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Harvard Environmental Law Review

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climate change, greenhouse gases, environmental law, environmental policy, social justice, microfinance


Environmental Law | International Trade Law | Law | Transnational Law


We have been asked to examine climate change justice by discussing the methods of allocating the costs of addressing climate change among nations. Our analysis suggests that climate and justice goals cannot be achieved by better allocating the emissions reduction burdens of current carbon mitigation proposals — there may be no allocation of burdens using current approaches that achieves both climate and justice goals. Instead, achieving just the climate goal without exacerbating justice concerns, much less improving global justice, will require focusing on increasing well-being and inducing fundamental changes in development patterns to generate greater levels of well-being with reduced levels of material throughput. We identify several core characteristics of the public and private policy architectures and initiatives necessary to accomplish this task. We also propose examples of short- and long-term initiatives. Our near-term approach recognizes that a focus on public law remedies and nation-states is necessary but not sufficient. We suggest a feasible new mechanism, equity micro-offsets, that could reduce emissions while improving well-being among the poor. Equity micro-offsets can harness altruistic preferences, market mechanisms, and private oversight to reduce emissions and increase well-being in poor countries. Equity micro-offsets also suggest the nature of the long-term political, social, and economic macro-transformation that may be necessary. From household cook stove initiatives to policy architectures that include forestry, agriculture, and other overlooked sectors, achieving climate and justice goals will require transformative approaches, not just improved cost allocations.



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