I recently wrote a review for an introductory philosophy text on climate justice. I thought it was a good book. The only criticism of it that I raised felt somewhat unfair, and hypocritical, since it is really a criticism that applies to the book’s field rather than the book itself – and to myself as somebody who works within this field. Namely, that discussions of climate justice in analytic philosophy (of the kind that I was schooled in, at least) have a tendency to be problematically insular, or even exclusionary. My worry is that a lot of the literature I read on climate justice is written by people like me, and (implicitly or explicitly) addressed to people like me. Roughly speaking: academics working in the tradition of analytic ethics and political philosophy; writing in English; located in Europe, North America, or Australia; and relatively privileged in terms of their resources, opportunities for consumption, and low vulnerability to climate change.
Author: Megan Blomfield
I am a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Sheffield. My major area of research is global justice and the environment; with a focus on the problem of climate change and rights over land and natural resources.
I just finished teaching a new, final year undergraduate course on ‘Global Justice and Climate Change’. This is the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to design and teach a course based on my own area of research and in many ways it seems to have been a success. I’ve struggled a bit throughout, though, with figuring out how to think about what I’m doing and what I should perhaps be trying to achieve.
It’s over 20 years since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) entered into force. According to Article 3(1) of the Convention, Parties would “protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities”. It was recognised that this meant that “the developed country parties should take the lead in combating climate change”.
Despite this recognition that equity and differential responsibility and capacity were important factors to consider in global efforts to address climate change, agreement on what exactly this would entail for sharing the burdens of mitigation proved hard to come by. 2015 saw something of a change of tack, here, with Parties to the UNFCCC now invited to present an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the Convention objective of stabilising atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous climate change.
The move to nationally determined contributions has been lauded by some for its potential to facilitate cooperation. One of the ways in which it appears to do this is by bypassing any need for an international agreement on what exactly a fair distribution of the burdens of mitigation would look like. Instead, each Party is invited (though not required) to explain how it considers its INDC to be “fair and ambitious, in light of its national circumstances”. So, roughly speaking at least, rather than starting with an established emissions budget and trying to come to an agreement on how to share it fairly, Parties are now permitted to adopt any number of different conceptions of fairness in defence of their own INDC, with no guarantee that the resulting ‘fair’ shares will remain within the budget.