Published on 10.11.2022

Backward-Looking Principles of Climate Justice: The Unjustified Move from the Polluter Pays Principle to the Beneficiary Pays Principle

Who should bear the burdens of addressing the negative impacts of climate change? Intuitively, one might think, polluting countries should bear this burden because they caused the problem (following the Polluter Pays Principle, or PPP). But polluting countries could not know until the publication of the First IPCC report about the negative consequences of their emissions (excusable ignorance objection). Moreover, despite scientific progress in attribution science, it is difficult to connect emissions with the negative impacts of climate change (causation objection). Some philosophers have argued that because of these objections, a principle that attributes responsibility for addressing the negative effects of climate change based on the benefits obtained from emissions-generating activities (the Beneficiary Pays Principle, or BPP) would be more fruitful.

In her recent publication, Laura García-Portela argues that turning into the BPP does not solve the problems attributed to the PPP. First, the excusable ignorance objection, as she shows, relies on the harms caused to individuals when frustrating their legitimate expectations. When they need to bear the burdens attached to climate change without having been able to anticipate so, their pool of resources diminishes and that negatively impacts their life plans. But if this is so, then the BPP is also affected by the concerns behind this objections. When beneficiaries bear the burdens of addressing climate change, their life plans are also negatively affected. Second, as García-Portela argues, showing causation is necessary for any principles of climate justice aimed at adaptation and loss and damage duties. With this, she sets a challenges for principles of historical responsibility for climate change that remains unanswered.

The full paper is available for open access at

Congratulations, Laura!