About EcoEquity

EcoEquity is a small, activist think tank that has had an outsized impact on the international climate justice debate.  It has done this primarily, but not exclusively, by way of its work on fair shares international effort sharing via the Greenhouse Development Rights project and, more recently, the Climate Equity Reference Project.

More generally, EcoEquity is focused on developing and promoting climate solutions that are fair enough to actually work.  Through our participation in domestic and international networks of activists and scholars, we argue for emergency climate strategies that protect the poor, and more generally protect the rights of all people to dignified levels of just and sustainable development.  In other words, we focus on approaches to the climate transition in which the politics of economic justice and the politics of emergency climate mobilization are one and the same.

EcoEquity works by emphasizing the importance of equity principles in all aspects of the policy response, by producing political and economic analyses that highlight equity issues, and by developing practical proposals for equitable climate policies. Our focus has been on the international negotiations but we also work to develop domestic approaches to climate justice that explicitly and organically expand into the project of a just global transition. We believe that, particularly given the failure of 2010’s push for US climate legislation — and the major rethink that it has catalyzed — it is critical to stress the US’s role in the international deadlock, and its responsibility to help break it.  This is of course true for both realist and moral reasons.

Greenhouse Development Rights

EcoEquity has done a great deal, but our greatest accomplishment has clearly been the development, along with the Stockholm Environment Institute, of the Greenhouse Development Rights framework.You can find much more information about the GDRs project, and about the many networks and accomplishments that are associated with it, at its website and its Wikipedia page, but, briefly, GDRs is a principle-based burden sharing framework designed to support an emergency climate mobilization while, at the same time, preserving the economic rights of all people.  We believe that, without the latter stipulation, failure in ensured.

After Copenhagen, such an approach is more important than ever.  This is particularly true if the “pledge and review” approach that was moved forward in Copenhagen holds — and to some extent this hold is inevitable.  In this context, it’s essential that the climate movement move towards a far more coherent, and shared, understanding of how various national efforts can be most fairly compared to each other.  Remember, the climate crisis is a class commons problem, and as we all know, countries are naturally unwilling to stop exploiting the commons, because doing so just doesn’t pay.  Even if a country entirely halted its emissions, the benefit (which it would share with all other countries) would be only a minimal reduction in climate damages.  Which is to say that taking action is only worthwhile to a country if, and to the extent that it can, induce other countries to similarly take action.  And, for that reciprocal action to occur, a country’s efforts must be (and must be seen to be) proportional, which is to say, fair.  After all, nobody wants to reward a free-rider.  Or to be taken for a sucker.  And, as we’ve seen, things only get worse when countries are worried (often excessively) about trade competitiveness and carbon leakage.  Which is why, given the turn towards pledge and review, a broad understanding and appreciation of fair-shares burden sharing is more important than ever.

Here, to give you a sense of what is at stake, is nod to EcoEquity’s GDRs work from Oxfam’s excellent Hang Together or Separately report:

EcoEquity has developed a responsibility and capability index (RCI) as part of its Greenhouse Development Rights framework (see P. Baer, T. Athanasiou, S. Kartha, and E. Kemp-Benedict, The Right to Development in a Climate Constrained World: The Greenhouse Development Rights Framework), which has been influential in the thinking in this report. Within the UN climate negotiations, South Africa and the Philippines have put forward separate proposals for Annex 1 country targets based explicitly on responsibility and capability measures, and whilst the proposed reductions in their submissions are not identical to those used in this report, the methodology used in all cases follows the RCI developed by EcoEquity and resulting emissions-reduction targets are similar in scale.

More specifically, the Greenhouse Development Rights framework quantifies the official principles of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which call for the widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. It does so with the goal of providing a coherent, principle-based way to calculate and compare national obligations to pay for both mitigation and adaptation.

See here for a list accomplishments that are related directly to GDRs.  Or see this list of GDRs-related publications and, even more tellingly, this list of significant notices, by others, of GDRs and its role.

Other accomplishments

EcoEquity was organized in 2000, but only funded at a significant level in 2007.Nevertheless, we’ve accomplished a great deal.Here is a selection of some of our non-GDRs accomplishments:

Established ourselves as a trusted, expert presence in a number of key climate networks, including (domestically) the U.S. Environmental Justice movement, where we have, for example, long been members of the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative and (internationally) the Climate Action Network

Written and published a large number of noted essays and commentaries. These have focused on the politics and philosophy of equity in the climate debate, but have also sought to summarize the science in a clear and straight-forward manner.   Our first big hit was Honesty About Dangerous Climate Change, which we first published in September of 2004.

Worked hard to develop the (classic, instantaneous rather than cumulative) per-capita emissions rights approach to global burden sharing into a more robust system capable of accounting for both per-capita emissions rights and varying national circumstances, which we dubbed “Per Capita Plus.”  (This effort failed; it was by abandoning it that Greenhouse Development Rights was developed).

Published Dead Heat: Global Justice and Global Warming (Seven Stories Press, 2002). The book was well received, has been widely quoted, and is used in academic courses at Princeton and the University of Washington, among others.Were planning, by the way, to republish (an extensively reworked version) of Dead Heat.

Served as core organizers of the Climate Action Network’s 2002 “Equity Summit” in Bali, a key climate movement strategy retreat in which the demands of equity were closely examined and widely debated.

Via consulting contract for the UK’s Institute for Public Policy Research, influenced the International Climate Change Taskforce to endorse a long-term stabilization target of 400 ppm CO2-equivalent. This (2006) was the first time this honest but demanding target was publicly tied to the 2C threshold.

Emerged as consultants (to the Heinrich Boll Foundation) with A Brief, Adequacy and Equity-Based Evaluation of Some Prominent Climate Policy Frameworks and Proposals, an incisive and reasonably comprehensive overview and critique of “principle based” approaches to differentiation.

Managed, finally, in a blog published during 2005’s Montreal climate conference, to finally engage the anti-emission-trading movement in a debate about international financial mechanisms.

In 2007, we were tasked with doing an independent strategic analysis of Friends of the Earth International climate campaign.  This was a major analysis, though it remains private.

In 2008, in preparation for the impending march down the road to Copenhagen, the Climate Action Network decided to have a second Equity Summit.EcoEquity was one of the key instigators, agenda setters, and organizers of this summit, which has some very significant (and off the record) results.

In 2009, the Copenhagen year, the international climate negotiations came to even further dominate our work. We accomplished a great deal on this front, but rather than document it here, we refer you to the various sections of the Greenhouse Development Rights website.

After Copenhagen, our immediate focus was strategic reflection.  We organized a major report-back in the Bay Area in Jan of 2010, at which EcoEquity’s Tom Athanasiou was joined by speakers from 350.org, the Rainforest Action Network, and International Rivers.  We attended a large number of movement debates and seminars.  And we published a fair number of reflections and analyses.   In this regard, see in particular After Copenhagen: On being sadder but wiser, China, and justice as the way forward, which was widely reprinted.  We also conducted a major strategic review of our accomplishments and plans.

We currently have a number of specific projects in process, including domestic projects designed to expand US climate justice politics more explicitly into the project of a just global transition.  The tenor here can best be seen in Tax Justice as Climate Justice, which is, perhaps, a bit of a manifesto.

Primary staff

Tom Athanasiou

Tom Athanasiou is a long-time left-green writer and critic.  More particularly, he is a former physics student turned social ecologist, a former programmer turned software manager, a technology analyst, a climate and climate-justice activist.  His first book (as a ghost writer) was Mind Over Machine, an early critique of artificial-intelligence technology and its pretentions.  His current interests focus on social protection and distributive justice in the context of global ecological emergency.  This interest is national as well as global; Tom is interested in class division as well as North / South inequality.  He is the author or co-author of numerous essays and reports, and three books:  Divided Planet: the Ecology of Rich and Poor, Dead Heat: Global Justice and Global Warming, and Greenhouse Development Rights: The Right to Development in a Climate Constrained World.

In the late 1990s, Tom began to focus more or less exclusively on the justice-related aspects of the climate crisis.  In 2000, with Paul Baer, he founded EcoEquity, an activist think tank focused on the development of fair that thus potentially viable approaches to climate stabilization.  In 2004, EcoEquity, together with the Stockholm Environment Institute, released the first version of Greenhouse Development Rights, a reference framework designed to deepen our common understanding of what a fair-shares approach to emergency climate mobilization would have to entail.  Which is to say that Greenhouse Development Rights intends to show precisely why, absent a deep commitment to developmental justice, we will likely fail to hold the warming within manageable limits, and this despite the coming techno-economic revolution.

Tom is now the executive director of EcoEquity, and is extremely active in the equity debate that underlies and frames both the ongoing climate negotiations and America’s own confrontation with the necessities of the coming emergency mobilization.  In his spare time, he’s writing a new book, the working title of which is A New Deal for the Greenhouse Century.

Paul Baer


Paul Baer is an internationally recognized expert on issues of equity and climate change, with training in ecological economics, ethics, philosophy of science, risk analysis and simulation modeling.  He joined the faculty of the School of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology in August of 2009, where he teaches statistics, climate policy, environmental policy, and ecological economics. He holds a PhD from the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley, as well an MA in Environmental Planning and Management from Louisiana State University and a BA in Economics from Stanford University.

Paul has been the Research Director for EcoEquity since 2000, when he co-founded the group with Tom Athanasiou, with whom he also co-authored the 2002 book Dead Heat: Global Justice and Global Warming (Seven Stories Press). Together with Tom and colleagues at the Stockholm Environment Institute, he is a co-author of the Greenhouse Development Rights framework, an influential equity-based proposal for sharing the costs of global climate policy. His work has been published in a number of interdisciplinary journals and several published anothologies, including Fairness in Adaptation to Climate Change (Adger et al., eds. MIT Press 2006), Climate Change Science and Policy (Schneider et al., eds, Island Press 2009) and Climate Ethics: Essential Readings (Gardiner et al., eds, Oxford University Press, 2010).

Advisory board

Azibuike Akaba, Environmental Justice Specialist, California EPA

Eugene Coyle, PhD, Ecological Economics, “public servant”

John Gershman, Associate Professor, Wagner School of Public Policy, New York University

Barbara Haya, PhD Candidate, Energy and Resources Group, UC Berkeley

Glenn Fieldman, Associate Professor, San Francisco State University

Dan Kammen, professor of Energy and Resources and professor of public policy at UC Berkeley

Juliette Majot, Consultant specializing in Non-profit Organizations

Richard Norgaard, Professor, Energy and Resources Group, UC Berkeley

Ian McGregor, Lecturer, University of Technology, Sydney

Patrick McCully, Executive Director, Black Rock Solar

Timmons Roberts, Director, Center for Environmental Studies, Professor of Sociology, Brown University

Sivan Kartha, Senior Scientist, Stockholm Environment Institute.  IPCC Lead Author (WGIII, Chapter 4, Sustainable Development and Equity).

Jim Williams, Energy consultant, Associate Professor, Monterey Institute ofInternational Studies

Contact information


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Berkeley, CA 94704-1302 USA