Climate Change Justice
Papua, Indonesia, says that if other countries are concerned about global warming, they should pay Papua not to cut down its forests. For Papua, short-term development is more important than the long-term cost of global warming. China has made a similar argument. Global warming is a serious problem but China has a “right to development,” and until hundreds of millions of Chinese make more than $1 per day, China is right to avoid being entangled in international climate control commitments. If the rich countries want to avoid being swamped by rising seas, they will have to pay China to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions.
Many people are willing to give Papua and maybe even China a free pass. But doesn’t the logic apply to the United States as well? Although
it is true that the United States would be a net gainer from modest
global warming abatement programs, the United States would be worse off
if it agreed to the more ambitious targets proposed by European
countries. So while the United States ought to
contribute to global warming abatement, it is not clear that that it
should cut back as much as the Europeans want it to—unless they are
willing to pay the United States to do so. The arguments for and against this position are complex. For an academic discussion, a paper is available here (abstract below).
|Climate Change Justice|
ERIC A. POSNER
University of Chicago Law School; University of Chicago Press
CASS R. SUNSTEIN
University of Chicago - Law School
Greenhouse gas reductions would cost some nations much more than others, and benefit some nations far less than others. Significant reductions would impose especially large costs on the United States, and recent projections suggest that the United States has relatively less to lose from climate change. In these circumstances, what does justice require the United States to do? Many people believe that the United States is required to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions beyond the point that is justified by its own self-interest, simply because the United States is wealthy, and because the nations most at risk from climate change are poor. This argument from distributive justice is complemented by an argument from corrective justice: The existing “stock” of greenhouse gas emissions owes a great deal to the past actions of the United States, and many people think that the United States should do a great deal to reduce a problem for which it is largely responsible. But there are serious difficulties with both of these arguments. Redistribution from the United States to poor people in poor nations might well be desirable, but if so, expenditures on greenhouse gas reductions are a crude means of producing that redistribution: It would be much better to give cash payments directly to people who are now poor. The argument from corrective justice runs into the standard problems that arise when collectivities, such as nations, are treated as moral agents: Many people who have not acted wrongfully end up being forced to provide a remedy to many people who have not been victimized. The conclusion is that while a suitably designed climate change agreement is in the interest of the world, a widely held view is wrong: Arguments from distributive and corrective justice fail to provide strong justifications for imposing special obligations for greenhouse gas reductions on the United States. These arguments have general implications for thinking about both distributive justice and corrective justice arguments in the context of international law and international agreements.