Fairness, Free-Riding and Rainforest Protection

Political Theory 44 (1):106-130 (2016)
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If dangerous climate change is to be avoided, it is vital that carbon sinks such as tropical rainforests are protected. But protecting them has costs. These include opportunity costs: the potential economic benefits which those who currently control rainforests have to give up when they are protected. But who should bear those costs? Should countries which happen to have rainforests within their territories sacrifice their own economic development, because of our broader global interests in protecting key carbon sinks? This essay develops an argument from the “principle of fairness,” which seeks to establish that outsiders should pay states with rainforests so as to share the costs of protection. If they do not, they can be condemned for free-riding on forest states. The argument is, I suggest, compelling and also capable of enjoying support from adherents of a wide variety of positions on global justice
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