Ethics, Policy and Environment 19 (3):335-349 (2016)

David R. Morrow
American University
One major question in climate justice is whether developed countries’ historical emissions are relevant to distributing the burdens of mitigating climate change. To argue that developed countries should bear a greater share of the burdens of mitigation because of their past emissions is to advocate ‘historical accountability.’ Standard arguments for historical accountability rely on corrective justice. These arguments face important objections. By using the notion of a global emissions budget, however, we can reframe the debate over historical accountability in terms of distributive justice. This paper argues that, given two defensible assumptions, distributive justice requires historical accountability. These assumptions are that the proper claimants on the emissions budgets are societies or states, not individuals, and that we should be allocating the entirety of the original, pre-industrial budget, rather than just the remainder.
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DOI 10.1080/21550085.2016.1226240
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