World Ethics and Climate Change: From International to Global Justice

By Paul G. Harris | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
AFFLUENCE,
CONSUMPTION AND
ATMOSPHERIC POLLUTION

One reason why climate change is a matter of global justice – of cosmopolitan justice, which fully considers the rights and duties of individuals – is that millions of people geographically and temporally distant from the sources of the global warming suffer from its consequences. Another reason is that the persons who are presently causing future global warming no longer live almost exclusively within the states that have historically caused it. Until quite recently we could talk, in both moral and practical terms, about climate change as a problem caused by the world’s developed countries and their citizens. They were by far the primary sources of greenhouse gas pollution and thus (if we focus solely on causality) the logical bearersof responsibility to end that pollution, to make amends for it and to aid those who will suffer from it. The climate change regime, insofar as it acknowledged this responsibility, is premised on this notion of developed states – and, indirectly, their people and commercial entities – having primary responsibility for addressing this problem. However, climate change is no longer solely or even predominantly caused by the relatively affluent people of the world living in the affluent states of the world. Increasingly pollution of the atmosphere comes from the growing number of people in developing countries who are joining the long-polluting classes of the developed states. The developing countries together now produce fully half of the world’s greenhouse gases.

Given the developing countries large populations, this change does not alter the international moral calculus very much. After all, their national per-capita emissions remain well below those of the developed states. What is different is the growing number of ‘new consumers’(cf. Myers and Kent 2004) in the developing world, many of them extremely

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