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The Tragedy of Maldistribution: Climate, Sustainability, and Equity

Sustainability 4:3, 394-411; Special Issue: Sustainable Policy on Climate Equity

Author(s): Stanton, E.A.
Year: 2012

This essay is an initial exploration of the dimensions of the equity/sustainability linkage from the perspective of public goods analysis.

Sustainability requires an abundance of public goods. Where these commons lack governance, sustainability is at risk. Equity is a critical component of sustainability that can itself be viewed as a public good, subject to deterioration (maldistribution) when left ungoverned. As is the case for so many forms of environmental degradation, the private benefits of maldistribution tend to overshadow the larger social costs, and the result is a degradation of equity.

This article sketches out the analogy of equity as a public good by examining the evidence regarding current and historical income equality within and between countries; introducing the characteristics of public goods and grounding equity in this idiom; reviewing several theories explaining the sub-optimal provision of environmental goods; and applying these theoretical frameworks to the case of equity, with an examination of the potential causes of, and solutions to, maldistribution.

Finally, the article addresses equity's critical role as a component of sustainability in the case of climate change, with implications for climate policy.

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