Equal per capita entitlements to greenhouse gas emissions: A justice-based critique

Jo Dirix, Wouter Peeters, Sigrid Sterckx

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Climate change has made us aware of the finite absorptive capacity of the atmosphere. Moreover, a fifth of the emissions that overstep our earth's boundaries result from meat and dairy consumption, which is estimated to doubt by 2050. In this paper we question whether and equal per capita (EPS) allocation of emissions entitlements, and Contraction and Convergence (C&C) approach that is derived from the EPC model, meets the demands of distributive and participatory justice. We first explain that the EPC ignores historical responsibility for the problem and prefers the use of a benchmark emissions year on the basis of which emissions are measured and entitlements are distributed. We argue that the use of a benchmark favours the largest culprits and harms the development of non-industrialised nations. Nevertheless, whilst advocating the inclusion of historical responsibility, we refrain from promoting negative allocations, for this would violate premises of egalitarian moral theory. Furthermore, the EPC model ignores existing geographical and interpersonal differences that seem to require a differentiated allocation, for it disregards the moral difference between subsistence and luxury emissions. It thus centres on the means instead of the ends of energy use. Moreover, we observe that the equal allocation proposal isolates goods, and argue that theories of justice relate to 'packages of goods', rather than to separate goods. Finally, we question whether the EPC scheme meets the requirements of participatory justice. The proponents of an equal allocation assume the state to be the aggregate rights bearer, yet in our view such an assumption implies certain potentially harmful generalisations. With regard to the responsibility-based efforts that nations should undertake, we propose to differentiate between groups within nations so as to enhance the participatory justice of bearing responsibility for the problem.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationClimate change and sustainable development
Subtitle of host publicationEthical perspectives on land use and food production
EditorsThomas Potthast, Simon Meisch
Place of PublicationWageningen
PublisherWageningen Academic Publishers
ISBN (Print)978-90-8686-197-2
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • distributive justice
  • participatory justice
  • contraction and convergence
  • meat and dairy emission


Dive into the research topics of 'Equal per capita entitlements to greenhouse gas emissions: A justice-based critique'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this