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 3: Content of justice-based obligations towards future generations 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


I argued in the previous chapter that contemporaries have an ethical obligation to take climate change mitigation measures for the protection of future generations. This obligation rests on a harm avoidance principle, core human rights to ensure human dignity - to which persons are entitled regardless of when and where they are born - and a transgenerational community extending into the future. These broad obligations are, however, incomplete and insufficient to deal with the distributional justice issues inevitably involved in determining how the mitigation burden should be fairly distributed between current and future generations, including the rate at which mitigation should occur. These distributional justice issues are the central concern of this chapter. The approach of this chapter is to identify a number of justice principles which must be met to deliver justice for future generations in relation to climate change. The justice principles provide a basis for assessing the current international climate change regime (pursued in Chapters 4 and 5). The principles also provide the basis for examining how the international regime should be reformed (Chapter 7). The principles proposed are abstract and have - to varying degrees - found concrete reflection in the UNFCCC, including, for example, the precautionary principle and the duty of cooperation. But inclusion of principles in this manner does not guarantee that they have a deeper legitimacy, which can only be demonstrated if they reflect widely shared notions of ethics or justice. There are interesting parallels here with human rights law.

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