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Sustainability 2012, 4(2), 210-226; doi:10.3390/su4020210

Safe vs. Fair: A Formidable Trade-off in Tackling Climate Change

1
Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM) and Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change (CMCC), Corso Magenta 63, 20123 Milano, Italy
2
Princeton Environmental Institute, Princeton University, Nassau Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
3
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 7 December 2011 / Revised: 10 January 2012 / Accepted: 19 January 2012 / Published: 6 February 2012
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Policy on Climate Equity)
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Abstract

Global warming requires a response characterized by forward-looking management of atmospheric carbon and respect for ethical principles. Both safety and fairness must be pursued, and there are severe trade-offs as these are intertwined by the limited headroom for additional atmospheric CO2 emissions. This paper provides a simple numerical mapping at the aggregated level of developed vs. developing countries in which safety and fairness are formulated in terms of cumulative emissions and cumulative per capita emissions respectively. It becomes evident that safety and fairness cannot be achieved simultaneously for strict definitions of both. The paper further posits potential global trading in future cumulative emissions budgets in a world where financial transactions compensate for physical emissions: the safe vs. fair tradeoff is less severe but remains formidable. Finally, we explore very large deployment of engineered carbon sinks and show that roughly 1,000 Gt CO2 of cumulative negative emissions over the century are required to have a significant effect, a remarkable scale of deployment. We also identify the unexplored issue of how such sinks might be treated in sub-global carbon accounting. View Full-Text
Keywords: climate policy; burden sharing; negative emissions climate policy; burden sharing; negative emissions
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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Tavoni, M.; Chakravarty, S.; Socolow, R. Safe vs. Fair: A Formidable Trade-off in Tackling Climate Change. Sustainability 2012, 4, 210-226.

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