Climate Change Justice

By Eric A. Posner; David Weisbach | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Punishing the Wrongdoers
A Climate Guilt Clause?

In the last chapter, we imagined an asteroid hurtling toward earth, and asked how the burdens of intercepting and destroying the asteroid should be shared among the nations of the world. Many people would object that the asteroid example is misleading because it lacks a characteristic that is fundamental to the climate change problem. The asteroid is nobody's fault, it is argued, while climate change is the fault of the rich, industrial nations, which have contributed greenhouse gases to the atmosphere out of proportion to their population or their needs. The United States, for example, has 300 million people, but in 2005 contributed 18.4 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions (excluding land use change). By contrast, in that year India had over 1 billion people and contributed only 5 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions. If one looks at stocks rather than flows, the story is the same. Between 1950 and 2000, the United States contributed 17 percent of the current stock of greenhouse gas emissions; India has contributed well under 2 percent.

The upshot is a very ugly picture that depicts the citizens of wealthy countries, including the European countries, Canada, Japan, and Australia, as well as the United States, consuming wasteful goods such as SUVs and heated swimming pools over many decades, while people in the poorest countries have barely had enough to eat. Finally, after many decades of poverty, some developing nations are set to deliver reasonably comfortable standards of living to their citizens—although still far short of what prevails in the West—and then are told that they are going to have to pay a large share of

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