Climate Change and International Law
Chapter 3: Content of justice-based obligations towards future generations in the context of climate change
I argued in the previous chapter that contemporaries have an ethical obligation to take climate change mitigation measures for the protection of future generations. This obligation rests on a harm avoidance principle, core human rights to ensure human dignity - to which persons are entitled regardless of when and where they are born - and a transgenerational community extending into the future. These broad obligations are, however, incomplete and insufficient to deal with the distributional justice issues inevitably involved in determining how the mitigation burden should be fairly distributed between current and future generations, including the rate at which mitigation should occur. These distributional justice issues are the central concern of this chapter. The approach of this chapter is to identify a number of justice principles which must be met to deliver justice for future generations in relation to climate change. The justice principles provide a basis for assessing the current international climate change regime (pursued in Chapters 4 and 5). The principles also provide the basis for examining how the international regime should be reformed (Chapter 7). The principles proposed are abstract and have - to varying degrees - found concrete reflection in the UNFCCC, including, for example, the precautionary principle and the duty of cooperation. But inclusion of principles in this manner does not guarantee that they have a deeper legitimacy, which can only be demonstrated if they reflect widely shared notions of ethics or justice. There are interesting parallels here with human rights law.
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