Economic realists raise several objections to allocative justice.


To begin with, they sometimes interpret the burden claim as applying to actual reductions in emissions, and object that this effectively rules out justice because the physical constraints on action have increased dramatically over the last decade, so that some developing nations will have to constrain their emissions quickly and significantly if serious climate change is to be averted.

In response, let me make three points. First, the currency of burdens need not be emissions. When emissions cuts must occur in poorer countries, richer countries can still shoulder most of the initial burden (e.g., through technology transfer, financing).

Second, the idea that rapidly developing countries such as China and India cannot grow their emissions indefinitely has always been mainstream in both climate policy and climate ethics. Although the pace of change since 1990, especially in China, caught most policy analysts (and the ethicists who relied on them) off-guard, the thought that some transition would be needed has long been a background assumption in climate circles. In particular, although the first commitment period under the UNFCCC (the Kyoto Protocol, which ran until 2012) did not demand cuts from either the now-emerging economies or from those yet to emerge, it was always assumed that many would need to restrict emissions in subsequent commitment periods. (For instance, note that China now exceeds early equal-per-cap- ita limits, such as Singer’s 1 metric tonne of carbon [3.67 tonnes of carbon dioxide].)20

Third, though tightening physical constraints put pressure on the old categories of “developed” and “developing,” they do not (yet) undermine the basis of the burden claim. The rise of countries like China, India, and Brazil (in economic, geopolitical, and polluting terms) makes a difference to what needs to be done, and by whom, by creating an interesting intermediate category, rather than exploding the core ideas underlying the consensus. Indeed, even now (though perhaps not for long) what to say from the point of view of justice about many other nations remains essentially the same. For example, the United States, Canada, and Australia remain in the group required to take greater burdens, whereas Bangladesh, Sudan, and Afghanistan remain in the group needing to do less. Bangladesh, for example, emitted at 0.40 tonnes of CO2 per capita in 2010. This rate is already lower than that suggested by the 50%- 80% cut in current average global emissions many recommend by 2050 (i.e., from 4.9 to 2.4-1.0). Many other very poor nations have even lower emissions, such as Sierra Leone (0.3 per capita), Haiti (0.2), Nepal (0.1) and Ethiopia (0.1).21 In short, many of the most vulnerable countries are already complying with very stringent climate goals.

A more pressing worry for the ethical consensus concerns the future stability of the convergence claim. Presumably, moving forward, the differences between distinct approaches to allocative justice, and attempts to integrate them, will have significant practical implications for specific actors, and so complicate efforts to make progress. Consequently, as well as an ethical consensus on the initial tendency of allocation policy, we will ultimately need a further convergence on what policies count as “fair enough” to particular stakeholders to provide a stable basis for ongoing action. This suggests some kind of pragmatic resolution of the allocation issue, but one that integrates justice concerns, rather than rejecting them.

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