Climate Change and International Law
Chapter 2: The basis of an obligation towards future generations in justice and ethics in the context of climate change
We saw in Chapter 1 that climate change raises challenging issues of intergenerational justice and ethics. The central question for this chapter is to examine whether there is an ethical obligation of contemporaries towards future generations in relation to climate change mitigation. The approach in this chapter is to draw on a number of theories of justice and ethics. One of the key arguments is that future generations possess human rights, in the sense of moral rights, with an obligation on current generations to protect these rights. My argument draws on theories of justice, including the 'capacity approach' to justice of Sen (2009) and Nussbaum (2006), which has received much attention in recent decades. Also addressed are justice theories of reciprocity, communitarianism and cosmopolitanism and theories based on impartiality such as that of John Rawls. Ultimately, my argument rests on a number of key assumptions in these various theories of ethics and justice, for example, the notion that persons are of equal value regardless of when and where they are born. My analysis makes transparent these key assumptions in the various theories relied upon. Deeper justification of these assumptions is beyond the scope of this book. A key argument in this chapter is that an obligation towards future generations rests on future generations possessing core human rights which are threatened by climate change. My approach follows Caney in arguing that in relation to at least core human rights - the rights to life, subsistence and health
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