Climate Change and International Ethics

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Title: Climate Change and International Ethics
Authors: Zellentin, Alexa
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Date: 3-Jun-2020
Online since: 2021-09-30T13:52:54Z
Abstract: Climate change is a complex collective action problem on a global and intergenerational scale. All sorts of otherwise unproblematic activities become morally questionable due to their contribution to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. All sorts of pre-existing vulnerabilities increase the danger that changes in climatic patterns result in humanitarian catastrophes. Climate change thus poses challenges for normative theory as such. There are ethical questions such as: How to balance the right to development and poverty reduction with our duties to reduce greenhouse gases for the sake of future generations? There are conceptual questions like: How are we to understand normatively significant responsibility in the context of complex collective action problems? There are questions relating to ethical guidelines in circumstances of risk and uncertainty. Finally, there is the question of to how to motivate people to do the right thing where there is so much distance in time and space between those incurring the costs of combatting climate change and those most benefitting from preventing it. This links to policy questions as to what kind of political institutions are realistic, legitimate, and efficient in providing climate protections. There are particular challenges which require us to reassess our approaches to ethics in international relations: How are we to deal with the situation that those who hold the most power and have the greatest capacities for realising an effective global climate policy have the least incentives to do so? How are we to assess the relevant normative concerns when they involve issues more complex than those enshrined in the minimal ethical consensus of formal human rights? In particular, what kind of normative framework is suitable to evaluate across cultural differences issues as distinct as raising energy prices, job losses, increased risks relating to extreme weather events, threats to cultural traditions (e.g. Inuit relying on a particular quality of snow and Americans used to going for a Sunday drive in a powerful car), and the loss of statehood for low lying Small Island States doomed by raising sea levels? This chapter will not attempt to answer any of these questions. Instead it will analyse the different strands of these interconnected questions and present an overview of the current approaches. To do so, the first section briefly presents the current understanding of climate science that forms the background of the debate and explains which features are deemed as normatively significant. The second section identifies the different (yet interconnected) angles of debates on justice in the context of climate change. The third section takes a look at the different theories of justice most prominent in influencing the current debates and their shortcomings. The forth section hones in on the particular role of international relations in the latest approaches to climate justice focusing on the need for discursive and relational approaches to justice. The final section concludes this chapter highlighting the importance of continued commitment to the values underlying human rights in the context of demands for mutual recognition and a better understanding of the global public sphere.
Funding Details: European Commission Horizon 2020
Type of material: Book Chapter
Publisher: Routledge
Copyright (published version): 2020 the Authors
Keywords: Climate changeNormative theoryInternational relationsClimate justice
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Language: en
Status of Item: Peer reviewed
Is part of: Schippers B. (ed.). The Routledge Handbook to Rethinking Ethics in International Relations
ISBN: 9781472479693
This item is made available under a Creative Commons License:
Appears in Collections:Politics and International Relations Research Collection

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