Global Welfare, Global Justice,
and Climate Change
We have rejected the claim that climate change policies should be based on corrective justice or on an effort to redistribute from rich to poor. Moreover, the claim that emissions permits should be allocated on a per capita basis, while intuitively attractive, runs into many problems. Such an allocation is not easy to justify from the standpoint of any ethical theory, and efforts to insist on it may well derail a climate treaty, ensuring serious harms to poor people in poor nations. But what are the ethical obligations of wealthy nations?
We make four claims here. First, the moral worth of individuals transcends spatial and temporal boundaries. Wealthy people in rich nations have an obligation to help poor people, including poor people who live in developing countries. To the extent that climate change increases the differences between the rich and poor, this obligation increases. This point applies to temporal changes as well. If climate change would impoverish the future, the current generation has a strong obligation to take remedial action. If climate change would simply make some wealthy people in the future less wealthy than they would have been without it, but wealthier than most people today, then the obligation to take remedial action is weaker. And if climate change would produce future winners and losers, then the current generation's obligation to take remedial action today depends on the extent to which that action will in fact help the losers and not the winners, rather than vice versa.
Second, there is no requirement that this obligation should be met through a climate change treaty. Helping the poor requires complex