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The global carbon budget: a conflicting claims problem


An effective climate agreement is urgently required, yet conflict between parties prevails over cooperation. Thanks to advances in science it is now possible to quantify the global carbon budget, the amount of available cumulative CO2 emissions before crossing the 2 C threshold (Meinshausen et al. Nature 458(7242):1158–1162, 2009). Countries carbon claims, however, exceed this. Historically such situations have been tackled with bankruptcy division rules. We argue that framing climate negotiations as a classical conflicting claims problem (O’Neill Math Soc Sci 2(4):345–371, 1982) may provide for an effective climate policy. We analyze the allocation of the global carbon budget among parties claiming the maximum emissions rights possible. Based on the selection of some desirable principles, we propose an efficient and sustainable allocation of the available carbon budget for the period 2000 to 2050 taking into account different risk scenarios.

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  1. Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) in the Paris agreement in 2015 follows this logic. Each country’s pledge is based on heterogeneous criteria.

  2. Given the purpose of this article, the authors would have considered further decomposition of the groups used as agents, however, the only regional decomposition for future cumulative emissions is only available at IPCC (2000). Although other possibilities such as the more recent RCP-database have been considered, to the best of our knowledge no database other than SRES-IPCC decomposes cumulative emissions by groups of countries.

  3. For the sake of clarification, Figures 2, 3 and 4 in the electronic supplemental material, provide the vessels representation of each region’s honored claims.


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The authors are deeply grateful to H. Llavador, Laurie Anderson and two anonymous reviewers and the co-editors of this journal, for their comments which considerably helped us to improve this manuscript. For their suggestions we also thank seminar participants at Univ. Rovira i Virgili, Univ. de Barcelona, Univ. Politécnica de Cartagena, and European University Institute. The usual caveats apply. Financial support from Generalitat de Catalunya (2014SGR325 and 2014SGR631) and Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (ECO2014-52340-P and ECO2013-45380-P) is acknowledged.

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Correspondence to José-Manuel Giménez-Gómez.

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Giménez-Gómez, JM., Teixidó-Figueras, J. & Vilella, C. The global carbon budget: a conflicting claims problem. Climatic Change 136, 693–703 (2016).

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  • Climate Policy
  • Carbon Budget
  • Climate Change Policy
  • Cumulative Emission
  • Climate Negotiation