Climatic Change

, Volume 124, Issue 1–2, pp 65–77 | Cite as

Do individuals care about fairness in burden sharing for climate change mitigation? Evidence from a lab experiment

  • Robert Gampfer


One of the reasons for deadlock in global climate policy is countries’ disagreement on how to share the mitigation burden. Normative theory suggests various fairness criteria for structuring burden sharing, most prominently, historical responsibility for emissions, economic capacity, and vulnerability to climate change. Governments have taken up these criteria in their rhetoric at UNFCCC negotiations. I examine whether normative criteria influence individual burden sharing preferences. This bottom-up perspective is important for two reasons. First, it is unknown if governments’ fairness rhetoric matches citizens’ actual preferences. Second, international climate agreements directly affect individuals through domestic policy measures (e.g. energy taxes), and therefore require domestic public support for successful implementation. I conducted two laboratory experiments where participants have to agree on how to share climate change mitigation costs in an ultimatum game. Treatment conditions include differences between proposer and responder in capacity, vulnerability (experiment 1), and historical emissions (experiment 2). Historical emissions are endogenously determined in a prior game. Capacity inequality strongly affects burden sharing, with richer players ending up paying more, and poorer players less. Vulnerability differences reduce the influence of fairness, leading to suggested cost distributions more unfavorable to vulnerable players. However, vulnerable responders still reject many “unfair” offers. Differences in historical responsibility result in cost distributions strongly correlated with players’ relative contributions to climate change. The results suggest that more nuanced consideration of fairness criteria in burden sharing could make ambitious climate agreements more acceptable for reluctant countries and their citizens.


Ultimatum Game Climate Risk Historical Responsibility Burden Sharing Fairness Criterion 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The research for this article was funded by the ERC Advanced Grant ‘Sources of Legitimacy in Global Environmental Governance’ (Grant: 295456). I wish to thank three anonymous reviewers, Thomas Bernauer, Jérémy Bouillet, Michel Bourban, Malcolm Fairbrother, Andreas Fischlin, Federica Genovese, Elisabeth Gsottbauer, Aya Kachi, Vally Koubi, Karine Nyborg, Christopher Weber, and Haibin Zhang for helpful comments on earlier versions of the paper. Brilé Anderson provided valuable research assistance, and Stefan Wehrli technical lab support.

Supplementary material

10584_2014_1091_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (342 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 341 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Comparative and International Studies and Institute for Environmental DecisionsETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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