development equality growth poverty

Fair shares in a world of limits

The basic premise of this website is that since we have already overshot the earth’s biocapacity and much of the world is still poor, it is simply impossible for all seven billion of us to enjoy a consumer lifestyle. Those of us that live in rich countries need to downsize our lifestyles towards a sustainable level, and create the ecological space for development. Making poverty history has a flipside for the overdeveloped world.

I’ve spent the last four years exploring that topic, and it’s always great to come across other people saying the same thing. Yesterday I downloaded a new discussion paper jointly issued by WWF and Oxfam, entitled Resource scarcity, fair shares and development. It contains this spot-on summary:

“If total consumption is to fit within sustainable levels and low income countries are to grow their economies and improve their material standard of living – both precursors for sustainable development – then major issues of fairness arise, above all the need for developed countries drastically to reduce their footprints so as to provide a ‘fair share’ of limited environmental space for developing countries.”

The paper is not the stated position of WWF and Oxfam, but the work of Alex Evans of NYU and the co-editor of Global Dashboard, one of my favourite blogs. You can download it here (pdf)

The paper includes ten policy recommendations, centring around better information and awareness of resource scarcity and its role in development. Evans also points out that this is not just about rich and poor countries, but also a matter of inequality within countries, especially the middle-income ones.

Evans also sounds a note of caution about the limits to growth – economic growth is advancing faster than decoupling, he warns, and there may be limits not just to resources, but to growth itself. However, “while campaigners should not try to duck the question of whether there are limits to growth, neither should they risk polarising the debate by taking too definitive or didactic a tone at the outset.” Absolutely. I can get away with it because I’m a blogger, but if WWF or Oxfam were to come out strongly for post-growth solutions, it would isolate them. Evans suggests “they should play a long game” and encourage the debate without immediately taking sides, and that’s sound advice.


  1. This document refers to the “Greenhouse Development Rights” [GDR] proposal has been put forward.

    I am also aware that some parties e.g. OXFAM – ]

    have expressed the view that the GDR concept is superior and therefore preferable to C&C.

    I disagree with this view and here’s why.

    The GDR strategy document: –
    The Greenhouse Development Rights Framework
    The right to development in a climate constrained world
    A report by Paul Baer, Tom Athanasiou, Sivan Kartha, and Eric Kemp-Benedict
    Publication Series on Ecology – Volume 1
    Published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Christian Aid, EcoEquity and the
    Stockholm Environment Institute
    Revised second edition
    Berlin, November 2008
    © the authors and the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung

    This GDR document from its authors states the following: –

    “This is because [under GDRs] the national mitigation obligations of the high-RCI countries of the North vastly exceed the reductions they could conceivably make at home. In fact, by 2030, their mitigation obligations will typically come to exceed even their total domestic emissions! Which is to say that wealthier and higher-emitting countries would be given “negative allocations,” as is necessary in order to open enough atmospheric space for the developing world.”

    It then argues that this is the ‘virtue’ that distinguishes GDR from C&C: –

    “Incidentally, this kind of negative allocation can never arise under Contraction and Convergence style trajectories, wherein high-emitting countries are only required to transition from their high grand-fathered allocations down toward the global per-capita average. Greenhouse Development Rights, it should be said, evolved from Contraction and Convergence, the most well-known of the per-capita rights approaches.”

    Actually, the authors are wrong here: – The C&C model will calculate ‘negative emissions entitlements’ [but for everybody] after whatever date you ask it to [small point].

    However, the ‘operative point’ is that I see little point in taking this GDR proposal seriously at all as *giving negative emission entitlements* to the USA requires GDR advocates to go to the US Senate to present and win this point.

    Common sense tells me that they have a *negative chance* of getting the US to accept *negative entitlements* for the US, “in order to open enough atmospheric space for the developing world.” Arguing this at best reminds me of when Greenpeace dumped tonnes of coal on the US Senate steps in 1997 in response to what they called the ‘Bird-Brained, Byrd-Hagel-Resolution’.

    This GDR proposal and others are compared with C&C in the section ‘looking at the alternatives’ in this GCI post-mortem on COP-15 here: –

    The animation makes it possible to compare the alternatives *quantitatively* with C&C.

    For what its worth, in the context of 1 million ‘hits’ in the last two months, this document has been downloaded off the GCI website over 10,000 times in the last six months.

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