Emission budget approaches for burden sharing: some thoughts from an environmental economics point of view


In this paper, we examine budget approaches as a device for burden sharing in mitigating climate change. The purpose of this comment is twofold: First, we provide an overview over the general concept of budget approaches and investigate into the role of such approaches within the current climate negotiations. Second, as these approaches have an obvious normative dimension, we discuss some of the issues raised by Schuppert and Seidel (2015) in this Special Issue from the stance of an environmental economist. We highlight that budget approaches may serve as a tool to communicate the urgency of action against climate change and to remind representatives from industrialized countries of their responsibility in the historical sense as well as in terms of ability-to-pay. This even holds when the allocation of national emission shares is based on relatively easy-to-calculate sharing rules that can potentially serve as normative heuristics.

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  1. 1.

    As justice considerations within the field of adaptation to climate are covered in other contributions to this Special Issue, the following exclusively focuses on aspects of mitigation.

  2. 2.

    See Fleurbaey et al. (2014) for an overview.

  3. 3.

    For the time being, the current round of the Kyoto Protocol represents a rather small coalition, including almost all European countries, Australia and Kasachstan (UNFCCC 2011).

  4. 4.

    Note that even a warming of 2 °C cannot be regarded as “safe” (e.g., WBGU 2009), as even with temperature increases below that threshold, there exists a positive probability of catastrophic events. The 2 °C guard rail is hence rather a scientifically bolstered red line (e.g., Richardson et al. 2009; Allison et al. 2009; IPCC 2013), which was politically accepted by the international community, within the so-called Copenhagen Accord, as the main objective of global mitigation efforts (UNFCCC 2010). The German Advisory Council on Global Change, the proposal of which is controversially discussed in Schuppert and Seidel (2015), proposed already in the 1990s to limit global temperature increase to 2 °C (WBGU 1995) to reduce the risk of dangerous effects on the climate system, which would put significant stress on contemporary societies.

  5. 5.

    A similar text is proposed for paragraphs 13.2 b) and 16.1.

  6. 6.

    The remaining years are counted from 2015 onwards, with the emissions between 2011 and 2015 already being subtracted.

  7. 7.

    The maximin principle, derived in this strand of literature, prescribes chosing an action, for which those actors that are (expectedly) the worst off still fare better than they would with any other course of action.

  8. 8.

    A similar arithmetic example can be made with respect to the 2 °C target and its associated confidence intervals. According to Friedlingstein et al. (2014), where slightly higher carbon budgets are assumed than by the IPCC, the requirement for meeting the 2 °C target at a confidence level of 66 %, corresponds to a global budget of 1000 Gt in 2020. Hence, if the currently negotiated agreement is finally in place, emissions would have to be cut to zero after 20 years if we assume emissions to continue at the current pace.

  9. 9.

    As a thought experiment, we leave it to the reader to calculate his/her associated yearly tax burden in dependence to his/her current carbon footprint.

  10. 10.

    In this case proposition (V) in Schuppert and Seidel would have to be adjusted by a concave transformation of the value function, relaxing the constraint accordingly.

  11. 11.

    This holds at least under a large enough level of competition.

  12. 12.

    It is sometimes argued that the possibility for industrialized countries to buy certificates elsewhere would lead to a lack of innovation in cleaner technologies in those countries. This does, however, not occur if the overall target is strict enough, which is certainly the case for the 2 °C target. In this case the anticipated market price is high enough to guarantee strong incentives for the development of low carbon technologies.


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Correspondence to Markus Ohndorf.

Additional information

This article is part of a Special Issue on “Climate Justice in Interdisciplinary Research” edited by Christian Huggel, Markus Ohndorf, Dominic Roser, and Ivo Wallimann-Helmer.

This paper is linked to the following contribution of this special issue: Schuppert and Seidel, doi:10.1007/s10584-015-1409-z

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Ohndorf, M., Blasch, J. & Schubert, R. Emission budget approaches for burden sharing: some thoughts from an environmental economics point of view. Climatic Change 133, 385–395 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-015-1442-y

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  • Abatement Cost
  • Marginal Abatement Cost
  • Emission Allowance
  • Cumulative Emission
  • Burden Sharing