International Theory

Original Papers

Give it up for climate change: a defence of the beneficiary pays principle

Edward A. Pagea1 c1

a1 Department of Politics and International Studies, Warwick University, Coventry, UK


This article focuses on the normative problem of establishing how the burdens associated with implementing policies designed to prevent, or manage, climate change should be shared amongst states involved in ongoing international climate change negotiations. This problem has three key features: identifying the nature and extent of the burdens that need to be borne; identifying the type of agent that should be allocated these burdens; and distributing amongst the particular ‘tokens’ of the relevant ‘agent type’ climatic burdens according to principles that none could reasonably reject. The article defends a key role in climatic burden-sharing policy for the principle that states benefiting most from activities that cause climate change should bear the greatest burden in terms of the costs of preventing dangerous climate change. I outline two versions of this ‘beneficiary pays’ principle; examine the strengths and weakness of each version; and explore how the most plausible version (which I call the ‘unjust enrichment’ principle) could be operationalized in the context of global climate governance.


  • global justice;
  • climate change;
  • unjust enrichment;
  • remedial responsibility


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