Ethics, equity and the economics of climate change. Paper 2: economics and politics

Produced as part of the Climate change governance for a new global deal CCCEP research programme theme

Working Paper 84b


Both intergenerational and intratemporal equity are central to the examination of policy towards climate change. However, many discussions of intergenerational issues have been marred by serious analytical errors, particularly in applying standard approaches to discounting; the errors arise, in part, from paying insufficient attention to the magnitude of potential damages, and in part from overlooking problems with market information.

Some of the philosophical concepts and principles of Paper 1 are applied to the analytics and ethics of pure-time discounting and infinite-horizon models, providing helpful insights into orderings of welfare streams and obligations towards future generations. Such principles give little support for the idea of discrimination by date of birth. Intratemporal issues are central to problematic and slow-moving international discussions and are the second focus of this paper.

A way forward is to cast the policy issues and analyses in a way that keeps equity issues central and embeds them in the challenge of fostering the dynamic transition to the low-carbon economy in both developed and developing countries. This avoids the trap of seeing issues primarily in terms of burden-sharing and zero-sum games – that leads to inaction and the most inequitable outcome of all.

Nicholas Stern