Journal of Human Rights and the Environment

Towards ‘climate justice’? A critical reflection on legal subjectivity and climate injustice: warning signals, patterned hierarchies, directions for future law and policy

Anna Grear * *

Keywords: climate justice, climate injustice, co-option, critique, legal subjectivity, corporate juridical privilege, legal complicity, human rights, critical reflexivity


The recent high-level emergence of ‘climate justice’ in the normative and policy discourse addressing the social and legal aspects of climate change is welcome. However, certain dangers of co-option face the concept as it gains institutional traction. Drawing on a critical theoretical reading of the patterns of climate injustice and their relationship with liberal legal subjectivity (and with the related themes of the politics of dis/embodiment, corporate juridical privilege, (neo)colonialism and the highly uneven structure of globalized world order), this article argues that ‘climate justice’ is more likely to sustain the necessary resistive critical energies if informed by critical legal reflection on historical and contemporary patterns of climate injustice, particularly as they emerge in relation to the privileged trope of liberal legal subjectivity and the juridical privileging of the corporate form. Future policy directions indicated by the analysis are briefly introduced.

Author Notes

I would like to thank Professor Carmen Gonzalez for her insightful reading of an earlier draft of this article and for her valuable critique and comments; Evadne Grant for her forensic analytical gaze; Vito De Lucia for his generous and insightful comments and Professor Conor Gearty for his warm encouragement and for extending the original invitation for me to take up the position of Dahrendorf Visiting Fellow 2013 at the Grantham Research Institute, LSE. I would also like to thank the Grantham Research Institute for generous financial and administrative support; Marcus Hedahl for his enthusiastic facilitation of Dahrendorf Working Group 3 and Marie-Julie Chenard, Ginny Pavey, Jo Miller and Melissa Stubbs-Bladen for their tireless efficiency and kindness. Any errors remain the author's alone.

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