Greenhouse Development Rights: A Proposal for a Fair Global Climate Treaty

Ethics, Place and Environment 12 (3):267-281 (2009)
Abstract
One of the core debates concerning equity in the response to the threat of anthropogenic climate change is how the responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should be allocated, or, correspondingly, how the right to emit greenhouse gases should be allocated. Two alternative approaches that have been widely promoted are, first, to assign obligations to the industrialized countries on the basis of both their ability to pay and their responsibility for the majority of prior emissions, or, second, to assign emissions rights on a equal per capita basis. Both these proposals ignore intra-national distributional equity. Instead, we develop a policy framework we call 'Greenhouse Development Rights' which allocates obligations to pay for climate policies on the basis of an individually quantified metric of capacity and responsibility . Crucially, the GDRs framework looks at the distribution of income within countries and treats people of equal wealth similarly, whatever country they live in. Thus even poor countries have obligations proportional to the size and wealth of their middle and upper classes, defined relative to a 'development threshold'. While this method nominally identifies the 'right to development' as applying to people, not countries, as a proposal for a treaty among sovereign nations, there is no obvious way to give legal meaning to that right. In this paper, then, we raise some of the philosophical and political questions that arise in trying to quantify capacity and responsibility and to use the 'right to development' as a principle for allocating costs.*
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