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Climate Change, Human Rights and Distributive Justice

Dimitrios Efthymiou
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
Dimitrios Efthymiou
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
Open Panel

Abstract

Human rights have become the common currency of contemporary legal and political discourse and as such they are seen by many as a necessary component in our approach to environmental burdens and benefits. But what kind of a statement does a human rights claim to a sustainable environment make? What duties and obligations does a human rights approach to climate change generate within and between different generations and peoples? How can the adequacy of a human rights approach to climate change be justified and how should these proposals assessed? The purpose of this paper is to question both the need and adequacy of a human rights approach to environmental justice . More specifically, and in response to the first question, I question whether a human rights approach is adequate for dealing with intergenerational, intragenerational and distributive dimensions of climate change. I then argue that liberal egalitarian theories of distributive justice square well with the intergenerational and global dimension of climate change. In response to the third question I defend a qualified version of the proposal for an equal per capita quota of emissions as a superior alternative to the human rights approach. The last part of the paper examines a number of possible defences of the human rights approach as well as other approaches, and shows how the proposed liberal egalitarian theory of distributive justice analysis may be used to evaluate existing legal agreements such as the Kyoto protocol.