S.J.D. dissertation, April 2008.

Document Type



Questions of fairness and equity are central to the challenge of tackling global climate change. The complexity of the question arises from the global and long-term nature of the problem. At the same time, the impacts are localized and differentiated, so that states least able to respond are those that will be hardest hit. Policies and measures to abate – mitigate – greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions demand the decision-making under conditions of uncertainty and the commitment of resources beyond the time horizon of politics-as-usual. And while international environmental law has achieved notable successes, it has arguably not confronted a challenge with so many dimensions, including lifestyles, energy policies, and inequality in global community. Some analysts have argued that questions of fairness and equity are of secondary, largely rhetorical significance: willingness to pay is what matters.

Such views grow from a realist perspective on the relations between states and skepticism about international law. The argument presented in this thesis is that a fair distribution of benefits and burdens is at the heart of the matter. Individual and collective responses to the climate change problem are shaped and determined by social and political factors, as much as by technical and as scientific ones. Normative analysis has a role to play in analyzing the problem of climate change and identifying solutions. Within two decades emissions from developing countries of carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas, will exceed the share from industrialized countries. The United States and countries argue that reduction measures therefore are only meaningful if developing countries are prepared to trim their emissions. In turn, developing countries look forward, contending that they ought not bear the burden of abatement at this critical stage in their development. They point also to the historical responsibility of the developed countries, invoking the polluter pays principle. Small islands and other particularly vulnerable developing countries seek to emphasize global solidarity and fairness when pressing claims for assistance to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change. These are only some of the issues entwined in the debate on climate change, and which lead directly or indirectly to the question of fairness.