Justice for Future Generations

Justice for Future Generations

Climate Change and International Law

Peter Lawrence

Peter Lawrence’s Justice for Future Generations breaks new ground by using a multidisciplinary approach to tackle the issue of what ethical obligations current generations have towards future generations in addressing the threat of climate change. This insightful book draws on contemporary theories of justice to develop a number of principles which are used to critique the existing global climate change treaties. These principles are also used as a blueprint for suggestions on how to develop a much-needed global treaty on climate change. The approach is pragmatic in that the justice–ethics argument rests on widely shared values and is informed by the author’s extensive experience in the negotiation of global environmental treaties as an Australian diplomat.

Chapter 2: The basis of an obligation towards future generations in justice and ethics in the context of climate change

Peter Lawrence

Subjects: environment, climate change, environmental law, environmental politics and policy, law - academic, environmental law, human rights, law and society, legal philosophy, public international law, politics and public policy, environmental politics and policy


We saw in Chapter 1 that climate change raises challenging issues of intergenerational justice and ethics. The central question for this chapter is to examine whether there is an ethical obligation of contemporaries towards future generations in relation to climate change mitigation. The approach in this chapter is to draw on a number of theories of justice and ethics. One of the key arguments is that future generations possess human rights, in the sense of moral rights, with an obligation on current generations to protect these rights. My argument draws on theories of justice, including the 'capacity approach' to justice of Sen (2009) and Nussbaum (2006), which has received much attention in recent decades. Also addressed are justice theories of reciprocity, communitarianism and cosmopolitanism and theories based on impartiality such as that of John Rawls. Ultimately, my argument rests on a number of key assumptions in these various theories of ethics and justice, for example, the notion that persons are of equal value regardless of when and where they are born. My analysis makes transparent these key assumptions in the various theories relied upon. Deeper justification of these assumptions is beyond the scope of this book. A key argument in this chapter is that an obligation towards future generations rests on future generations possessing core human rights which are threatened by climate change. My approach follows Caney in arguing that in relation to at least core human rights - the rights to life, subsistence and health

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