The last year has seen a massive uptick — under the signs of “carbon debt” and “historical responsibility” and even, in rhetorically extreme cases, “reparations” — in the amount of attention being paid to the problem of inequality between nations, in the context of the global climate policy debate.
Much less systematic attention — again in the context of the global climate policy debate (as opposed to domestic debates, where thanks to the environmental justice movement the topic is very much in play) — has been paid to the problem of inequality within nations. This article, The Greenhouse Development Rights Framework: Drawing attention to inequality within nations in the global climate policy debate, just released by Development and Change (by invitation for special issue on climate change and capitalism), thus begins to fill a very large, and very important hole.
Here’s the abstract:
The urgency of the climate problem seems to require that stringent emissions reductions begin under the political economic institutions that currently exist. Any global climate treaty must, however, at least not make global inequality worse, and ideally should embody desirable principles of justice. The Greenhouse Development Rights framework (GDRs), described brieﬂy here, is a proposal for such a fair division of the burdens of emissions reductions and adaptation to climate change that won’t be avoided, based on an assessment of capacity (ability to pay) and responsibility (contribution to the problem). The GDRs considers both inequality within countries and inequality between countries: national obligations are based on the exemption of poor individuals (under a ‘development threshold’) from global burdens. GDRs accepts the link between ‘development’ and the growth in consumption of the world’s poor majority, an obvious requirement if it is to be taken seriously by Southern governments intent on ‘development as usual’. It also does not directly challenge the institutions of capitalism or the sovereignty of nation states. Nonetheless, in its focus on poor and rich people it is consistent with a class-based rather than nation-based approach to economic justice. We conclude by raising a variety of questions both about the limits of approaches like GDRs, and the need for policies that address climate change even during or after a transition beyond the current global capitalist regime.