Words: 3454
Pages: 13
Subject: samples



Common but Differentiated Responsibility principle verses Polluter Pay principles


The two principles Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) and polluter pay principles have been established with a main theme of addressing climate change through environmental conservation. The Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) principle suggests a fair and equal role in addressing responsibilities in controlling climate change worldwide under the international environmental laws. The polluter pay principle directs that polluters be directly responsible pollution they cause to the environment with respect to the amount of pollution. The principles have been interpreted before international committees and meetings with expectations of their application, but several challenges which have led to some failure on their application in the past years.

This paper will address the relationship and contradictions in Common but Differentiated Responsibility principle (CBDR) and Polluter Pay principle (PPP) in their structure and application.

Implications of the Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) principle and Polluter Pays principle (PPP)

Common responsibility – This refers to the concerns and requirements of two or more states who have a common goal of ensuring environmental control and address of environmental  problems (Feyter 2013). It developed from the common heritage humankind where biodiversity leads to common legal interest of protecting environment to compact climate change (Honkonen 2009). This supports the polluter pays principle in having a common goal towards pollution control (Barrett & Lawlor 1997).

Differentiated responsibility – refers to the environmental protection at different environmental standards implicated by the difference in developed countries and developing countries (Feyter 2013). In Rio Declaration, the state noted that ‘applications of environmental laws should match proportionally to the environmental and developmental context in which they are applied’. As polluter pays principle supports different levels of responsibility, with each individual paying a tax equal to the quantity of pollution caused, Yoshiro (2002) points that the principles aim at balancing responsibilities in developed and developing countries, where the most polluting countries are expected to take more responsibilities in CBDR principle.

The principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) applies to every individual similar to polluter pays principle and therefore, the combination of the residents’ responsibility is what yields the country’s responsibility (Rajamani 2000). In most organizations addressing climate system protection, CBDR and PPP principles have been incorporated in their policies. These organizations include The Rio Earth summit, which created the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNCCC) with a main agenda of compacting carbon emission rates in both developing and developed countries (Ekins 1999).

On considering polluter pays principle which is an environmental based policy, it demands full and direct responsibility of any pollution to the individual who cause it (Stoczkiewicz 2009). This translates to certain penalties for respective magnitudes of pollution, based on two approach policies of market-based and command-and-control. Market-based approach involves trade pollution permits among product labeling to indicate it pollution position, and command-and-control involves technology and performance pollution standards in relation to environmental regulations (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1974). Similar to CBDR, the principle is meant to curb the occurrences where factories and industries irresponsible of pollution reduction whereby, they pay very little for the pollution they cause by either emitting higher amount of carbon or draining chemicals into rivers (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development 1975).

Generally, the states have common responsibility and goals with the two principles of controlling and developing environmental pollution were possible for sustainable existence of humankind, but following the existing states differences in social standards, economic status and governance status, the responsibilities have to be differentiated with respect to the country’s standards in order to play its role of conservation without oppression (Pigou 1920). From this perspective, equity is ensured such that developed countries take more responsibilities on the pollutions they cause while the developing countries take similar responsibilities proportional to their rate of environmental pollution (Nina 2006).

Contested interpretation of the two principles

Both Common but Differentiated Responsibility principle and the Polluter Pays principles have been enacted in the international law, which considers equity in its every aspect on law enforcement. Even though countries like US supported CBDR principle by ratifying the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, the interpretation is still challenging since the US has been unwilling to regulate its carbon emission if the developing countries do not do the same. By noting that CBDR aims at a common goal of pollution reduction but at different magnitudes depending on the countries’ status, the interpretation fails. In contrasting the polluter pays principle which requires the industries to pay for the magnitude of pollution they cause, Huber and Wirl (1998) interprets low taxing as an encouragement to higher pollution in the case of the US industries.

Interpretation of CBDR principle encourages individual responsibility in environmental pollution control in relevance to the ability and standards, which dictates the level of pollution caused for respective control (Feyter 2013). This interpretation gives a similarity to polluter pay principle where the level of control is determined by the by the rate of pollution caused, through changing rates of tax as per the effective pollution changes (Barrett & Lawlor 1997).

Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) principle and Polluter Pays principle (PPP) analysis

In polluter pays principle, the amount paid is inform of tax with respect to the quantity of pollution caused. This relates to water or air pollution, where the industry or individual causing the pollution pay equal amount of tax to the rate of pollution caused. Critically, the higher the pollution, the higher the amount levied on the polluter thus discouraging high pollution. Theoretically, pollution is highly reduced through these criteria, as it is in the case of CBDR principle according to Harris (1999) who supports Polluter pays principle. Some individuals have high responsibility of causing pollution than others, as it is with the case of a poor person in comparison to a rich man who has three trucks. This gives a direct implication that the effect of pollution reduction can be induced magnificently by some individual like the rich people who can make recognizable environmental effects than the poor as implicated by different responsibilities (Frick 2002). Both PPP and CBDR principles have been recognized in most international laws and practices like World Trade Organization (WTO), Rio Declaration, Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNCCC).

Similar to Common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) principle, polluter pays principle has received much support from many countries which have it among their environmental control principles (Stoczkiewicz 2009). Countries from the European communities (EC) have embraced the polluter pays principles, were most base their support on a believe that, ‘everyone should carry his or her own cross’ (Baldock 1992). Its implication is that every industry should bear the full amount taxed with relevance to the pollution it causes to the environment. Countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have also supported the polluter pays principles adding that the industries should bear the responsibility of pollution reduction at different responsibilities in CBDR principle.

Suggestions to internalize environmental costs on products from both small-size and medium-size industries has proven to reduce their competitive level in the markets and therefore, the only way the governments can do is to levy taxes with respect to the industrial rate of pollution (Vandekerckhove 1993). This implies paying for pollution caused at different responsibility levels with a common goal of pollution reduction (Ekins 1999). Prior to reducing the rate of environmental pollution, the governments are able to utilize the funds collected in polluter pays policy to protect the quality of the environment as well as providing for the public and services to its citizens (Yoshiro 2002).

Application of CBDR and PPP principles to individual residents

Effects of climate change on life expectancy and standards of living to everyone leaves obligation towards pollution reduction on everyone as supported by Grünebaum et al (2009). Therefore individual prevention of pollution adds up to the community obligation, which finally makes the country to be recognized as having pollution control initiatives. This applies in CBDR where the differentiated responsibility falls in individual, just as it is in the case of polluter pays principle.

Apart from individual environmental care being recommended, wealthy people spend much than the poor, implicating that they contribute to more environmental pollution than the poor. Therefore, reduction of environmental pollution can be higher reflected if preservation measures are perceived by the rich as the poor make their efforts (Yoshiro 2002). This refers to CBDR as well as polluter pays principle since they pay or contribute to conservation of what they have polluted.

The third aspect which encourages individual responsibility to apply CBDR principle is mobility. People change their residential places randomly and therefore, CBDR predicts total responsibility at any new environment where polluter pays principles may not be observed. Individual responsibility therefore does not call for nationality or country but recommends full environmental responsibility at everyplace of resident as Honkonen (2009) pointed on his review of European Community and International Environmental Law.

International pursuits in strengthening CBDR and PPP principles would only succeed if individual citizens who venture in technology and innovations utilize their responsibility in achieving a common goal of low carbon emission and environmental pollution in general (Atapattu 2006). As mentioned above, this would require individual efforts regardless of nationality, race or country.

General application of CBDR and Polluter pays principle

In the year 1972, the polluter pays principle made basis of international laws (Honkonen 2009) where the OECD environmental policy guidelines stated that, ‘polluters should bear the expenses of carrying out pollution as decided by public authorities to ensure acceptable environmental conditions’. This was later written in the ‘Guiding Principles concerning International Economic Aspects of Environmental Policies’ where recommendations on the principle, required government intervention on clear definition of property rights (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development 1974), leading to differentiated responsibilities in relation.

In the 1992 Rio Declaration, the 16th principle stated that ‘National authorities should ensure internalization of environmental costs in an approach such that a polluter in principle bears the cost of pollution regarding the public interest without distorting international trade and investment.’ In relation to CBDR, polluter pays principle had been applied to green houses which cause climatic change through the greenhouse gases emission even though there had been a notion that global atmosphere is free for everyone, ignoring the effects on the climate change due to the greenhouses emissions (Grossman 2009 and Tobey & Smets 1996). As earlier discussed in the CBDR individual resident responsibility, everyone has the right to free atmosphere which should be directly proportional to everyone having the right to control atmosphere pollution. From this correlation, greenhouses should be in the front line in establishing a less pollution environment by observing correct measures as differentiated responsibility, while paying for the pollution they cause as per the PPP principle (Stavins & Grumbley 1993).

The polluter pays principle was also incorporated with obligations in world trade laws by World Trade Organization (WTO) to observe the evading nature of industrial owners from the differentiated responsibilities (Jerry 1996). They have been applying a strategy of escaping to countries with low restrictions on carbon emission and thus escaping their responsibilities and polluter pays principle (Woerdman et al 2008). Since countries which lack environmental regulations also lack CBDR, they allow industries which are established there to continue polluting without restrictions. In Glazyrina et al (2006), polluter pays principle suggests that carbon price should be the same worldwide for the polluters to face direct proportional expenses to their rate of pollution, a concept which is supported by CBDR principle in differentiated responsibilities suitable for every country’s pollution control measures.

Government intervention

In ensuring that polluter pays principle is perfectly followed without evading, the government is expected to make estimations of the external cost of pollution which would perfectly compensate the pollution effect (The Cohesion Fund and the environment 2000). This estimations lead to a common goal but differentiated responsibilities of the producer as suggested by Fehr (2011), which supports CBDR principle. The role of environmental conservation has been shifted from government responsibility to the producer responsibility (Schmidtchen 2009). This ensures producers’ responsibility applies in recycling or disposal of their product hence applying both principles in improving environmental responsibility in production sector.

The government may also place a tax on goods and services, making the industries to pay the cost on increase or even divert it to the people who would pay the total cost inclusive of the social cost (Turner 1992 & Jerry 1996). This applies PPP principle and thus making industries and consumers to be responsible in environmental conservation, according to the level of their production and consumption respectively as noted by Glazyrina et al (2006).

Following extensive tragedies which may happen in due industrial operation, the governments take initiatives like making industries and firms to pay for insurance bonds against their worse environmental cases (Atapattu 2006). This would prevent cases where such tragedies happen leaving the firms so bankrupt that even compensating for the environmental pollution becomes impossible (Vandekerckhove 1993). For example, in Alsaka in 1989, 41million litters of oil spilled into ‘Prince William Sound’ leading to the passing of Oil Pollution Act (1990). Applying insurance bonds ensures PPP principle is not failed while CBDR principle is covered in the different levels of industrial responsibilities

Challenges in Common but Differentiated Responsibility principle and Polluter Pays principle

Competitive distortions – This reason is based upon by the developed countries which fail to comply with the CBDR and PPP principles. In Kyoto Protocol, developed countries are required to reduce the rate of carbon emission where else the developing countries are required to only report their rate of carbon emission (Harris 1999). This has however faced a stiff challenge with the developed countries claiming that they will lose their competitive nature on other rapid growing developed countries as noted by Harris (1999). For example, the proposal made in a meeting in International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNCCC) on putting carbon price on the emissions for all international shipping, failed. Though the proposal intended to use the fund from the raised carbon price in mitigation as well as financing the developing countries to adopt low carbon technology, the developed countries rejected the proposal pointing that the CBDR principle would be contravened by raising carbon price for ships while in their countries (Ekins 1999), where only Polluter pays principle could apply.

Measuring the extent and quantity of pollution produced by industries and firms is extremely difficult, considering that most industries give deceiving figures in efforts to reduce their polluter pays cost. This implicates defied CBDR as well as deceiving the Polluter pays principle. In the European Union, the combined principles of CBDR and polluter pays principle have been enforced, which has seen internalization possible (O’Connor 1997) and can be applied to other countries facing similar challenges.

Another challenge in pollution is on imposing regulations on industries in other countries, which becomes impossible even though global pollution affects the whole world. If an international policy could be created to reach all environmental pollutants irrespective of their countries, polluter pays principle according to OECD publishing (2008) could be widely effective in making global regulation possible and economical (Turner 1992). This would apply even to countries which lack CBDR in their low environmental regulations.

As earlier mentioned in the paper, some industries have a tendency of shifting to countries with low environmental regulations so as to escape the polluter pays principle and CBDR, thus posing another challenge. This has led to more pollution with the same effect as when the industries were at their original destination (Schmidtchen 2009). In order to cover this pollution havens, Nina (2006) suggests that an international carbon price should be implemented such that in which ever country an industry pollutes, the Polluter pays and CBDR principles apply.

Unexpected pollutions occur, posing another challenge. This becomes impossible to follow the already industry or firm if the loss leaves it at a bankrupt status. As mentioned in Woerdman et al (2008), some pollutions caused becomes too much for the firm involved to pay and therefore, the respective governments should have an insurance enforcement such that every firm is insured against the worse pollution it may cause. This would enable relevant CBDR and a better polluter pays application.

The administration cost of collecting information on extent of pollution by each firm and the tax implementation is very high hence becoming a challenge. This leads to governments’ reliance on the information provided by the industries on their pollution rate, which are mostly fraud information. For perfect pollution control, some government dedication is required to foster sectors which require state intervention as suggested by Stoczkiewicz (2009).



Both CBDR and PPP principles have a common goal of environmental pollution control and therefore, individual responsibility makes up a country’s initiative. More so, reduced carbon emission can thus be achieved from combined individual responsibility irrespective of nationality, race or country. Even though there are challenges faced in implementing these two principles, differentiated responsibilities which directly relates to PPP will enable environmental pollution control from individual perspective. Critically, some environmental pollution would be better burned than taxing the firms. Considering river pollution, it causes much negative effects to the nature (Tobey & Smets 1996) compared to the compensation paid by the industries and therefore, the polluter pays principle cannot morally apply, while CBDR principle lacks meaning in such pollutions.



Atapattu, S, A 2006, Emerging principles of international environmental law, Ardsley, NY: Transnational Publishers.

Baldock, D 1992, The Polluter Pays Principle And Its Relevance To Agricultural Policy In European Countries, Sociologia Ruralis, 32(1), 49-65.

Barrett, A & Lawlor, J 1997, The fiscal system and the polluter pays principle: A case study of Ireland, Aldershot, Hants., England: Brookfield, Vt.

Ekins, P 1999, European environmental taxes and charges: Recent experience, issues and trends. Ecological Economics, 31(1), 39-62.

Fehr, M 2011, Polluter-Pays Principle Applied to Construction and Demolition Debris, Journal of Environmental Protection, 2(2), 124-129.

Feyter, K 2013, Globalization and common responsibilities of states, Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate.

Frick, M 2002, The polluter pays principle as a Swiss constitutional principle: The relevance of EC experience, Bern: Stämpfli

Glazyrina, I., Glazyrin, V., & Vinnichenko, S 2006, The Polluter Pays Principle And Potential Conflicts In Society, Ecological Economics, 59(3), 324-330.

Grossman, M, R 2009, Agriculture and the polluter pays principle, London: British Institute of International and Comparative Law.

Grünebaum, T, Schweder, H & Weyand, M 2009, Who has to pay for measures in the field of water management? A proposal for applying the polluter pays principle, Water Science & Technology, 59(2), 359.

Harris, P G 1999, Common but Differentiated Responsibility, The Kyoto Protocol and United States Policy, N.Y.U. Env’tal L.J. 27(7): 82

Honkonen, T 2009, The common but differentiated responsibility principle in multilateral environmental agreements: regulatory and policy aspects, Alphen aan den Rijn: Kluwer Law International.

Honkonen, T 2009, The Principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibility in Post-2012 Climate Negotiations, Review of European Community & International Environmental Law, 18(3), 257-267.

Huber, C & Wirl, F 1998, The Polluter Pays versus the Pollutee Pays Principle under Asymmetric Information, Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 35(1), 69-87.

Jerry Taylor, November 15, 1996, Salting the Earth: The Case for Repealing Superfund, Regulation: The Cato Review of Business and Government.

Nina, E B 2006, Compliance with the Ozone Treaty: Weak States and the Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities, 21 Am U Int’l L, 461

O’Connor, M 1997, The Internalization of environmental costs: Implementing the polluter pays principle in the European Union, International Journal of Environment and Pollution, 7(4), 450-482.

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1974, The Polluter Pays Principle: Definition, analysis, implementation, Paris

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1975, The polluter pays principle: definition, analysis, implementation, Paris

Pigou , AC 1920, The Economics of Welfare, London: Macmillan

Rajamani, L 2000, The Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility and the Balance of Commitments under the Climate Regime, Review of European Community and International Environmental Law, 9(2), 120-131.

Schmidtchen, D 2009, Transport, welfare and externalities: replacing the Polluter Pays Principle with the Cheapest Cost Avoider Principle, Northampton, Mass.: Edward Elgar Publishing, Inc.

Stavins, R & Grumbley, T, 1993, The Greening of the Market: Making the Polluter Pay, Mandate for Change, The Progressive Policy Institute, Washington, D.C. pp. 203-206.

Stoczkiewicz, M 2009, The polluter pays principle and State aid for environmental protection, Journal for European Environmental & Planning Law, 6(2), 171-196.

The Cohesion Fund and the environment, 2000, The application of the ‘polluter pays’ principle in Cohesion Fund countries, Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities

The Polluter Pays Principle, 2008, Paris: OECD Publishing.

Tobey, JA & Smets, H 1996, The Polluter-Pays Principle in the Context of Agriculture and the Environment, The World Economy, 19(1), 63-87.

Turner, R, K 1992, Environmental policy: An economic approach to the polluter pays principle, Norwich

Vandekerckhove, K 1993, The Polluter Pays Principle in the European Community, Yearbook of European Law, 13(1), 201-262.

Woerdman, E, Arcuri, A & Clò, S 2008, Emissions Trading and the Polluter-Pays Principle: Do Polluters Pay under Grandfathering? Review of Law & Economics, 4(2)

Yoshiro, M 2002, Some Aspects of the Principle of ‘Common but Differentiated Responsibilities’, Politics, Law and Economics 2(2): 151-170