Distribution issues have been critical in international negotiations on climate change. These have been framed as a ‘burden sharing’ problem since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Three key difficulties are associated with this approach under a cap-and-trade system, namely the lack of consensus over what is equitable, uncertainty over estimates of policy costs, and lack of political realism and economic effectiveness of large-scale international transfers. These difficulties point to the risk of failure of post-2020 negotiations if these are based on the same premises of ‘sharing the emission reduction pie’ within a cap-and-trade regime. History has shown that different development paths can lead to similar economic performances with contrasted emission intensities. This paper proposes some insights into what could constitute a way forward, by recasting the discussion about emission reductions from a development perspective. It concludes that climate negotiations should depart from the current framework and shift to a debate focused on choosing a development path that would address domestic issues, while aligning pure climate policies with development policies.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
The idea that all nations will lose can be refuted by considering not only the costs of acting, but also the benefits in terms of avoided climate damage. Even when only looking at direct costs, climate policy might trigger macroeconomic feedbacks which would lead to net direct benefits, for instance through double dividend mechanisms at the global level (Goulder 1995). In addition, benefits may accrue to some regions through carbon trading, depending on the selected quota allocation rule.
Article 4 of the KP (the ‘EU bubble’) allows a group of countries (e.g. the European Union) to agree on a common reduction target which can be subsequently redistributed among the group.
A (unique) distribution of abatement efforts equalizes marginal abatement costs across countries, irrespective of initial endowments.
Examples include milk quotas within the European Union (Burton 1985), most Individual Tradable Quotas for fisheries and, to some degree at least, the US. SO2 trading programme.
Historical emissions are a by-product of wealth, of which all individuals can claim a share proportional to their contribution to wealth creation. Grandfathering is ethically defensible assuming that these property rights can be transferred to future generations. Müller finds the basis of this argument in the entitlement theory of distributive justice (Nozick 1974).
In 2011, energy related CO2 emissions ranged from above 16 tCO2 per capita in the US to an average of less than 1 tCO2 per capita in African countries (IEA 2012).
Mitigation and adaptation capacity within each country—as determined by wealth, technologies, natural resources, institutions, human capital (Yohe 2001)—is broader than ability to pay.
E.g. submissions by Poland (1997) Estonia (1996) Russia (1995) and South Korea (1997) to the Ad hoc Group of the Berlin Mandate.
Using two earth-system models and CO2 emission data series starting in 1751 (Wei et al. 2012) estimate the contribution of developed countries to the global temperature increase in 2005 to 60–80 %, developing countries contributing to the remaining 20–40 %.
Today’s individuals may be richer than they would have been had their ancestors not followed an emission intensive development path.
In addition, the non-identity problem—i.e. the idea that today’s individuals cannot be assumed to be the same individuals who would have lived in a counterfactual world with different emissions (Parfit 1984)—questions the concept of historical responsibility.
The Brazilian proposal allocates responsibility of climate mitigation among Annex I Parties according to the relative effect of each country’s historical emissions on global temperature increase (Den Elzen et al. 2005).
Submissions by Norway (1996), Australia (1997), Iceland (1997) to the AGBM7.
Note that proposed cap-and-trade schemes have incomplete sectoral coverage or allow for delayed entry of some Parties. They would therefore possibly be supplemented by other measures, such as domestic tax schemes or standards targeted at specific sectors. The assessment of the economic burden of climate policy should therefore include all these dimensions, i.e. should not be limited to the quota allocation rule.
Decision-makers do not usually know the cheapest ways to abate emissions. Engineers do not always anticipate the evolution of production costs, due to uncertainties on future technological developments.
In 2010, fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) represented over 80 % of World primary energy demand (IEA 2012).
This section focuses on international transfers entailed by the implementation of an allowance allocation rule in the context of a cap-and-trade mechanism. North–South financial transfers may also be used as a way to help vulnerable countries adapt to the harmful effects of climate change, for instance through the Adaptation Fund under the Kyoto Protocol.
Lecocq and Crassous (2003) show that a per capita allocation would result in significantly larger North–South money transfers than grandfathering and contraction and convergence schemes.
This is despite Russia’s promise to invest the trading money from its spare permits in clean energy projects (Pearce 2000).
It might be impossible to think of development paths for each country independently, without accounting for general equilibrium mechanisms. For instance, removing inefficient fossil fuel subsidies worldwide may alter the functioning of fossil fuel markets, which may affect emission intensity.
Note that the terms of the cost–benefit analysis may have changed in World (B), and the new optimal response may be to stabilize global warming to a lower target, simply shifting the issue in time.
For instance the development of cities in combination with transportation systems as a way to anticipate congestion issues in World (B) would result in lower CO2 emissions, but would also lower the additional cost of further abatement compared to World (A), where few substitutes to private cars are likely to exist as in Barcelona and Atlanta (Bertaud and Richardson 2004). Retrofitting the metro in Atlanta to allow for the same type of mobility as in Barcelona would indeed be very costly.
Note however that in some cases, climate change mitigation measures may have adverse side effects as regards other environmental issues. While the co-benefits of climate change mitigation outweigh its adverse side effects in energy end-use sectors (transport, buildings and industry), this may not always be the case for energy supply (Fleurbaey et al. 2014).
Gross domestic product
Least developed countries
Nationally appropriate mitigation actions
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
Agarwal, A., & Narain, S. (1991). Global Warming in an Unequal World, a case of environmental colonialism. New Delhi: Center for Science and Environment.
Arthur, W. B. (1989). Competing technologies, increasing returns, and lock-in by historical events. The Economic Journal, 99(394), 116–131. doi:10.2307/2234208.
Baer, P. (2013). The greenhouse development rights framework for global burden sharing: Reflection on principles and prospects. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 4(1), 61–71. doi:10.1002/wcc.201.
Baer, P., Athanasiou, T., Kartha, S., & Kemp-Benedict, E. (2009). Greenhouse Development Rights: A proposal for a fair global climate treaty. Ethics, Place & Environment, 12(3), 267–281. doi:10.1080/13668790903195495.
Beitz, C. R. (1979). Political theory and international relations. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Bertaud, A., & Richardson, H. W. (2004). Transit and density: Atlanta, the United States and Western Europe. In H. W. Richardson & C.-H. C. Bae (Eds.), Urban Sprawl in Western Europe and the United States. Hants: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.
Blyth, W., Bradley, R., Bunn, D., Clarke, C., Wilson, T., & Yang, M. (2007). Investment risks under uncertain climate change policy. Energy Policy, 35(11), 5766–5773. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2007.05.030.
Bowen, H. R. (1943). The interpretation of voting in the allocation of economic resources. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 58(1), 27–48. doi:10.2307/1885754.
Burton, M. (1985). The implementation of the EC milk quota. European Review of Agricultural Economics, 12(3), 461–471. doi:10.1093/erae/12.3.461.
Caney, S. (2009). Justice and the distribution of greenhouse gas emissions. Journal of Global Ethics, 5(2), 125–146. doi:10.1080/17449620903110300.
Chao, H., & Peck, S. (2000). Greenhouse gas abatement: How much? and Who pays? Resource and Energy Economics, 22(1), 1–20. doi:10.1016/S0928-7655(99)00016-0.
Chichilnisky, G., & Heal, G. (1994). Who should abate carbon emissions?: An international viewpoint. Economics Letters, 44(4), 443–449. doi:10.1016/0165-1765(94)90119-8.
Den Elzen, M. G. J., Schaeffer, M., & Lucas, P. L. (2005). Differentiating future commitments on the basis of countries’ relative historical responsibility for climate change: Uncertainties in the “Brazilian Proposal” in the context of a policy implementation. Climatic Change, 71(3), 277–301. doi:10.1007/s10584-005-5382-9.
Dinda, S. (2004). Environmental Kuznets curve hypothesis: A survey. Ecological Economics, 49(4), 431–455. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2004.02.011.
Finon, D. (2013). The transition of the electricity system towards decarbonization: The need for change in the market regime. Climate Policy, 13(Supp 01), 130–145. doi:10.1080/14693062.2012.741832.
Fleurbaey, M., Kartha, S., Bolwig, S., Chee, Y. L., Chen, Y., Corbera, E., & Sagar, A. D. (2014). Sustainable development and equity. In O. Edenhofer, R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, & J. C. Minx (Eds.), Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of climate change contribution of working group III to the fifth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change Cambridge. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Frankfurt, H. (1987). Equality as a moral ideal. Ethics, 98(1), 21–43.
Glachant, M., Dussaux, D., Meniere, Y., & Dechezlepretre, A. (2013). Greening global value chains: Innovation and the international diffusion of technologies and knowledge (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. ID 2272536). Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. Retrieved from http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2272536.
Global Commons Institute (GCI). (1997). “Contraction and Convergence” A global solution to a global problem. Retrieved from http://www.gci.org.uk/Documents/ZEW_CONTRACTION_&_CONVERGENCE.pdf.
Godard, O. (2000). Sur l’éthique, l’environnement et l’économie. La justification en question. Godard, Olivier. “Sur l’éthique, l’environnement et l’économie: Cahier du laboratoire d’économétrie de l’École polytechnique, p. 513.
Goulder, L. H. (1995). Environmental taxation and the double dividend: A reader’s guide. International Tax and Public Finance, 2(2), 157–183. doi:10.1007/BF00877495.
Government of the Republic of Ghana (GRoG). (2010). An agenda for shared growth and accelerated development for a better Ghana. Accra, Ghana: GRoG. Retrieved from http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2012/cr12203.pdf.
Greening, L. A., Greene, D. L., & Difiglio, C. (2000). Energy efficiency and consumption—the rebound effect—a survey. Energy Policy, 28(6–7), 389–401. doi:10.1016/S0301-4215(00)00021-5.
Gritsevskyi, A., & Nakićenovi, N. (2000). Modeling uncertainty of induced technological change. Energy Policy, 28(13), 907–921. doi:10.1016/S0301-4215(00)00082-3.
Grubb, M. (1990). The greenhouse effect: Negotiating targets. International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944), 66(1), 67–89. doi:10.2307/2622190.
Grubb, M. (1995). Seeking fair weather: Ethics and the international debate on climate change. International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), 71(3), 463–496. doi:10.2307/2624836.
Grubb, M., Vrolijk, C., & Brack, D. (1999). The Kyoto protocol, a guide and an assessment. London: Royal Institute of International Affairs.
Grübler, A., Johansson, T. B., Mundaca, L., Nakicenovic, N., Pachauri, S., Riahi, K., et al. (2012). Energy primer. In T. B. Johansson, A. Patwardhan, N. Nakicenovic, & L. Gomez-Echeverri (Eds.), Global energy assessment (GEA). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9780511793677.007.
Hope, C., Anderson, J., & Wenman, P. (1993). Policy analysis of the greenhouse effect—An application of the PAGE model. Energy Policy, 21(3), 327–338.
Hourcade, J. C. (1996). Estimating the costs of mitigating greenhouse gases. In: P. J. Bruce, H. Lee, & E. F. Haites (Eds.), Climate change 1995. Economic and social dimensions of climate change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Second Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (Vol. chap. 8, pp. 263–296, p. 448). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hourcade, J.-C. (2002). Dans le labyrinthe de verre. La négociation internationale sur l’effet de serre. Critique Internationale, 15, 143–159.
Hourcade, J.-C., & Kostopoulou, M. (1994). Quelles politiques face aux chocs energetiques France, Italie, Japon, RFA: Quatre modes de resorption des desequilibres. Futuribles. Retrieved from http://www.gesis.org/sowiport/search/id/iz-solis-90191900/.
Hourcade, J. C., Perrissin Fabert, B., & Rozenberg, J. (2012). Venturing into uncharted financial waters: An essay on climate-friendly finance. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, 12(2), 165–186. doi:10.1007/s10784-012-9169-y.
Hourcade, J.-C., & Shukla, P. (2013). Triggering the low-carbon transition in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Climate Policy, 13(sup01), 22–35. doi:10.1080/14693062.2012.751687.
IEA. (2012). World Energy Outlook 2012. Paris, France: International Energy Agency. Retrieved from http://iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/WEO_2012_Iraq_Energy_Outlook-1.pdf.
Jacoby, H. D., Schmalensee, R., & Sue Wing, I. (1999). Toward a useful architecture for climate change negotiations. Cambridge Mass.: MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. Retrieved from http://mit.edu/globalchange/www/abstracts.html#a49.
Jordan, A., van Asselt, H., Berkhout, F., Huitema, D., & Rayner, T. (2012). Understanding the paradoxes of multilevel governing: Climate change policy in the European Union. Global Environmental Politics, 12(2), 43–66.
Joskow, P. L., Schmalensee, R., & Bailey, E. M. (1998). The market for sulfur dioxide emissions. The American Economic Review, 88(4), 669–685.
Lecocq, F., & Crassous, R. (2003). International climate regime beyond 2012: Are quota allocation rules robust to uncertainty? (No. 3000) (p. 44). Washington, D.C.: World Bank. Retrieved from http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/IW3P/IB/2003/04/11/000094946_03040204051835/Rendered/PDF/multi0page.pdf.
Lecocq, F., & Hourcade, J.-C. (2012). Unspoken ethical issues in the climate affair: Insights from a theoretical analysis of negotiation mandates. Economic Theory, 49(2). Retrieved from http://hal-enpc.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-00716658.
Lindahl, E. (1919). Just taxation—a positive solution. In R. A. Musgrave, & A. T. Peacock (Eds.), Classics in the theory of public finance. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Markandya, A. (2011). Equity and distributional implications of climate change. World Development, 39(6), 1051–1060. doi:10.1016/j.worlddev.2010.01.005.
McKibbin, W. J., & Wilcoxen, P. J. (2002). The role of economics in climate change policy. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 16(2), 107–129. doi:10.2307/2696499.
Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED). (2010). Growth and Transformation Plan 2010/11–2014/15. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: MoFED. Retrieved from http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2011/cr11304.pdf.
Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MINECOFIN). (2012). Economic development and poverty reduction strategy 2013–2018: Shaping our Future. Kigali, Rwanda: MINECOFIN. Retrieved from http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2013/cr13360.pdf.
Müller, B. (1999). Justice in global warming negotiations: How to obtain a procedurally fair compromise (No. EV26). Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. Retrieved from http://www.oxfordenergy.org/1998/03/justice-in-global-warming-negotiations-how-to-obtain-a-procedurally-fair-compromise/.
Müller, B. (2001). Varieties of distributive justice in climate change. Climatic Change, 48(2–3), 273–288. doi:10.1023/A:1010775501271.
Neumayer, E. (2000). In defence of historical accountability for greenhouse gas emissions. Ecological Economics, 33(2), 185–192. doi:10.1016/S0921-8009(00)00135-X.
Nordhaus, W. D. (1993). Optimal greenhouse-gas reductions and tax policy in the “Dice” Model. American Economic Review, 83(2), 313–317.
Nordhaus, W. D. (1994). Managing the global commons: The economics of climate change. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Nozick, R. (1974). Anarchy, state, and utopia. New York: Basic Books.
OECD. (1975). The polluter pays principle: Definition, analysis, implementation. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Paltsev, S. V. (2000). The Kyoto Protocol: “Hot air” for Russia?.
Parfit, D. (1984). Reasons and persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Paterson, M. (1996). International justice and global warming. In The ethical dimensions of global change. Macmillan Publishers Limited.
Pearce, F. (2000, November 23). Climate Summit. New Scientist. The Hague. Retrieved from http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn205-climate-summit.html#.UgpEGG2euZR.
Phylipsen, G., Bode, J., Blok, K., Merkus, H., & Metz, B. (1998). A Triptych sectoral approach to burden differentiation; GHG emissions in the European bubble. Energy Policy, 26(12), 929–943. doi:10.1016/S0301-4215(98)00036-6.
Pindyck, R. S. (1979). Energy price increases and macroeconomic policy. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Pogge, T. W. M. (1989). Realizing rawls. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Rajamani, L. (2012). The Durban platform for enhanced action and the future of the climate regime. International & Comparative Law Quarterly, 61(02), 501–518. doi:10.1017/S0020589312000085.
Ranson, M., & Stavins, R. N. (2012). Post-durban climate policy architecture based on linkage of cap-and-trade systems (Working Paper No. 18140). National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from http://www.nber.org/papers/w18140.
Rawls, J. (1971). A theory of justice. Harvard: Harvard University Press.
Rawls, J. (1993). The law of peoples. Critical Inquiry, 20(1), 36–68. doi:10.2307/1343947.
Ringius, L., Torvanger, A., & Holtsmark, B. (1998). Can multi-criteria rules fairly distribute climate burdens?: OECD results from three burden sharing rules. Energy Policy, 26(10), 777–793. doi:10.1016/S0301-4215(98)00032-9.
Ringius, L., Torvanger, A., & Underdal, A. (2002). Burden sharing and fairness principles in international climate policy. International Environmental Agreements, 2(1), 1–22. doi:10.1023/A:1015041613785.
Samuelson, P. A. (1954). The pure theory of public expenditure. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 36(4), 387–389. doi:10.2307/1925895.
Sathaye, J., Najam, A., Cocklin, C., Heller, T., Lecocq, F., Llanes-Regueiro, J., et al. (2007). Sustainable development and mitigation. In B. Metz, O. R. Davidson, P. R. Bosch, R. Dave, & L. A. Meyer (Eds.), Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of working group III to the fourth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
Shalizi, Z., & Lecocq, F. (2010). To mitigate or to adapt: Is that the question? Observations on an appropriate response to the climate change challenge to development strategies. World Bank Research Observer, 25(2), 295–321.
Shue, H. (1999). Global environment and international inequality. International Affairs, 75(3), 531–545. doi:10.1111/1468-2346.00092.
Shukla, P. R. (2006). Aligning justice and efficiency in the global climate change regime: A developing country perspective. Advances in the Economics of Environmental Resources, 5, 121–144. doi:10.1016/S1569-3740(05)05006-6.
Shukla, P. R., Dhar, S., & Mahapatra, D. (2008). Low-carbon society scenarios for India. Climate Policy, 8(sup1), S156–S176. doi:10.3763/cpol.2007.0498.
Sijm, J., Jansen, J., & Torvanger, A. (2001). Differentiation of mitigation commitments: The multi-sector convergence approach. Climate Policy, 1(4), 481–497. doi:10.3763/cpol.2001.0149.
Smith, K. R., Swisher, J., & Ahuja, D. R. (1993). Who pays (to solve the problem and how much)? In P. Hayes & K. R. Smith (Eds.), The global greenhouse regime: Who pays?. Oxford: Earthscan.
Sorrell, S., & Dimitropoulos, J. (2008). The rebound effect: Microeconomic definitions, limitations and extensions. Ecological Economics, 65(3), 636–649. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2007.08.013.
Starkey, R. (2011). Assessing common(s) arguments for an equal per capita allocation. The Geographical Journal, 177(2), 112–126. doi:10.1111/j.1475-4959.2010.00359.x.
Stiglitz, J. (1998). Distinguished lecture on economics in government: The private uses of public interests: Incentives and institutions. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 12(2), 3–22. doi:10.2307/2646959.
Streeten, P., & Burki, S. J. (1978). Basic needs: Some issues. World Development, 6(3), 411–421. doi:10.1016/0305-750X(78)90116-X.
Tol, R. S. J. (1999). Kyoto, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness: Applications of FUND. The Energy Journal, 20(Special Issue), 131–156.
UNDP. (1990). Human development report. New York: Oxford University Press.
Van Asselt, H. (2010). Emissions trading: The enthusiastic adoption of an Alien Instrument? In Climate change policy in the European Union: Confronting the dilemmas of mitigation and adaptation? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Victor, D. G., Zhou, D., Ahmed, E. H. M., Dadhich, P. K., Olivier, J. G. J., Rogner, H.-H., et al. (2014). Introductory Chapter. In O. Edenhofer, R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, et al. (Eds.), Climate change 2014: Mitigation of climate change. Contribution of working group III to the fifth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press.
Waisman, H.-D., Guivarch, C., & Lecocq, F. (2013). The transportation sector and low-carbon growth pathways: Modelling urban, infrastructure, and spatial determinants of mobility. Climate Policy, 13(sup01), 106–129. doi:10.1080/14693062.2012.735916.
Wei, T., Yang, S., Moore, J. C., Shi, P., Cui, X., Duan, Q., & Dong, W. (2012). Developed and developing world responsibilities for historical climate change and CO2 mitigation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(32), 12911–12915. doi:10.1073/pnas.1203282109.
Weitzman, M. L. (1974). Prices vs. quantities. The Review of Economic Studies, 41(4), 477–491. doi:10.2307/2296698.
Winkler, H., Jayaraman, T., Pan, J., de Oliveira, A. S., Zhang, Y., Sant, G., et al. (2011). Equitable access to sustainable development. Contribution to the body of scientific knowledge: A paper by experts from BASIC countries, BASIC expert group: Beijing, Brasilia, Cape Town and Mumbai. Retrieved from http://www.rcsd.org.cn/FCKeditor/userimages/rcsd-20111221111920.pdf.
Yohe, G. W. (2001). Mitigative capacity—the mirror image of adaptive capacity on the emissions side. Climate Change, 49(3), 247–262. doi:10.1023/A:1010677916703.
Aurélie Méjean acknowledges funding from the Chair ‘Modelling for sustainable development’ (led by Ecole des Ponts ParisTech and Mines ParisTech).
About this article
Cite this article
Méjean, A., Lecocq, F. & Mulugetta, Y. Equity, burden sharing and development pathways: reframing international climate negotiations. Int Environ Agreements 15, 387–402 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10784-015-9302-9
- Burden sharing
- Sustainable development
- Development pathways