World Ethics and Climate Change: From International to Global Justice

By Paul G. Harris | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE
AND CLIMATE CHANGE

Like other international environmental agreements, those that comprise the climate change regime have been premised on Westphalian norms of state sovereignty and states’ rights. The climate change regime has been guided in large measure by the doctrine of international environmental justice. The norms, discourse and thinking associated with this statecentric doctrine have taken the politics and diplomacyof climate change in a direction that has been characterised by diplomatic delay, minimal action – especially relative to the scale of the problem – and mutual blame between rich and poor countries, resulting in a ‘you-go-first’ mentality that has prevailed even as global greenhouse gas emissions have exploded. The problems that have prevented more effective action in other environmental areas have also been manifested in most domestic and international responses to climate change, allof which have been preoccupied with protecting perceived national interests. This focus on the rights and interestsof states has been written into the climate change agreements, including the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and subsequent agreements and diplomatic negotiations on implementing the protocol and devising its successor. Although some major industrialised countries, notably in Europe, have started to restrict and even reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, these responses pale in comparison to the major cuts demanded by scientists. Just as profoundly, many large developing countries are experiencing huge emissions increases as their economies grow, often bolstered by increased exports, and as millions of their citizens finally escape poverty and join the global middle class. These growing emissions will dwarfplanned cuts by developed states. In short, most of the world’s expanding wealthy classes continue to consume and pollute aggressively, usually without any legal restrictions, regardless of the growing impact on the planet.

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