Climate Change Justice

While in London last week I had the opportunity to attend a talk at the RSA by David Weisbach, Kearney Professor of Law & Economics at University of Chicago on the subject of Climate Change Justice.  I am perhaps a rarity in the Liberal Democrats because although I do think that climate change is very likely to have been caused by human activity I find it is a subject that I struggle to get passionate about.

Professor Weisbach’s new book ‘Climate Change Justice’ is interesting because is poses the conundrum that we do not yet know how to be rich as a society without massive uses of energy.  Whether it’s plasma TV’s and foreign holidays or convenience food and fast cars nothing says ‘I’m loaded’ like activities which pump huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Weisbach first sought to differentiate between two types of justice when discussing climate change.  Distributive Justice places a demand on the big polluters to play a bigger part in reducing emissions whereas Corrective Justice says that the countries who created climate change in the first place (ie since the industrial revolution) should contribute more.  Weisbach discounts the role that Corrective Justice should play in the Climate Change Justice debate and believes instead every country, whether developed or developing, should pay a carbon tax.

Weisbach believes that if you ringfence certain countries such a Brazil, China and Indonedia from having to pay for their impact on the environment we cannot hope to seriously deal with climate change.  For example if a carbon tax is just applied in the developed World then CO2 reductions will be 12% whereas if a tax applies in both developed and developing countries based on emissions then we could be looking at 40% reductions.

One interesting dilemma that a member of the audience brought up is the case of the ‘red tie’.  If I go and buy a red tie in a shop who should pay for the emissions?  There are conflicting arguments that it could be the buyer, the manufacturer, the seller and the shipper that should pay.

Anyway at the end of the talk I was a little more informed about the ethical and legal framework for the climate change debate although becoming passionate about it is a different thing.  You can listen to a recording of the talk at the RSA website.


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