Historical Use of the Climate Sink

Res Publica 22 (1):67-81 (2016)
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In this paper I discuss a popular position in the climate justice literature concerning historical accountability for climate change. According to this view, historical high-emitters of greenhouse gases—or currently existing individuals that are appropriately related to them—are in possession of some form of emission debt, owed to certain of those who are now burdened by climate change. It is frequently claimed that such debts were originally incurred by historical emissions that violated a principle of fair shares for the world’s natural resources. Thus, a suitable principle of natural resource justice is required to render this interpretation of historical accountability complete. I argue that the need for such a principle poses a significant challenge for the historical emission debt view, because there doesn’t appear to be any determinate answer to the question what a fair share of climate sink capacity would have been historically. This leaves the historical emission debt view incomplete and thus unable to explain a powerful intuition that appears to motivate the view: namely, that there is something unjust about how the climate sink has historically been used. I suggest an alternative explanation of this common intuition according to which historically unequal consumption of climate sink capacity, whether or not wrongful in and of itself, is a symptom of broader global injustice concerning control over and access to the world’s natural resources. This broader historical injustice will be harder to quantify and harder to repair than that which the historical emission debt purports to identify.



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Megan Blomfield
University of Sheffield

Citations of this work

Getting Personal: The Intuition of Neutrality Reinterpreted.Wlodek Rabinowicz - 2020 - In Paul Bowman & Katharina Berndt Rasmussen (eds.), Studies on Climate Ethics and Future Generations, Vol. 2. Institute for Futures Studies.

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References found in this work

World Poverty and Human Rights.Thomas Pogge - 2002 - Ethics and International Affairs 19 (1):1-7.
The Problem of Global Justice.Thomas Nagel - 2005 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 33 (2):113-147.
Book Review: Thomas Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights. [REVIEW]Thomas Pogge - 2003 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 6 (4):455-458.
On Global Justice.Mathias Risse - 2012 - Princeton University Press.
Just Emissions.Simon Caney - 2012 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 40 (4):255-300.

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