Identifying a Fair Deal on Climate Change

Dan Hammer
October 04, 2011

This article first appeared on Vox EU on December 14, 2009

Nancy Birdsall and Arvind Subramanian identify a fair deal on climate change for developed and developing countries by focusing not on equitable emissions quotas but on fair access to energy services.

From the note:

What constitutes a fair deal between the developed and developing countries on climate change—including for example between the United States on the one hand and China and India on the other? In the academic and policy literature, the answer to this question is emissions-focussed and mostly arbitrary. . . . 

In a recent paper (Birdsall et al. 2009), we propose a new and empirically tractable approach to address this fundamental question. The novelty of our approach lies first in making basic energy services available to people—such as meal preparation at home, pleasant ambient temperatures indoors, or access to transportation ensuring personal mobility—the sensible indicator of what is fair across the world. The second novelty is in positing a simple principle, namely that developing countries’ peoples’ future access to energy services per se (not to emissions) should be no different from the energy services enjoyed by rich countries’ peoples at the latter’s comparable stages of development.

To give a simple example, the access of a household in Chennai (India) to the services provided by air-conditioning or by cooking gas should be no different from its counterpart in Austin (United States) at comparable levels of income per capita.

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