear by Henry Shue in "Subsistence Emissions and Luxury Emissions," Law and Policy 15 (1993), pp. 39–59.
26 United States Energy Information Administration (USEIA) data (accessed December 9, 2008).
27 UNDP, Human Development Report 2007/2008, p. 45.
28 Ibid.
29 Chair, Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action Under the Convention, "Negotiating Text," p. 9 (accessed May 25, 2009).
30 Annex-1 countries are the countries indentified by the Kyoto Protocol as having a responsibility to reduce emissions. These are only countries of the developed world.
31 UNDP, Human Development Report 2007/2008, pp. 229–32.
32 See the Centre for Science and the Environment and the Global Commons Institute. The view is defended in Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain, Global Warming in an Unequal World: A Case of Environmental Colonialism (New Delhi: Centre for Science and the Environment, 1991), and in Tom Athanasiou and Paul Baer, Dead Heat: Global Justice and Global Warming (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002). The principle has received some, but not a great deal of, philosophical attention. See, e.g., Dale Jamieson, "Climate Change and Global Environmental Justice," in Clark A. Miller and Paul N. Edwards, eds., Changing the Atmosphere: Expert Knowledge and Environmental Governance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 287–307; and Peter Singer, One World: The Ethics of Globalization (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002), pp. 14–50.
33 Chair, Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action Under the Convention, "Negotiating Text" (see note 30).
34 Singer, OneWorld, p. 36.
35 U.S. Census Bureau, "International Data Base" (accessed October 20, 2008).
36 USEIA data.
37 USEIA data.
38 Ibid.
39 James Hansen et al., "Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?" p. 13 (accessed January 30, 2009).
40 For the year 2000 per capita emissions, see USEIA data. For the UNDP Human Development Index, see Statistics: Human Development Reports (accessed October 22, 2008).
41 SeePaul Baer et al., The Greenhouse Development Rights Framework: The Right to Development in a Climate Constrained World, 2nd ed. (Berlin: Heinrich Böll Foundation, Christian Aid, EcoEquity, and the Stockholm Environment Institute, 2008; accessed December 9, 2008.) This is a particularly important proposal in virtue of its explicit attempt to satisfy the three UNFCCC norms that I have been employing.
42 Ibid., p. 55.
43 IPCC, "Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report: Summary for Policymakers," pp. 20–21.
44 This is well documented in the UNDP's Human Development Report 2007/2008. See note 14 and in the IPCC's "Fourth Assessment Report." See "IPCC, 2007: Summary for Policymakers," in M. L. Parry et al., eds., Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007; accessed May 27, 2009). But for another report, see the World Health Organization's submission to the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action (accessed May 27, 2009).
45 See, e.g., Athanasiou and Baer, Dead Heat.
46 Stephen M. Gardiner has perspicaciously analyzed this intergenerational collective action problem in a set of papers. See his "The Real Tragedy of the Commons," Philosophy & Public Affairs 30, no. 4 (2001), pp. 387–416; and "The Global Warming Tragedy and the Dangerous Illusion of the Kyoto Protocol," Ethics & International Affairs 18, no. 1 (2004), pp. 23–39.

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