Determining What Equity Means in the Context of Global Climate Change

AuthorShannon M. Roesler
Chapter 13:
Determining What Equity
Means in the Context of
Global Climate Change
Shan non M . Roe sler
Two decades ago, ecological economist Herman Daly called the
“term ‘sustainable growth ’ when applied to the economy . . . a
bad oxymoron— self-contra dictory as prose, and unevocat ive as
poetry.1 is is so because the natura l world upon which economic growth
depends is not innite; if ec onomic expansion oc curs without respecting
the l imits of the nat ural world, it wi ll overtax the environment’s capacity
to regenerate natural re sources and to absorb t he waste and byproducts of
economic expa nsion. Consequently, we cannot keep e xpanding our econo-
mies without careful attention to the short- and long-term eects on t he
natura l environment.
If we are to consi der what sustai nabil ity means in the age of cl imate
chan ge, we ca nnot ignore the complex relat ionship betwe en mark et econ-
omies a nd the natura l world. In relyi ng on fossil fu els to d rive our econo-
mies, we a re depleting nonrenewable natural resources and overta xing
the earth ’s capac ity to assimilat e carbon dioxide and other green house
gase s emitte d when we ext ract and burn these fuels. Natural “sinks”— the
atmosphere, the ocean, and the forest s—have limited cap acitie s to absorb
these gas es.
As we reach these lim its, the earth warms and its climate changes, and as
the climate changes, human societ ies face a range of negative consequences.
Severe weather events, such as tropical cyclones and droughts, grow in
intensity.2 Sea levels rise, which in tur n increases oodi ng and threatens the
1. Herman E. Daly, Sustainable Growth: An Impossibility eorem, in V  E 267 (Herman
E. Daly & Kenneth N. Townsend eds., 1992).
2. See I P  C C (IPCC), M  R  E
E  D  A C C A 13 (2012), available at http://
I want to thank Jessica Owley and Keith Hirokawa for their thoughtful comments and
suggestions in editing this chapter.
244 Rethinking Sustainability
very existence of smal l isla nd states.3 Changes in climate alter agricultural
conditions and deplete water supplies, resulting in food scarcit y and human
migration.4 Variability in cli mate also aggravates climate-sensitive dise ases,
such as malaria.5
ese impacts hit the world’s poorest populations the hardest.6 Geo-
graphic factors are partially responsible. Par ts of A sia, for ex ample, are par-
ticularly vulnerable to increased ooding and storm intensity due to sea-level
rise.7 But even moderate impacts will pose substantia l problems for develop-
ing countries because t hey lack the nancia l resources to prepare for what is
to come and to respond to it when it happens.8 Moreover, should they wish
to mitigate future climate change by reducing global emissions of green-
house gases, they lack the political power to persuade richer nations to make
the necessary reductions. Unilateral reductions or limitations by develop-
ing countries ma ke little sense because developed countries (and China) are
responsible for the vast majority of emissions and because mitigation policies
could limit developing countries’ economic growth.
Because t he impacts of climate change wil l vary from place to place and
because countries are not equally able to mitigate cli mate change impacts
by reducing emissions, any attempt to mitigate and adapt to the eects of
climate change will raise questions of equity. Deciding, for example, how to
allocate c arbon emissions for purposes of a global emissions trading regime
requires a distributive rule t hat reects a normative principle of equality. In
the international context, policyma kers could decide to allocate emissions
equally, granting governments a per capita share. Or, policymakers could
decide to place the burden of emissions reductions entirely on rich nat ions,
allowing developing countries to expand t heir economies wit hout regard
to emissions limits. Another possibility is to ensure that a ll societies are
guaranteed a level of emissions that will continue to meet their basic needs
however dened.
3. See id.; see also I P  C C (IPCC), C C 2007:
W G II: I, A  V §19.3.3 (2007), available at http:// [h ereinafter IPCC, C
C 2007].
4. See IPCC, C C 2007, supra note 3, §19.3.
5. See W H O  W M A, A  H
 C 4 (2012).
6. According to the IPCC, the world’s poorest continent, Africa, is likely to be the most aected by
climate change. IPCC, C C 2007, supra note 3, §19.3.3.
7. See id. §
8. See Ruth Gordon, Climate Change and the Poorest Nations: Further Reections on Global Inequality,
78 U. C. L. R. 1559 (2007).

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT