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 6: Climate change discourses and intergenerational justice

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


There is a dramatic disconnect between the powerful ethics and justice-based rationales for strong mitigation action on climate change and the extremely weak international climate change regime described in the previous chapters. It is essential to explain this disconnect before making meaningful proposals to reform the existing international climate change regime so as to reflect the intergenerational justice principles set out in Chapter 3 above. An assumption of this chapter is that international law reflects power relations and is not neutral (Newell 2008: 515). Existing international law rules on climate change can only be properly understood in their broader political, economic and social context. A second key assumption is that the multilateral climate change regime reflects government negotiating positions. These positions are impacted by dominant discourses and economic interests, and also societal interests expressed through industry and environment NGOs. Put simply, 'discourses' comprise shared 'meaning of phenomena' (Pettenger 2007: 125) or common understandings (Hajer 1995: 62) or framing of environmental problems (see 6.2 below). The approach of this chapter is to use discourse analysis to explain the weak expression of intergenerational justice in the current global climate change regime. This is supplemented by an analysis of key economic interests which underpin the dominant discourses. It is acknowledged that the interests of the state and the discourses are mutually constitutive, each shaping the other (Wendt 1999: 114). Particularly dominant since the 1980s have been the discourses of 'ecological modernisation', 'industrialism', a 'Promethean discourse', weaker forms of sustainable development and 'climate marketisation' (Dryzek 1997, Stevenson and Dryzek 2012).

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