Ethics and Global Environmental Policy
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Ethics and Global Environmental Policy

Cosmopolitan Conceptions of Climate Change

Edited by Paul G. Harris

This collection of provocative essays re-evaluates the world’s failed policy responses to climate change, in the process demonstrating how cosmopolitan ethics can inform global environmental governance.
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Chapter 2: Climate Justice as Globalized Responsibility: Mitigation, Adaptation and Avoiding Harm to Others

Steve Vanderheiden


Steve Vanderheiden1 INTRODUCTION Who should pay the costs associated with anthropogenic climate change, how much should they pay, and why? This burden-distribution problem has become the central question of climate justice among scholars and activists and remains the primary obstacle to the development of an effective climate regime in practice.2 These costs are expected to be significant and varied, but can generally be categorized in terms of mitigation, or those costs associated with reducing further human contributions toward the increasing atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases (GHGs) that cause climate change, and adaptation, or those costs associated with attempting to insulate humans from climate-related harm from existing anthropogenic environmental damage.3 Since mitigation actions undertaken by developed countries under the auspices of the Kyoto protocol are self-financed and mitigation targets accepted by developing countries are widely viewed as contingent upon financing from developed countries, imperatives to reduce GHGs are fundamentally matters of allocating mitigation costs. Properly speaking, adaptation intervenes in the causal chain between climate change and human harm, allowing the former but preventing the latter, but when this is not possible a third category of compensation costs must be assigned in order to remedy failed mitigation and adaptation efforts. Because the formulae for assessing liability for adaptation and compensation are identical,4 and since climate justice requires adaptation efforts that render compensation unnecessary,5 for the purposes of this chapter the category of adaptation shall be understood to include both ex ante prevention of harm as well as ex post...

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