Subsistence emissions and luxury emissions (H. Shue).


Henry Shue


‘Luxury emissions’; ‘subsistence emissions’; ‘survival emissions’; climate change; greenhouse gases (GHGs); global warming; human rights.


In order to decide whether a comprehensive treaty covering all greenhouse gases is the best next step after UNCED, one needs to distinguish among the four questions about the international justice of such international arrangements: (1) What is a fair allocation of the costs of preventing the global warming that is still avoidable?; (2) What is a fair allocation of the costs of coping with the social consequences of the global warming that will not in fact be avoided?; (3) What background allocation of wealth would allow international bargaining (about issues like 1 and 2) to be a fair process?; and (4) What is a fair allocation of emissions of greenhouse gases (over the long-term and during the transition to the long-term allocation)? In answering each question we must specify from whom any transfers should come and to whom any transfers should go. As the grounds for the answers we usually face a choice between fault-based principles and no-fault principles. The distinction between ‘luxury’ and ‘subsistence’ (or ‘survival’) emissions in the context of right-based approaches to climate change mitigation was initial put forward by Agarwal and Narain (Centre for Science and the Environment) then strengthened by Shue. There is an obvious distinction between emissions that fulfil basic human needs and those used to propagate luxurious lifestyles; the former can be viewed as a basic human right whilst the latter cannot. This article addresses the imbalance of of types of emissions and the political problems associated with low emission countries and those who produce excess luxury emissions who are palpably more responsible for climate change.


(1993) 15(1) Law & Policy, 39-60.


Subsistence emissions and luxury emissions.