Climate change is possibly the most serious environmental threat ever faced by the world community and unsurprisingly the causes, impacts and the solutions to it are fraught with ethical issues. Indeed, ethical undercurrents swirl beneath almost every aspect of the international negotiations under the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), especially in the process begun by the Berlin Mandate in 1995 that reached a conclusion in Kyoto in December 1997. The principal concerns are distributive: who is responsible for the problem, who will suffer most from climate change, and who will bear the costs of abatement measures. There are in addition deeper philosophical concerns about the way in which decision-makers conceive of the problem and the solutions as fundamentally economic. This raises profound issues about the relationship of human beings to the natural environment.
This chapter explores the most significant of these issues of environmental justice. A persistent theme will be the role of facts, especially numerical data, in forming perceptions of fairness. In international negotiations it is not enough for a nation to claim that it is being treated unfairly; it must substantiate its claim with credible scientific and economic evidence. In the United States and Australia, economic modelling results have assumed particular importance in domestic debates between environmentalists and industry lobbyists and, especially in the Australian case, in government attempts to convince the world community that it would be especially disadvantaged by uniform greenhouse gas reduction targets.
First the question is considered of the distribution of the causes and impacts of climate change between developed and developing countries. The second section comments on the distribution of the impacts of climate change and abatement policies between social classes within developed countries. The third section discusses some of the vital issues of the distribution of the costs of reducing emissions among developed countries, since this has been fundamental to international negotiations to find agreement on mandatory emission reduction targets. The fourth section considers some of the philosophical