Climate justice and the distribution of rights to emit carbon BReNdAN MAckeY ANd NIcOle ROGeRS
Introduction Most people accept that the climate change problem is real and a matter of concern,2 even though it resides largely outside their everyday experiences. Yet public debate on climate change, the impacts of global warming, what may or may not happen, and who is or is not to blame, remains more of a cacophony than a symphony. Vested interests compete with public good advocates for popular support and the political will needed to either prevent or bring about the required rapid and substantive changes in policy. The scientific consensus, which is evidence based and not to be mistaken for the bargaining and trade-offs associated with normal social consensus, is that warming of the climate system is unequivocal and it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-twentieth century.3 Climate change is now primarily the consequence of humans burning fossil fuel, in particular coal, oil and natural gas, for energy, thereby releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere more rapidly than natural processes can remove it. Emissions from deforestation and degradation are also significant. The result is an increase in the quantity or stock of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which in turn leads to global warming and climatic disruption. The solution is to decrease fossil emissions in order to stabilize the atmospheric stock of carbon dioxide and thus avoid an unacceptable degree of climate change. If we wish to avoid the catastrophic consequences of runaway climate change for future generations of people and other species, this current generation must collectively take urgent action to achieve the requisite deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from all sources. A developing discourse on the nature and requirements of climate justice is increasingly playing a role in shaping international negotiations and public policy. In the context of climate change adaptation, a prominent climate justice issue concerns the fate of people whose homes on small islands or otherwise low-lying coastal areas are becoming uninhabitable due to sea level rise. We are witnessing the first attempts at litigation instigated by such communities and individuals displaced by climate change. The Inuit village of Kivalina, which will soon have to be abandoned as a consequence of erosion caused by the
melting of sea ice, mounted an unsuccessful lawsuit in public nuisance against various oil, power and gas companies. The suit was dismissed by the United States District Court and an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was unsuccessful on the basis that the claim was non-justiciable and displaced by legislation. In 2013, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the case. In New Zealand, Kiribati citizen Ioane Teitiota unsuccessfully sought to claim refugee status under New Zealand law, arguing that Kiribati is rapidly becoming uninhabitable due to climate change impacts. A deciding factor for the judge was the absence of persecution as required under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.4 The case highlighted the deficiencies of existing international refugee law in its application to climate change refugees. Generally, the outcome of such cases suggests that existing domestic legal frameworks cannot provide climate justice. The plight of those dispossessed by climate change cannot be ignored in the context of climate justice. For the purposes of this chapter, however, our focus will be on the climate justice issues which arise in the context of mitigation. Many different kinds of justice are relevant to international negotiations on climate change mitigation. Ethical issues in climate change policy debates have been raised in terms of economic cost arguments against mitigation, limitations to economic valuation of future costs and benefits, the relevance of scientific uncertainty and the application of the precautionary principle, foreknowledge and the duty to act, the setting of mitigation targets and national emissions allocations, and responsibilities for loss and damage and the costs of adaptation.5 To date, however, the ethical dimensions of these issues have been sidelined in both treaty negotiations and public discourse. The climate change problem requires a globally coordinated solution among all the world’s nations, as the cumulated stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere must be addressed and every country will be affected. We must find solutions which are not only practical but also just, or at least sufficiently just, for all parties, namely national governments. Solutions must be practical as existing energy needs must be met; people need energy for light, cooking and heating or cooling homes and business, and economies need energy for manufacturing and transportation. Alternative energy sources can meet these energy needs6 but they must be turned on in step with fossil fuel sources being turned off. Solutions must be just because there is great disparity between nations in their contribution to the problem, their access to fossil fuel and alternative energy sources, their level of poverty and what is needed to provide a decent standard of living for their citizens, and their socio-economic and technological capacities and abilities to adapt to the now unavoidable harmful impacts of a rapidly changing climate.