Accounting rules used for compiling national greenhouse gas inventories play a significant role in constituting the global climate change regime's character. These rules have major political and policy implications. Production-based accounting and national production-based emissions targets contribute to the deadlock in climate negotiations by deflecting attention away from consumption patterns and by accentuating tensions among the climate regime's underlying norms. These dynamics contribute to inefficient domestic mitigation policies, conflict over the norm of “common but differentiated responsibility,” weak international agreements, and continued political neglect of consumption as a driver of emissions. In contrast, consumption-based emissions accounting would shift attention from production to consumption. Consumption-based targets could potentially provide an alternative path by which differentiated responsibility could be implemented. Adoption of consumption-based inventories might also prompt reappraisal of underlying norms and opposing conceptions of justice among states.

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Author notes

* Research for this article was fully supported by a grant from the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China (GRF No. HKIEd 340309; Principal Investigator: Paul G. Harris).