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Journal ArticleDOI

Climate justice in a carbon budget

20 Mar 2015-Climatic Change (Springer Netherlands)-Vol. 133, Iss: 3, pp 375-384

Abstract: The fact of a carbon budget given commitment to limiting global-mean temperature increase to below 2 °C warming relative to pre-industrial levels makes CO2 emissions a scarce resource. This fact has significant consequences for the ethics of climate change. The paper highlights some of these consequences with respect to (a) applying principles of distributive justice to the allocation of rights to emissions and the costs of mitigation and adaptation, (b) compensation for the harms and risks of climate change, (c) radical new ideas about a place for criminal justice in tackling climate change, and (d) catastrophe ethics.
Topics: Climate justice (70%), Climate ethics (70%), Distributive justice (56%), Climate change (53%)

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Climate justice in a carbon budget
Article
Accepted Version
McKinnon, C. (2015) Climate justice in a carbon budget.
Climatic Change, 133 (3). pp. 375-384. ISSN 0165-0009 doi:
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-015-1382-6 Available at
https://centaur.reading.ac.uk/40496/
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Climate Justice in a Carbon Budget
Catriona McKinnon
Department of Politics and International Relations
University of Reading
Whiteknights
Reading RG6 6AA
United Kingdom
c.mckinnon@reading.ac.uk
+44 (0) 118 387 8502
Institute of Climate Change and Public Policy
Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology (NUIST)
219 Ningliu Road, Pukou District
Jiangsu Province 210044
China
Author biog:
Catriona McKinnon is Professor of Political Theory, and Director of the
Leverhulme Programme in Climate Justice, at the University of Reading. She is
the author of Climate Change and Future Justice: Precaution, Compensation,
Triage (Routledge 2011), and co-editor of Climate Change and Liberal Priorities
(Routledge, 2012) and of The Ethics of Climate Governance (Rowman and
Littlefield, forthcoming). She is currently writing a book about climate justice
and international criminal law.

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Abstract
The fact of a carbon budget given commitment to limiting global-mean
temperature increase to below 2°C warming relative to pre-industrial levels
makes CO2 emissions a scarce resource. This fact has significant consequences
for the ethics of climate change. The paper highlights some of these
consequences with respect to (a) applying principles of distributive justice to the
allocation of rights to emissions and the costs of mitigation and adaptation, (b)
compensation for the harms and risks of climate change, (c) radical new ideas
about a place for criminal justice in tackling climate change, and (d) catastrophe
ethics.
Keywords: carbon budget; climate ethics; intergenerational justice; distributive
justice; compensation; criminal justice; catastrophe ethics.
Climate Justice in a Carbon Budget
In their paper Knutti and Rogelj lay out fourteen facts supported by climate
science showing CO2 emissions to be a scarce resource, given commitment to
limiting global-mean temperature increase to below 2°C warming relative to pre-
industrial levels. These facts raise questions that require answers informed by
ethics and political philosophy and further on the social sciences, in the
search for feasible processes and institutions of equitable and effective climate
governance.
In this paper I shall lay out a roadmap of approaches to climate justice given how
the fact of the carbon budget brings future people within the scope of theories of
climate justice. The roadmap will start with an outline of some well established
approaches informed by distributive justice. Assuming that we can settle on a
just allocation of emissions and costs that properly takes account of the claims of
both present and future people, further questions of justice are raised given the
carbon budget. First, what do those who exceed their allocation, or who fail to
meet costs rightly assigned to them, owe to innocent people affected by these

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failures? Standardly, principles of corrective justice guide thinking about who
owes what to whom when things go wrong in ways such as this, at any given
point in time. The roadmap in the paper will highlight a new way in which these
principles are fit to guide thinking about failures in the face of the carbon budget:
that present people are liable to provide resources enabling satisfaction of
possible compensation claims made by future people put at risk of harm by the
failures of those present people. The second question of justice raised by failures
to do what justice demands in the face of the carbon budget takes the roadmap
into entirely new territory. When people act contrary to what is required by
justice in ways that risk catastrophic consequences for innocent others, despite
knowledge of the risks they create through their conduct, principles of criminal
justice are activated. The paper will indicate a place of for criminal justice in the
pantheon of our ethically informed approaches to climate change in the face of
the carbon budget.
The facts identified by Knutti and Rogelj are as follows.
1. CO2 longevity: a large fraction of CO2 emitted stays in the atmosphere for
centuries and longer.
2. The future effects of CO2 emissions are uncertain, and a large fraction of
climate change caused by these emissions is irreversible insofar as that
CO2 is not actively removed from the atmosphere.
3. The real warming commitment is the inertia of present infrastructures
and practices which are not changing so as to reduce global CO2
emissions.
4. Every ton of CO2 emitted causes further warming.
5. The causal contribution made by countries and generations to past and
future climate change is approximately in proportion to their total
cumulative emissions.
6. Two thirds of the total CO2 budget in line with a 2°C warming limit has
already been emitted; at current emission rates, the budget will be
depleted in around 30 years.

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Cites background from "Climate justice in a carbon budget"

  • ...In a limited number of papers, equity is seen a matter of “effort-sharing” between countries or individuals in the international context of the estimated carbon budget (Geden et al., 2018; McKinnon, 2015), sometimes analyzed through modeling (Tavoni, Chakravarty, & Socolow, 2012)....

    [...]

  • ...Despite externalizing politics, some ethical questions are included in a range of techno-economic assessments of large-scale GGR feasibility, particularly linked to equitable distributions of carbon budgets (Hansen et al., 2017; McKinnon, 2015; Tavoni et al., 2012)....

    [...]


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"Climate justice in a carbon budget" refers background in this paper

  • ...One prominent proposal is that emissions rights be given an equal distribution across all people, given the plausible claim that all people have equal rights to means enabling them to satisfy their energy needs (Jamieson 2005; Vanderheiden 2008; Singer 2002)....

    [...]


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Abstract: It is widely recognized that changes are occurring to the earth's climate and, further, that these changes threaten important human interests. This raises the question of who should bear the burdens of addressing global climate change. This paper aims to provide an answer to this question. To do so it focuses on the principle that those who cause the problem are morally responsible for solving it (the ‘polluter pays’ principle). It argues that while this has considerable appeal it cannot provide a complete account of who should bear the burdens of global climate change. It proposes three ways in which this principle needs to be supplemented, and compares the resulting moral theory with the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’.

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"Climate justice in a carbon budget" refers background in this paper

  • ...They are also evident in arguments for the rapid development of zero carbon energy technologies, assuming that people have a basic human right to subsistence which cannot be met without development (Shue 1980)....

    [...]


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