World Ethics and Climate Change: From International to Global Justice

By Paul G. Harris | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
COSMOPOLITAN ETHICS
AND JUSTICE

Governments have agreed to about 200 treaties dealing with environmental and natural resource issues. Some of these treaties have met with success in limiting and even reversing pollution and overuse of resources. However, one consequence of the communitarian Westphalian norms and the international doctrine upon which these agreements have been based is that states have usually not arrived at effective means to protect natural resources and the environment when doing so might undermine states’ perceived national interests. In most cases, a tragedy of the commons obtains: it is usually in the interests of states to allow continued exploitation of environmental commons and resources because, without effective enforcement, doing otherwise leaves open the likelihood that other countries will exploit the resources for themselves, leaving those who act in the common interest relatively worse off. Consequently, the focus on the interests of states, which is an extension of the Westphalian norms that served many states relatively well until recent decades, has in the case of major environmental problems – and profoundly in the case of climate change – been a sort of curse on often well-meaning aims of governments and other actors to tackle environmental problems.

As Chapter 4 showed, the urgency of addressing climate change is much greater than anticipated by most scientists just a few years ago (as described in Chapter 1). From whence should come the arguments for dealing with this? As Nigel Dower (2007: 184) argues, ‘there is an urgency about creating much stronger norms both in the cultures of communities and [in] the working practices of states. These cultures and practices are vital, but the arguments for creating them come from, and must come from, elsewhere.’ One potentially potent remedy to the ‘curse of Westphalia’ that characterises today’s response to climate change can be found in cosmopolitan ethics and global conceptions of justice that

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