Climate Change and Justice: A Non-Welfarist Treaty Negotiation Framework

Ethics, Policy and Environment 18 (2):123-145 (2015)
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Obstacles to achieving a global climate treaty include disagreements about questions of justice raised by the UNFCCC's principle that countries should respond to climate change by taking cooperative action "in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and their social and economic conditions". Aiming to circumvent such disagreements, Climate Change Justice authors Eric Posner and David Weisbach argue against shaping treaty proposals according to requirements of either distributive or corrective justice. The USA's climate envoy, Todd Stern, takes a similar position. In this article I explain the practical and theoretical drawbacks of Posner & Weisbach's welfarist perspective and propose an alternative. I show that their arguments fail to rule out John Rawls' non-utilitarian, political conception of international justice and human rights, the Law of Peoples. On this basis I develop a conception of climate justice that highlights implications of some of Rawls' principles and adds a principle for determining fair shares of climate -treaty-related benefits and burdens. I propose this conception as a moral framework for negotiating a treaty that would promote human welfare consistently with requirements of justice, and I argue that a treaty proposal satisfying these requirements could best satisfy Posner & Weisbach's own feasibility criteria.

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Alyssa R. Bernstein
Ohio University


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