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Keywords:

  • climate change;
  • leadership;
  • non-ideal theory;
  • fair shares;
  • international cooperation

There appear to be few ways available to improve the prospects for international cooperation to address the threat of global warming within the very short time frame for action. I argue that the most effective and plausible way to break the ongoing pattern of delay in the international climate regime is for economically powerful states to take the lead domestically and demonstrate that economic welfare is compatible with rapidly decreasing GHG emissions. However, the costs and risks of acting first can be very large. This raises the question of whether it is fair to expect some states to go far ahead of others in an effort to improve the conditions for cooperation. I argue that a costly obligation to act unilaterally and to accept weak initial reciprocity can be justified and does not violate standards of fair burden sharing. Rather, the costs of creating the underlying conditions within which we can hope to achieve meaningful international cooperation are non-ideal burdens for which we can appropriately assign fair shares.