Climate Change and Distributive Justice
Climate Change Blinders
Some nations are rich and other nations are poor. Our question in this chapter is whether rich nations have a special obligation to deal with climate change, not because they are principally responsible for the problem, but simply because they are rich. Are rich nations ethically obligated to sign a climate change agreement that is not, strictly speaking, in their self-interest, because doing so would help the poor? Shouldn't they provide disproportionate help?
Many claim that rich nations do have such an obligation. Many developing countries, for example, argue that the developed world should bear most of the cost of greenhouse gas mitigation efforts because they are rich.1 These arguments often appeal to international-law ideas such as the right to develop, which are said to excuse developing countries from environmental and other restrictions that developed countries must observe.2 These claims have been embodied in climate agreements. As we have seen, the Framework Convention requires that emissions reductions be based on the principle of equity and follow the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. The Kyoto Protocol, building on the Framework Convention, imposes obligations largely on rich countries, allowing developing countries to increase their emissions without limit.3 Some scholars have argued that rich nations should bear most or even “all of the costs” of abatement.4
We will argue here that these claims improperly tie valid concerns about redistribution to the problem of reducing the effects of climate change. To a great extent, these issues are and should be separate.