In regard to your point about big oil companies being sued, one thing surprised me when doing this assignment is that, according to CDP, 71% of the emissions in the world come from only 100 corporations (Riley, 2017), and more than 50% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from less than 4% of the countries. This really illustrates the extent to which the pollution haven hypothesis (Cole, 2004) can be seen to be a real problem and how it interacts with the issue of the “free-rider”.
According to Althor, Watson, & Fuller (2016), we can basically classify countries as either being:
Free-riders: high emission/low vulnerability
Equitable: equal emission/vulnerability (i.e., responsible)
Forced-riders: low emission/high vulnerability
Of the 36 worst offending countries, 20 were in the least affected, whereas 11 of the 17 countries with “low or moderate GHG emissions …. were acutely vulnerable to negative impacts of climate change”, Althor el al (2016, p. 2). The three worst offenders were, not surprisingly, China (21.1%), the United States of America (14.1%) and India (5.2%), Disappointingly though, New Zealand is just in the top third – it’s somewhere around the white line on the top left of the attached image.
For me this highlighted why there is so much inaction for in reaching agreement on a course of actions due to perceptions of inequality. Offending countries in the free-rider category disproportionately receive benefits from climate change while forced-riders are most susceptible to the negative impacts of climate change yet receive the least benefits. This leads onto the issue of sovereignty and the Westphalian dilemma (Nordhaus, 2015). While national governments have the power and legal authority to establish laws and institutions within their own territories, there is no legal means by which to force reluctant, free-riding countries into agreements that provide for global public goods. We have seen a recent example of this with the United States indicating that their withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and the lack of binding enforcement mechanism.