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 7: The way forward - incorporating intergenerational justice principles into international climate law

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


This book has proposed a suite of justice principles that need to be reflected in an international climate regime for that regime to ensure justice for future generations. These principles are respect for core human rights required to ensure respect for human dignity, responsibility for harm and capacity to pay, operating in conjunction with core distributional justice principles of equality and subsistence (Chapter 3). Whereas previous chapters have examined the content of these principles, this chapter examines how such principles should be incorporated in international law. There is a vast literature on proposals for a global climate change agreement and methods for distributing mitigation burdens. The focus here is on the role of international law and intergenerational justice in relation to such proposals. 'Effectiveness', as explained in Chapter 3, is of crucial importance. A global climate agreement may respect intragenerational justice in the distribution of emissions but fail to meet the requirements of intergenerational justice if emissions are reduced too slowly, or not at all, harming the interests of future generations. We have seen in the previous chapter that the weak embodiment of intergenerational justice in current international law rules on climate change reflects dominant discourses of market liberalism and weak sustainability underpinned by economic interests resistant to the structural change necessary to move towards a low-carbon global economy. This contextual dimension is vital in that meaningful reform proposals must take place within political-economic constraints. Proposals consistent with the dominant discourses have a greater chance of being accepted.

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