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Global Climate Justice

Proposals, Arguments and Justification

Olivier Godard

In this thoughtful and original book, social scientist Olivier Godard considers the ways in which arguments of justice cling to international efforts to address global climate change. Proposals made by governments, experts and NGOs as well as concepts and arguments born of moral and political philosophy are introduced and critically examined. Godard contributes to this important debate by showing why global climate justice is still controversial, despite it being a key issue of our times.
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Chapter 5: The puzzle of intergenerational equity

Proposals, Arguments and Justification

Olivier Godard

Extract

Climate change requires consideration of how to treat future unborn generations. The chapter first examines the utilitarian economic logic behind discounting future values. The concept of pure time preference is examined to reveal misunderstandings about the alleged unfair treatment of future generations, thus clarifying how we should understand the principle of the equal moral value of individuals of all generations. Then, the question of whether we have duties towards the dead and the unborn is discussed. The notion of ‘lifetime-transcending interests’, due to Janna Thompson, is introduced and discussed: is it the convincing basis for these obligations that impose all sorts of limitations on the freedom of living persons? Another step is taken with a thorough examination of the two major issues that make justice between distant generations a controversial concept: the question of ‘non-existence’ and that of ‘non-identity’. It is shown why the solutions of Lukas Meyer and Darrel Moellendorf, seeking objective criteria, fail to escape the problem of ‘non-identity’. The chapter ends with a reflection on the possibilities of emerging from the dilemmas of intergenerational justice: returning to utilitarianism; postulating a generic ahistorical obligation of climate protection; abandoning moral individualism for a state-focused ethics; closure of the time horizon limited to coexisting generations; asserting a moral case; and standing for humankind as a collective person.

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