Editors Note: This post is a summary of a paper on distributive justice and climate change policy by Klinsky and Dowlatabadi. ClimateEthics occasionally summarizes papers written by others that raise or examine important ethical questions related to climate change. The paper summarized below reviews the distributive justice literature on climate change and compares it to how climate change policies have been formed or proposed. One of the more important, though contested, ethical issues entailed by climate change concerns ethical duties when allocating emissions targets among nations. Although, as frequently noted in ClimateEthics, all nations have a duty to immediately reduce their emissions to their fair share of safe global emissions, what fairness requires is a matter about which different ethical theories reach different conclusions.
Although discussions of fairness in the climate change context occur in both ethics and policy communities, the two communities remain isolated due to lack of communication. By looking at understandings of fairness underlying proposals for international climate policy architecture, the following paper argues that many climate change policy proposals overlook important distributive justice issues. If this is true, making climate change policy proposals consistent with theories of distributive justice will require that policy-makers and ethicists examine issues overlooked by policy formation and identify policy proposals that effectively respond to those oversights.
In their article, "Conceptualizations of Justice in Climate Policy," researchers Sonja Klinsky and Hadi Dowlatabadi, demonstrate divergence among climate change ethics and policy communities about the role of distributive justice in policy making. (Klinsky, S., H. Dowlatabadi, 2009) The authors of this paper observe that policy-makers construct solutions to climate change that rely on implicit normative claims that affect the ways policy assigns responsibility, assesses need, provides access to entitlements, distributes impacts and addresses concerns of procedural justice. Focusing primarily on the ways specific policy proposals unintentionally affect those areas of distributive justice, Klinsky and Dowlatabadi argue that policy making could be improved by inquiring more deliberately into the broad array of distributive justice concerns raised by climate ethicists. At the same time, several issues emerge that could be examined in more depth by those focusing on climate ethics.
II. Policy Initiatives and Distributive Justice.
Klinsky and Dowlatabadi analyze specific mechanisms included in policy proposals to highlight the underlying ethical assumptions behind policy architectures proposed by a wide range of policy analysts and advisors. Their analysis indicates that policy initiatives fall into three broad categories depending on whether they prioritize Equitable Burden Sharing, Fair Distribution of Costs and Impacts, or Justice for Costs, Impacts and Liabilities. Each approach rests on distinct ethical commitments. For instance, beliefs about the nature of causal responsibility for climate change influences whether responsibility is limited to the costs of stabilizing current emissions levels, encompasses human development costs and environmental damages in addition to economic factors or, finally, whether responsibility requires compensation for historical costs and damages. Because these implicit beliefs have profound effects on distributive justice, this work relies on specific policy mechanisms to uncover the ethical attitudes motivating policy-makers. Although rarely addressed explicitly in the policy proposals, effects on distributive justice become most conspicuous in disagreements regarding the ways policies define the problem of climate change, measure the extent of the problem and address the task of responding to the problem. The premise of the paper is that policy-makers cannot be expected to address these effects or the disagreements they entail until they understand the normative beliefs motivating policy and the subsequent mechanisms by which specific policies affect distributive justice.
The first group of climate change policy initiatives relies on the principle of Equitable Burden Sharing. Proposals embodying this principle argue that the costs of emissions reductions should be distributed equally in order to minimize economic and industrial impacts to individual states. Without directly addressing the environmental and human development impacts of climate change, such proposals rely on convictions that economic measurements and technological substitutes can effectively respond to current climate change impacts and threats of future harm. Accordingly, Equitable Burden Sharing policies represent climate change as fundamentally an economic and technological problem for which the most economically stable and technologically advanced countries both bear the greatest burden and possess the most efficient mechanisms to affect change. Such an approach downplays the importance of both non-economic impacts of climate change and the need to include the concerns of developing nations in policy formation.
A second larger and more diverse group of policies remedies some of the holes left by Equitable Burden Sharing initiatives by attempting to affect a fair, as opposed to an equal, distribution of costs and impacts. By considering non-economic, human development and environmental impacts along with traditional economic and emissions costs, these policies claim that a fair or equitable distribution of the costs and impacts of climate change policy may require an inequitable allocation of resources when remediation starts from a position of economic and resource inequality. Heavy emitters and healthy economies need to assume the lion's share of burdens to ensure that heavily impacted developing and impoverished nations gain the same level of benefit from climate change remediation as their partners. The primary mechanism used to affect distributions involves per capita entitlements that allow populous, undercapitalized economies greater access to scarce fossil resources and emissions capacities. Moreover, since policies endorsing Fair Distribution of Costs and Impacts place greater emphasis on human development, including the preservation of local cultures, ecosystems and species, these policies have less faith that substituting clean resources through technological development can effectively respond to the variety of threats posed by climate change. Using resource transfer in addition to technological exchange, these policies conceive of climate change remediation as a partly technological task involving emissions reductions, but also a human development obligation aimed at improving the lives of those directly impacted by climate change.
Finally, by far the smallest group of policies embraces remediation tactics involving the costs of liability for climate change viewed from a compensatory justice perspective in addition to the burdens of mitigation costs and human development. According to these models, the causal responsibility for climate change applies to historical emitters rather than focusing solely on current heavy emitters. While approving the need to reduce current emissions in response to the human development needs of impoverished countries, these policies also demand that justice compensate for historical abuses regardless of current emissions levels and well-intentioned remediation efforts. In light of historical responsibility for climate change and a broader emphasis on human development that encompasses historical harms to development as well as contemporary impacts, proposals in this category advocate not only per capita resource entitlements but significant resource transfer mechanisms designed to compensate for historical resource extraction and depletion. Along with difficulties regarding the attribution of historical responsibility for climate change, critics cite these proposals for being overly punitive and failing to take into account transnational liability for climate change. Resource extraction, for example, is supposed to provide economic and industrial benefits to developing countries that complicate the picture of transnational liability. Advocates of the compensatory justice approach respond, however, that since greenhouse gas emissions deplete a resource without an assigned economic value, namely access to the atmosphere, the modest compensation provided by fossil fuel extraction has been inadequate. As this debate shows, issues of liability within compensatory justice become increasingly complex, illustrating a crucial need for information sharing regarding the demands of justice and the constraints of policy.
III. Final Remarks: Bridging the Ethics-Policy Divide.
While existing policies express a wide variety of ethical commitments, due to the lack of communication between ethics and policy communities, the full range of ethical questions implied by climate change and the crucial policy details raised by these concerns remains obscure to policy-makers and ethicists alike. Increased attention to four areas, including evaluative modeling, public ethics, sovereignty and technology, promise to foster the communication needed to bring these respective communities together.
Evaluative models of policy proposals begun within policy communities would benefit from closer collaboration with ethicists because the technical difficulties inherent in modeling typically discourage policy-makers from extending models to contentious disputes regarding distributive justice. Such omissions indicate a clear case where collaboration would benefit not only policy-makers, but ethicists who normally refrain from constructing the models needed to evaluate the policies required to achieve their distributive justice goals.
Similarly, neither ethics nor policy communities seriously explore public perceptions of ethics in the multi-dimensional, multi-scaled context of climate change although both communities make assumptions about what people find fair and unfair.
A third area both communities could explore in more depth is the question of sovereignty. Assumptions about the appropriate entity to be included and considered in climate policy also, but the multi-scaled nature of climate change raises difficult questions about how these entities should be dealt with.
Finally, although technology features prominently in many policy proposals, ethicists rarely address it directly and policy-makers almost never explore technology's impact on distributive justice in their proposals. Because technology shapes not only the kinds of emissions reductions aimed for, but also the concrete costs and benefits of any policy direction, further investigation into the impacts of technology on the distributive justice elements of climate policy is essential.
This paper presents a plea for greater collaboration between the ethics and policy communities. Until policy analysts are able to include diverse justice impacts into their policy proposals, it is unlikely that the resulting policies will approach anything resembling the requirements of justice laid out in any ethical framework. Simultaneously, in order for ethical analysis to be useful, ethicists must address the full range of concrete policy mechanisms under consideration. If we are to get both fair and effective climate policies, it will be because policy-makers and ethicists make deliberate efforts to identify their overlapping interests in distributive justice.
Graduate Student in Philosophy
Penn State University,
Klinsky, Sonja, Hadi Dowlatabadi, Conceptualizations Of Justice In Climate Policy, Climate Policy, Volume 9, Number 1, 2009 , pp. 88-108