World Ethics and Climate Change: From International to Global Justice

By Paul G. Harris | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
THE UNAVOIDABILITY OF
GLOBAL JUSTICE

Part I described the practical and ethical challenge of climate change. Chapter 1 summarised how global warming and climate change will become growing problems in the future, with the adverse impacts being felt most severely by those countries and people least responsible for causing them. Chapter 2 briefly examined how ethics and justice have become important in world affairs. Drawing on several accounts of justice, it showed how climate change is a profound matter of international and indeed global justice – or, more appropriately, injustice. Part II looked at justice in the context of international environmental agreements and regimes. Chapter 3 described the evolution of international environmental justice, which has been applied by states in the context of climate change because international justice has been perceived to be necessary for garnering the widest possible collective international action to limit global warming and to deal with its effects. As summarised in Chapter 4, governments have generally agreed on the importance of overarching justice principles, notably common but differentiated responsibility. However, the implementation of international climate justice by states has fallen far short of what is required ethically and practically, failing to address climate change in a robust way. Indeed, greenhouse gas emissions and the pace of climate change are increasing markedly. Taken together, the chapters in Part II located the failure of the climate change regime largely in its preoccupation with the rights and duties of sovereign states, and the consequent tragedy of the atmospheric commons resulting from the short-sighted logic of perceived national interests.

With that tragedy in mind, I have argued that there is a crucial practical role for world ethics in the international response to climate change. An approach to the problem based on world ethics and global justice may be much more politically viable than current practice. This is

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