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Handbook of Global Environmental Politics

Edited by Peter Dauvergne

The first Handbook of original articles by leading scholars of global environmental politics, this landmark volume maps the latest theoretical and empirical research in this young and growing field. Captured here are the dynamic and energetic debates over concerns for the health of the planet and how they might best be addressed.
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Chapter 29: Transnational Environmental Harm, Inequity and the Cosmopolitan Response

Lorraine Elliott


Lorraine Elliott Issues about justice, ethics and equity are fundamental to the challenges of understanding and overcoming global environmental change. A helpful starting point for addressing these challenges, this chapter suggests, is to understand environmental degradation as a particular form of transnational harm that arises through environmental displacement. This harm is characterized by forms of inequity in which the lives of ‘others-beyond-borders’ are shaped without their participation and consent. These transactions of harm therefore extend the bounds of those with whom we are connected, to whom we owe obligations and against whom we might claim rights. They create, in effect, a cosmopolitan community of reciprocal rights and duties which are expected, as Andrew Linklater (1998: 26) points out, to transcend the ‘morally parochial world of the sovereign state’. The question of how best to respond to this form of inequity has both ethical and political dimensions. The purpose of this chapter is to examine whether and in what ways ideas drawn from cosmopolitan thought can provide a normative basis for a global structure of rights and duties which responds to the harm inequities associated with environmental degradation. The chapter argues that, as an ethical project, cosmopolitan thought establishes at least three conditions for an equitable and just form of global environmental governance. There must be recognition of moral obligation across borders, there must be compensatory burden sharing, and governance must be based on a politics of consent. This is not simply an intellectual account of the good political community. Rather,...

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