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Climate justice, between global and international justice -Insights from justification theory


  • Olivier Godard


For 20 years, climate negotiations have faced the difficult task of designing an international regime accepted by the main parties as fair, equitable and efficient. Climate justice is called for from all sides, but there is no agreement as to what justice actually requires. The goal of this paper is to propose a critical overview of the intellectual landscape surrounding the concept of climate justice, and to clarify the challenges, positions, arguments and theoretical background of a concept that is dramatically exposed to the risk of being reduced to either naive moral calls, simple ideological slogans or political gesticulations from stakeholders and parties to negotiations. I will dispute the idea that moral intuition offers a sufficient basis to elicit the correct standard of justice. To begin with, I will underline the sharp contrasts between four rival intellectual constructs: utilitarianism, cosmopolitanism, international justice and the rejection of the relevance of the concept of justice in the context of international relations. In particular, cosmopolitan justice is shown to be inconsistent with and wholly inappropriate to the situation of climate negotiations. The second part of the paper develops an alternative analysis based on justification theory: the pluralism of justification is consubstantial with complex societies, but the criterion of the appropriateness of norms of justice to situations helps us to understand which norms of justice can be supported and which should be disregarded. In particular, the choice of a given coordination regime is shown to have huge implications for the appropriate norms of justice, taking the case of international carbon trading in a Kyoto Protocol-type regime as an example.

Suggested Citation

  • Olivier Godard, 2011. "Climate justice, between global and international justice -Insights from justification theory," RSCAS Working Papers 2011/56, European University Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:rsc:rsceui:2011/56

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Oran R. Young, 2003. "Environment and Statecraft: The Strategy of Environmental Treaty-Making," Global Environmental Politics, MIT Press, vol. 3(1), pages 145-147, February.
    2. Mustafa Babiker, John Reilly and Laurent Viguier, 2004. "Is International Emissions Trading Always Beneficial?," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 2), pages 33-56.
    3. Olivier Godard, 1990. "Environnement, modes de coordination et systèmes de légitimité : analyse de la catégorie de patrimoine naturel," Revue Économique, Programme National Persée, vol. 41(2), pages 215-242.
    4. Peter Bohm & Bjorn Larsen, 1994. "Fairness in a tradeable-permit treaty for carbon emissions reductions in Europe and the former Soviet Union," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 4(3), pages 219-239, June.
    5. Elster, Jon, 1991. "Local justice : How institutions allocate scarce goods and necessary burdens," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 35(2-3), pages 273-291, April.
    6. Rose, Adam, 1990. "Reducing conflict in global warming policy : The potential of equity as a unifying principle," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 18(10), pages 927-935, December.
    7. S. Streeten, Paul, 1979. "Basics needs: Premises and promises," Journal of Policy Modeling, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 136-146, January.
    8. Ringius, Lasse & Torvanger, Asbjorn & Holtsmark, Bjart, 1998. "Can multi-criteria rules fairly distribute climate burdens?: OECD results from three burden sharing rules," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 26(10), pages 777-793, August.
    9. Kristen A. Sheeran, 2006. "Who Should Abate Carbon Emissions? A Note," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 35(2), pages 89-98, October.
    10. Scott Barrett, 2008. "The Incredible Economics of Geoengineering," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 39(1), pages 45-54, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Olivier Godard, 2012. "Ecological debt and historical responsibility revisited - The case of climate change," RSCAS Working Papers 2012/46, European University Institute.

    More about this item


    climate justice; cooperation; justification; cosmopolitanism; emissions trading JEL Classification: D63 Q54 F02 F53;

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • Q54 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Climate; Natural Disasters and their Management; Global Warming
    • F02 - International Economics - - General - - - International Economic Order and Integration
    • F53 - International Economics - - International Relations, National Security, and International Political Economy - - - International Agreements and Observance; International Organizations


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