World Ethics and Climate Change: From International to Global Justice

By Paul G. Harris | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
JUSTICE IN A CHANGING
WORLD

Before we focus on questions of climate ethics and especially climate justice, it is worth pausing to ask to what extent ethics and justice are germane to world affairs generally. The question leads to different answers depending on to whom it is asked (cf. Dower 1997: 563–6). Some people, sometimes labelled ‘sceptical realists’, believe that ethical norms and justice have little or no place in world affairs. These so-called realists believe that states are the key actors in world affairs, and that their relations are dictated by power and calculations of national interests. Insofar as ethics play any role, it is in the state’s obligation to defend its own ethical space from interference. Other people, who are sometimes called ‘internationalists’, believe that ethical norms routinely obtain in world affairs, but only among states. From this ‘morality-ofstates’ perspective, ethical norms exist within a ‘society’ of states as a means to maintain order and thereby protect national interests. According to this view, human rights and values can best be promoted by focusing on creating order among states. In practice, the extent to which justice obtains across borders in relations among states and other actors depends on the issue at hand, but generally speaking justice beyond borders has been applied to more and more issues in recent decades. When it has not been applied, ethical prescriptions frequently demand that it should be.


COMMUNITARIANISM VERSUS COSMOPOLITANISM

Discussions of justice in world affairs frequently take either a communitarian or a cosmopolitan perspective. Each perspective emphasises different rights and obligations. As the label suggests, communitarians would probably say that obligation is close to oneself – to one’s family, neighbours and nation. Communitarians emphasise that individuals are

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