World Ethics and Climate Change: From International to Global Justice

By Paul G. Harris | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
INTERNATIONAL
ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

For centuries the world has been guided by, and governments have sought to reinforce, norms of state recognition, sovereignty and nonintervention. According to these prevailing and powerful norms, sovereign states are the legitimate expressions of human organisation, and it is to states that people ought to turn for governance and for solutions to major challenges. These norms have so far largely guided discourse, thinking and responses to transboundary environmental problems: environmental diplomacy, regimes and treaties have been based (by definition) on the responsibilities, obligations and capabilities of states to limit pollution affecting other states, to share resources in areas not controlled by individual states, and generally to cooperate to cope with the effects of environmental harm and resource exploitation. Indeed, the international norms have been so powerful as to result in what is, effectively, a doctrine of international (or, more precisely, inter-state) environmental justice, as described in this chapter, and manifested in the principleof common-butdifferentiated responsibility among states, which is examined in the next chapter in the context of climate change. This international doctrine has guided and permeated a number of international environmental agreements and regimes, such as the treaties to combat stratospheric ozone depletion and manage biological diversity. While it is possible to identify some beneficial consequences of these responses, in the case of climate change Westphalian international norms have acted as a kind of curse, stifling diplomatic and human creativity – and action – by fostering a clash between rich and poor states that largely ignores the rights and duties, as well as the suffering, of individuals.


INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE AND THE STATE

Most people take the interstate system for granted. As introduced in Chapter 2, and as we will see in more detail in Chapter 5, a major

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