John Rawls and Climate Justice: An Amendment to The Law of Peoples

Environmental Ethics 35 (2):227-243 (2013)
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To what extent does John Rawls’ theory of international justice meet the normative challenges posed by climate change? There are two broadly compatible Rawlsian ways of addressing climate change. The first alternative is based on the two principles that Rawls applies to the domains of international and intergenerational justice. The second alternative starts from Rawls’ general theory of international justice, in particular his idea of a Society of Peoples, which is an idealized vision of a peaceful and stable association of peoples that are internally well-ordered, and share a desire to respect and uphold international law. Given the statutes peoples are willing to observe, the defining characteristics of peoples, and the fact that Rawls indicates that his own rendering of international law is incomplete, there may be grounds for proposing an additional statute, or an amendment, to The Law of Peoples, that pertains to climate change and that does not contradict, but rather follows from, the general framework of the theory. The latter alternative provides a more viable account of climate justice than critics has hitherto acknowledged.



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