Equal Shares for Equal Cases?

Jo Dirix, Wouter Peeters, Sigrid Sterckx

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingMeeting abstract (Book)


In its Fourth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends equal per capita entitlements (EPC) as an appropriate basis for allocating greenhouse gas emissions. In our paper we will question whether this institutionalized consensus, which is also defended by bioethical scholars such as Peter Singer and Dale Jamieson, can meet the requirements of distributive and participatory justice. We will argue that proposals for EPC disregard the moral difference between emitting to obtain luxuries and emitting to subsist life. Thus, they centre on the means instead of the ends of energy usage. These propositions ignore the need of granting subsistence emissions, hence they tend to neglect intra-state and international differences in wellbeing as well as geographical and interpersonal differences that would seem to require a differentiated allocation. Also, we will briefly examine a proposition that offers to allocate the burdens of responsibility for mitigation and adaptation according to the strength of the burden bearers. Both the chore-share of burdens proposal and the equal allocation of entitlements proposal, propose to ignore historical responsibility for climate change. They thus show a bias in favour of those currently living in industrialized nations, and discriminate against current inhabitants of non-industrialized nations as well as against future generations worldwide. These proposals seem to lock industrialized and non-industrialized nations into their present situations, thereby freezing the world's economic hierarchy. Hence, they offer the non-industrialized nations a strong disincentive to cooperate in a meaningful effort to abate climate change. We will further argue that the state-centred approach of the EPC fails to meet certain requirements of participatory justice. Appointing the state as the aggregate rights bearer for individual entitlements gives rise to multiple problems since it ignores the vast differences of emission levels within states, nor does it guarantee that each individual will receive what she is entitled to. Focussing on persons or groups within a state might result in a fairer division of accountability.
We conclude that proposals for EPC and the chore-sharing of burdens may contravene some of the requirements of distributive and participatory justice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication11th World Conference of Bioethics
Publication statusPublished - 2012
EventUnknown -
Duration: 1 Jan 2012 → …


Period1/01/12 → …


  • climate change
  • emission allocation
  • burden-sharing
  • distributive justice
  • participatory justice


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