Equitable Solutions to Greenhouse Warming: On the Distribution of Wealth, Emissions, and Responsibility Within and Between Nations

Prof. Stephen W. Pacala, PhD

Princeton University 

Tuesday, March 11, 2008 - 11:30am to 1:00pm

Theater, St. Paul Student Center

This lecture focused on recent delaying tactics used to postpone international action on global warming and the misuse of the rhetoric of fairness. The US claims that it is unfair to expect it to limit greenhouse emissions when big emitters like India and China have no intention of following suit. China, India and the developing nations counter-claim that it is unfair to expect them to act when the developed nations have both created the problem and become rich on their past emissions. In neither case is the concept of 'fairness' congruent with familiar uses of the word.

To clarify issues of responsibility and equity, Prof. Pacala used data on income distributions and greenhouse emissions in 300 countries over the last 40 years to estimate the personal emissions of every individual on earth. The data shows that the top emitters are responsible for half of the world's greenhouse emissions. Because of the tight correlation between income and emissions, the top 500 million emitters are also the 500 million richest people. Two-thirds live in developed countries, but fully one-third live in developing countries. In contrast, the 3.1 billion poorest and lowest emitting people (the bottom half of the global distribution) are responsible for only 5-10% of the world's emissions. This talk described actions and policies that would allocate responsibility for climate mitigation to each nation based on the individual emissions of its citizens, including the tradeoffs among economic costs, the stringency of a mitigation target, and the amount of damage caused by climate change.

Application for 1.5 hours of general Continuing Legal Education (CLE) for attorneys was approved. 


Stephen Polasky, PhD
Fesler-Lampert Professor of Ecological/Environmental Economics
Dept. of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota






Elizabeth Wilson, PhD
McKnight Land-Grant Professor 
Professor of Energy & Environmental Policy & Law
Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota

March 11, 2008