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The Tragedy of Maldistribution: Climate, Sustainability, and Equity


  • Elizabeth A. Stanton

    () (Stockholm Environment Institute, U.S. Center, 11 Curtis Ave., Medford, MA 02144, USA)


This essay is an initial exploration of the dimensions of the equity/sustainability linkage from the perspective of public goods analysis. Sustainability requires an abundance of public goods. Where these commons lack governance, sustainability is at risk. Equity is a critical component of sustainability that can itself be viewed as a public good, subject to deterioration (maldistribution) when left ungoverned. As is the case for so many forms of environmental degradation, the private benefits of maldistribution tend to overshadow the larger social costs, and the result is a degradation of equity. This article sketches out the analogy of equity as a public good by: examining the evidence regarding current and historical income equality within and between countries; introducing the characteristics of public goods and grounding equity in this idiom; reviewing several theories explaining the sub-optimal provision of environmental goods; applying these theoretical frameworks to the case of equity, with an examination of the potential causes of, and solutions to, maldistribution; and, finally, addressing equity’s critical role as a component of sustainability in the case of climate change, with implications for climate policy.

Suggested Citation

  • Elizabeth A. Stanton, 2012. "The Tragedy of Maldistribution: Climate, Sustainability, and Equity," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 4(3), pages 1-18, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jsusta:v:4:y:2012:i:3:p:394-411:d:16718

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. repec:gam:jsusta:v:9:y:2017:i:5:p:869-:d:99306 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. repec:bla:metroe:v:68:y:2017:i:1:p:147-184 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Adriana Acevedo Tirado & Mariana Ruiz Morales & Odette Lobato-Calleros, 2015. "Additional Indicators to Promote Social Sustainability within Government Programs: Equity and Efficiency," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 7(7), pages 1-17, July.
    4. Ogundipe, Adeyemi & Alege, Philip & Ogundipe, Oluwatomisin, 2014. "Income Heterogeneity and Environmental Kuznets Curve in Africa," MPRA Paper 55822, University Library of Munich, Germany.

    More about this item


    equity; sustainability; climate change; maldistribution; tragedy of the commons; climate policy; income distribution; climate economics;

    JEL classification:

    • Q - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics
    • Q0 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General
    • Q2 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q3 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q5 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products


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