Is Donald Trump right to claim unfairness over Paris?

There’s a brilliant article from Peter Singer in Project Syndicate this week about Donald Trump’s whinging over the unfairness of the Paris climate agreement. Trump is basically the fat kid who ate 3/4 of the cake and then complained that it’s unfair he didn’t get more while 3 other kids shared the 1/4 remainder between them.

By this standard, was the Paris accord unfair to the US? Hardly. The US currently has less than 5% of the world’s population, but emits nearly 15% of the world’s greenhouse gases. If fairness means that everyone’s slice of pie should be the same size, it is the US that is being unfair, by grabbing a slice that is three times bigger than it should have.

India, by contrast, has 17% of the world’s population and emits less than 6% of its greenhouse gases, so it would be entitled to almost three times its current emissions. Many other developing countries use an even smaller fraction of their per capita share of the atmosphere.

Perhaps equal slices are not the fairest way to divide a pie. One obvious objection is that equal division takes no account of how much the people seeking slices really need them. Are the pie-seekers genuinely hungry, or are they already well fed and just looking for a treat?

But taking need into account does nothing to assist Trump’s case that the US was unfairly treated by the Paris accord, because Americans could easily cut back on luxuries like vacation travel, air conditioning, and meat consumption, whereas less affluent countries need to industrialize to lift their populations out of depths of poverty unknown in the US.