Justice for Future Generations
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Justice for Future Generations

Climate Change and International Law

Peter Lawrence

Peter Lawrence’s Justice for Future Generations breaks new ground by using a multidisciplinary approach to tackle the issue of what ethical obligations current generations have towards future generations in addressing the threat of climate change. This insightful book draws on contemporary theories of justice to develop a number of principles which are used to critique the existing global climate change treaties. These principles are also used as a blueprint for suggestions on how to develop a much-needed global treaty on climate change. The approach is pragmatic in that the justice–ethics argument rests on widely shared values and is informed by the author’s extensive experience in the negotiation of global environmental treaties as an Australian diplomat.
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Chapter 5: International human rights law, intergenerational justice and climate change

Peter Lawrence


Human rights provides a solid basis for an ethical obligation on current generations to protect the welfare of future generations in the context of climate change (see Chapter 2). This chapter turns to consider the related but distinct question of whether utilisation of international human rights law can assist in meeting the justice principles essential for addressing intergenerational justice set out in Chapter 3. International human rights law may come into play on a number of levels. Firstly, the breach of human rights obligations which flows from unmitigated climate change may provide further political weight to pressure governments to take necessary mitigation action and strengthen the global climate regime. Couching claims in terms of human rights can give increased political weight to an issue (Hiskes 2009: 7). The recent introduction of human rights discourse into the UNFCCC negotiations reflects this desire for increased political weight. But given North-South conflicts in relation to human rights, this raises the issue as to whether this will exacerbate the existing North-South stand-off in the UNFCCC negotiations, an issue further considered in Chapter 7 below. Secondly, human rights may provide benchmarks - in the sense of thresholds - on the basis of which mitigation targets may be embodied in a global climate treaty. Human rights would seem attractive here owing to their basis in widely shared values (2.1). But, as we will see, crafting mitigation targets necessarily involves distributional justice issues, such as how to distribute the mitigation burden between current and future generations.

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