Earthly Goods: Environmental Change and Social Justice

By Fen Osler Hampson; Judith Reppy | Go to book overview

5
The Normative Structure
of International Society

CHRISTIAN REUS-SMIT

WHEN we consider the ethical status of international environmental accords we need to address two distinct but interconnected levels of justice. Henry Shue has usefully characterized these as background justice and internal justice. 1 International agreements are negotiated within preexisting social, economic, and political contexts, and we speak of background justice when we assess the justice of these circumstances.Internal justice refers to the justice of the accords themselves, whether the terms of the agreements can be considered fair or unfair, equitable or inequitable, empowering or oppressive. The two levels of justice are obviously connected. If background conditions are unjust, leaving some actors disadvantaged, then it is difficult to imagine the resulting agreements being internally just. As these internally unjust agreements are institutionalized, they become part of the background circumstances in which new accords are formulated.

Some theories of justice are better suited to questions of background justice, whereas others are more appropriate to issues of internal justice. The relative appropriateness of a given theory is largely determined by its underlying ontological assumptions. Every theory of international justice presupposes a particular account of the nature and

____________________
The author thanks Amy Gurowitz, Richard Price, Henry Shue, Sarah Soule, and the editors, whose insights greatly influenced and sharpened the ideas explored here.The research and writing of this chapter were financially supported by an SSRC-MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in Peace and Security in a Changing World.
1
Henry Shue, " The Unavoidability of Justice," in The International Politics of the Environment, ed. Andrew Hurrell and Benedict Kingsbury ( Oxford: Clarendon, 1992), p. 387.

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