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Climate Justice through the Polluter-Pays Principle

Diskussionsbeitrag / Streitschrift 2018 6 Seiten

Politik - Klima- und Umweltpolitik


Climate Justice through the Polluter-Pays Principle

Patrick Kimuyu

It is evident that, the environment is experiencing immense consequences from the impact of pollution. One of the most challenging issues related to the degradation of the environment owing to pollution is the phenomenon of climate change. Climate change explains the adverse effects of environmental degradation and pollution is the principal cause of this life-threatening phenomenon. Despite the remarkable progress achieved in combating environmental pollution through environmental policy approaches, there is a need for climate justice in which the polluter will be held responsible for the damage caused to the environment (Pilger 2014). In theory, this is the approach of the so-called the Polluter Pays Principle. This approach appears relevant in addressing issues related to environmentally-mediated to humans. This way of thinking is reaffirmed by Madison Powers (2014, par. 19) by stating “the assumption is that those who created [the] problem should bear the costs of remedy, or in the case where prevention or reduction of harm is not possible, the costs of compensation for the losses experienced by others.” In practice, the approach of Polluter Pays Principle is consistent with the Kyoto Protocol, and this justifies the reason for polluters to be held accountable for the cost of pollution (Verschuuren 2013). Despite the endless debate on issues of morality and justice, especially in the America, the tenets of climate justice should be upheld by enforcing environmental policies that require the polluter to pay (Jenkins 2013). Therefore, this argumentative essay will present an array of aspects that explain why the polluter should pay. It will discuss property rights, economic efficiency, tradable permits, and provide the means on how polluters can pay.

In regard to environmental liability, the approach of requiring polluters to pay for the damages they cause to the property and health of other people appears consistent with the tenets of international law. In general, this approach appears to hold the promise for achieving environmental sustainability through mitigating pollution related hazards. It is worth noting that, adhering to the principle of holding the polluter accountable for the damages caused to the environment serves as a guiding principle for environmental policies (Robinson 2012). This is so because; the approach promotes personal responsibility that is one of the most principal features of a free society. Personal responsibility implies that, polluters have the responsibility to safeguard the health of other people and the environment, at large. As such, polluters should pay for damages they cause to the environment through pollution in accordance to the polluter pays principle. This argument is reaffirmed by Cordato (2001, p. 15) who states “A straightforward interpretation of the polluter pays principle would suggest that if the consumption or production activities of one group of consumers or producers have harmful effects on others, then the perpetrators of the harms should be held liable for the damages.” The second supportive statement is provided by Carey (2005, p. 752) who states “One common way of thinking about harms, including both environmental and non-environmental harms, maintains that those who have caused [the] problem (such as pollution) should foot the bill.”

One of the reasons the polluter should pay for the damages caused to the environment and other people is that, fundamental rights, including property rights do not permit people to cause harm to others. According to legal justice, a person must give consent to virtually all acts done to him by others including the use of their property. In practice, “no one has the right to harm another person or property of others or even to make use of other people’s property without their permission” (Cordato 2001, p. 9). In reality, polluters cause devastating damage to the health of other people. Interestingly, polluters reap economic benefits from the processes that cause pollution. On the other hand, the victim, in this case other people and the environment bears the harm (Moss 2009). According to the ordinary justice law, a person who incurs the harm is usually compensated for the damage caused in which the damage is expressed in monetary value. The monetary value is considered as a cost paid by the person who causes the damage, and this is believed to be a basic appeal to fair play and sense of justice. Cordato (2001, p. 9) observes “It is a simple extension of the idea that people should be held accountable for their actions, and if one person does harm to another, then compensation is in order.” Therefore, demanding forcing the polluters to pay appears to be consistent with the eternal verities of moral justice. This is so because; polluters will provide full restitution for other people’s suffering owing to the consequences of the harmful effects of pollutants.

However, it is worth noting that the argument of the opponents to the polluter pays principle that identifying who is the polluter and the harmed present’s ambiguity does not have grounds in the basic environmental policy. In the new approach to climate justice, it is evident that the environmental policy is consistent with personal and property rights. As such, these principles justify the approach by environmental policy that demands the polluter to pay. Cordato (2001, p. 9) refutes the aspect of ambiguities related to the identification of the polluter by stating “in that context, ambiguities about what kinds of emissions or by-products of production processes should be characterized as pollution, who should be identified as a polluter, and what the polluter should pay and to whom are greatly reduced.” He explains the principal characteristics of pollutants as emissions that cause health problems to people or damage to their property. On the other hand, Carey (2014, p. 4) remarks, “those who focus on how burdens should be shared do often appeal to non-backward-looking considerations such as ‘who has the ability to pay?” Therefore, a producer who emits a substance into a body of water, ground or air that causes harm should be considered as the polluter. As such, “the payments that the company would be forced to make would go, not to the government in the form of tax or to other companies to somehow buy permission to pollute, but to those in the community who have suffered from the polluting activities” (Cordato 2001, p. 10).

The second reason for the implementation of the polluter pays principle is that, it upholds the principles of justice and liberty upon which the nations are founded. Cordato (2001, p. 11) reaffirms “Individual liberty and personal accountability have always been the foundation of our civil and criminal justice systems and form the ethical foundation of our social order.” In this context, the polluter pays principle encompasses that idea that people exercise their liberty in pursuing whatever consumption or production objectives on condition that they assume personal accountability for any damage to other people or their property. Therefore, this aspect of upholding the principles of justice and liberty justifies why the polluter should pay for the damage caused to other people because there is no justification outside this context.

Thirdly, the polluter pays principle serves as a blueprint for environmental policy that is aimed at enhancing social welfare and economic efficiency. In theory, the polluter pays principle encompasses property rights that are believed to be some of the most fundamental elements of an economic system. Ideally, the definition and enforcement of private property rights determines the economic efficiency of a given community or nation. Ordinarily, the so-called externality problems by economists are believed to be attributable to poorly enforced property rights. Therefore, demanding that polluters pay ensure property rights are enforced appropriately, preventing producers from imposing costs on other people. From an economic perspective, failure to protect property rights leads to the development of an economically inefficient outcome whereby polluters can impose costs on communities or governments through causing pollution to the environment. Therefore, the idea that polluters pay appears to augment environmental policy by safeguarding people or communities from pollution related harm through enhancing economic efficiency in the world (Ambec & Ehlers 2010). Cordato (2001, p. 11) acknowledges the benefits of creating an economically efficient systems by saying, “In an economically efficient world, people involved in economic activity, from generating electricity to disposing of waste materials, would bear all of the costs of their production activities.”

In regard to the question on how to pay, there are three principal approaches in which polluters can pay. These include tradable permits to curb the emission of greenhouse gases, introduction of excise taxes and market based incentives. Tradable permits ensure that, polluters bear the equivalent burden of pollution, especially with regard to the level of emissions. This is the core principle contained in the Kyoto protocol in which countries or companies are expected to pay compensation for environmental and health damage depending on their level of emissions (Melkas 2008). Cordato (2001, p. 7) reports “in signing the Kyoto Protocol, the Clinton Administration endorsed the use of a tradable permits program.” The second way on how polluters pay is through excise taxes. Excise taxes are levied on packaged products in which the levy is used for the mitigation of the damage caused by the by-products. Thirdly, market based incentives provide a reliable method of ensuring that polluters pay. Market based incentives ensure that the polluter uses the “lowest cost methods for reducing emissions” (Cordato 2001, p. 3).

In the US, BP Company has been involved in pollution cases owing to its low environmental protection advances (Russell & Robert 2000). One of these cases was the 1999 case in which BP “was charged with burning polluted gases at its Ohio refinery and agreed to pay a $1.7 million fine” (Beder 2002, par. 22). Later in 2000, the company was charged to pay $10 million fine to the EPA for the release of toxic substances to the environment. It also agreed to reduce air pollution from its US refineries.

Conclusively, it is realistic to argue that the polluter should be held accountable for the damage caused to people, communities and the environment. This will ensure that producers are concerned with the health safety of other people and environmental protection to address the genie of climate change. In theory, the polluter pays principle is aimed at ensuring that the polluter bears the mitigation burden, as well as the adaptation burden by paying the cost of environmental restoration (Bevins, Cameron & Shine 2013).


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climate justice polluter-pays principle




Titel: Climate Justice through the Polluter-Pays Principle