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


  • Massimo Tavoni

    (Princeton Environmental Institute, Princeton University and Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei)

  • Shoibal Chakravarty

    (Princeton Environmental Institute, Princeton University)

  • Robert Socolow

    (Princeton Environmental Institute, Princeton University and Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Princeton University)


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 trade-off is less severe but remains formidable. Finally, we explore very large deployments of engineered carbon sinks and show that roughly 1000 GtCO2 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Massimo Tavoni & Shoibal Chakravarty & Robert Socolow, 2011. "Safe vs. Fair: A Formidable Trade-off in Tackling Climate Change," Working Papers 2011.61, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
  • Handle: RePEc:fem:femwpa:2011.61

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. van Vuuren, Detlef P. & van Vliet, Jasper & Stehfest, Elke, 2009. "Future bio-energy potential under various natural constraints," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(11), pages 4220-4230, November.
    2. Neumayer, Eric, 2000. "In defence of historical accountability for greenhouse gas emissions," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(2), pages 185-192, May.
    3. Andreas Oberheitmann, 2010. "A new post-Kyoto climate regime based on per-capita cumulative CO 2 -emission rights—rationale, architecture and quantitative assessment of the implication for the CO 2 -emissions from China, India an," Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Springer, vol. 15(2), pages 137-168, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Carlo Carraro & Emanuele Massetti, 2012. "Beyond Copenhagen: a realistic climate policy in a fragmented world," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 110(3), pages 523-542, February.
    2. Massetti, Emanuele & Tavoni, Massimo, 2012. "A developing Asia emission trading scheme (Asia ETS)," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 34(S3), pages 436-443.

    More about this item


    Climate Policy; Burden Sharing; Negative Emissions;

    JEL classification:

    • Q01 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General - - - Sustainable Development
    • 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

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