Justice In The Climate Context

Climate change arises from accumulation in the atmosphere of GHGs emitted in and through human activities. The complexity of the issue of justice in the climate context arises from the global and long-term character of the problem and the asymmetry of emitters and impacted groups - spatially and temporally. Limiting emissions would impose costs on emitters, but would reduce costs borne by those affected by emissions. Underlying climate mitigation arrangements, such as emissions limitations, are justice issues, such as how much does a particular nation have the right to emit based on principles of fair distribution?

Emissions mitigation is but one dimension of the justice problem; adaptation to impacts and compensation to affected parties pose other questions of justice. Impacts of climate change have two characteristics that add to the complexity of the climate question. First, for a given global emissions trajectory, the distribution of impacts across nations is independent of the emissions profile of each nation. Second, the impacts would span a long duration due to the long life of GHGs in the atmosphere (see Houghton et al., 1996).

Thus, central to the justice issues are both intragenerational and inter-generational equity concerns, this chapter focuses on intragenerational distributive justice, that is, distribution of emissions entitlements among nations in the time period beyond 2012 (the term of the Kyoto Protocol). Immediate global negotiations and actions are centered on this issue. In time, though, intergenerational equity will become increasingly important in multilateral negotiations.

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