Equity and Distributional Issues

Climate change is a quintessential equity problem since those who have been historically least responsible for causing it will be disproportionally negatively affected by it (Adger et al., 2006; Baer et al., 2000; O'Brien and Leichenko, 2003; Roberts and Parks, 2007; World Bank, 2009). There are usually three main sources of inequality shaping climate policy dialogues: historical responsibility for the problem, who will likely bear the brunt of its negative impacts, and who will be responsible to solve it (O'Brien and Leichenko, 2003; Parks and Roberts, 2010). In addition, other distributional and equity factors need to be considered in the design of adaptation policy. For example, many of those most severely affected by climate change are often those least able to engage effectively in policy decision-making processes. Many policies have the potential for indirect or secondary impacts that may be inequitably distributed (Kates, 2000).

While a rich literature explores different equity aspects of climate change as a problem, including exploring the three aspects of inequality mentioned above in greater detail (e.g., Dow et al., 2006; Roberts and Parks, 2007; Schneider and Lane, 2006; World Bank, 2009), there has been less empirical research carried out about specific ways in which equity issues have or can shape policy design and implementation, especially from the point of view of developing countries, who have pointed out global inequality as a main impediment for international cooperation (Parks and Roberts, 2010).

With regard to adaptation policy in less-developed regions, equity and distribution of costs and benefits of climate change is intrinsically related to the structural inequality and multiplicity of stressors that shape vulnerability to climate impact including poverty, lack of education and access to health care, and war and conflict (see Chapters 11 and 16). Equity issues will also greatly drive political debates in the domestic climate policy context (see Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change [NRC, 2010c]). For example, the fear of job losses is already prevalent in fossil fuel-dependent industries and regions of the United States (Peterson and Rose, 2006). Policies that place a price on carbon will affect various industries and regions of the country differently and will differentially affect socioeconomic groups within regions (Oladosu and Rose, 2007).

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