Global Justice & Climate Change

A series of efforts to critique and develop theories of global justice have developed into major research programs for a range of political philosophers and theorists of late. Cosmopolitans argue that robust duties of justice exist between non-compatriots. Non-cosmopolitans either deny the existence of such duties of justice or assert that they are substantially less robust than those between compatriots.

The privilege of making use of fossil fuels has most often fallen to the comparatively wealthy sections of the world, while the burdens of climate change are obviously falling more drastically on the poor. The pressing question of who is responsible for the costs of climate change and the costs of adaptation to it lies at the heart of global justice. Another concern is how an international treaty will assign mitigation costs and whether costs will be assigned in a way that constrains poverty eradicating economic growth in the developing and least developed countries.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), formed by international treaty in 1992, is the international institution wherein international agreements dealing with climate change occur. Both the treaty and the institution that developed as a result of the treaty. The UNFCCC provides the institutional setting for international negotiations and the Convention provides a deliberative framework in a set of guiding norms.

Cosmopolitans are likely to favour distinguishing the burdens of responding to climate change in a way that provides allowances to developing countries. The Convention applies to a world characterized by extreme poverty and global inequality. Economic development can eradicate poverty but it is energy intensive. A climate change treaty that raises energy prices in the developing world threatens to slow, or prevent, the process by which billions of people may be raised out of extreme poverty.

Considerations of global justice and the Convention’s language of common but differentiated responsibilities have led some people to conclude that a morally acceptable international treaty should distribute various responsibilities of states according to their historic contribution of greenhouse gasses. This idea is subsumed in the polluter-pays-principle. The idea is that those who pollute should pay in proportion to their contribution to the overall pollution problem.

Meanwhile the ability-to-pay-principle assigns responsibility in proportion to an agent’s capacity. The ability-to-pay is often used in the assignment of burdens for financing state activities such as defence against various threats and the provision of certain aspects of the well-being of citizens.

Sustainable development, on the other hand, would be consistent with theories of global justice that require eradicating poverty or decreasing inequalities. It would also be in line with the Convention’s commitment to sustainable development, a comprehensive conception of which had been laid down in its preamble. The goal of development is to eradicate poverty- this requires economic growth, which in turn requires growth in energy consumption and, when cheap fossil fuels are used, a by-product of energy consumption is CO2 emissions. To achieve a poverty eradicating development, developed countries would have to cut down on their emissions heavily. Thinkers such as Darrel Moellendorf have gone on record to say that since emissions growth over the next several decades will come mostly from the developing countries, an effective climate change treaty ought to address their concerns.

Categories: Environment

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