Ethics and Global Environmental Policy

Ethics and Global Environmental Policy

Cosmopolitan Conceptions of Climate Change

Edited by Paul G. Harris

This collection of provocative essays re-evaluates the world’s failed policy responses to climate change, in the process demonstrating how cosmopolitan ethics can inform global environmental governance.

Chapter 1: Introduction: Cosmopolitanism and Climate Change Policy

Paul G. Harris

Subjects: environment, climate change, environmental politics and policy, politics and public policy, environmental politics and policy


Paul G. Harris Climate change is the most profound environmental problem facing the world – and possibly the most important problem of any kind in the long term. The latest science of climate change shows that massive cuts in emissions of greenhouse gas emissions will be needed by mid-century to avert extreme, possibly catastrophic, harm to Earth’s climate system. Yet, despite ongoing and sometimes intense diplomatic efforts over two decades, governments of the world have been unable to agree to anything near the kind of regulation of pollution that would be required to undertake these cuts.1 This was amply demonstrated by the much-anticipated December 2009 international climate change conference in Copenhagen, which failed to reach any formal or binding agreement on steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or to deal with the impacts of global warming. The Copenhagen conference, and the subsequent conference of the parties in Cancun a year later, revealed what may be a fundamental flaw in the international management of climate change, namely underlying norms and ethics that give overriding importance to states and their national interests, rather than to the people and groups who ultimately cause and are most affected by climate change. A major manifestation of this problem is recurring debate over the historical responsibility of developed states for climate pollution. While those countries surely deserve blame if we think only in terms of states, this focus on state responsibility fails to account for rising greenhouse gas emissions among affluent people in the historically less responsible...