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Identifying burdens of coping with climate change: A typology of the duties of climate justice

Journal article
Authors Göran Duus-Otterström
Sverker C. Jagers
Published in Global Environmental Change-Human and Policy Dimensions
Volume 22
Issue 3
Pages 746-753
ISSN 0959-3780
Publication year 2012
Published at Department of Political Science
Pages 746-753
Language en
Keywords Adaptation, Burden-sharing, Climate change, Justice, Mitigation, adaptation
Subject categories Political Science


One of the central questions in climate change debates concerns fair burden-sharing, i.e. justice in the distribution of costs of undertaking climate-managing policies. In this paper it is argued that in order to distribute such costs justly, it is necessary to have a nuanced understanding of what types of burdens they represent. Climate managing policies are usually divided into responses that seek to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (mitigation) and responses that seek to prevent harm arising from a changing climate (adaptation). Some have argued that there are normatively significant differences between mitigation and adaptation: that the two responses adhere to different logics and evoke different patterns of burden-sharing. This paper argues that the relevant distinction is instead between negative and positive climate duties, i.e. whether an agent has a duty to undertake climate-managing policies on account of the harm its excessive emissions are causing or simply on account of its ability to assist those in need. The paper offers a typology of the different mitigation and adaptation responses that can be sorted under the negative/positive distinctions. This way of conceptualizing the issue not only enables us to better address the burden-sharing question, offering a more nuanced understanding of the types of climate burdens that are ascribable to agents and pointing out the appropriate roles of contributory responsibility and ability. It also clarifies aspects of the climate negotiations, and explains why it matters whether adaptation finance transferred to vulnerable countries is portrayed as compensation for harmful emissions or simply as donor countries discharging their humanitarian duties. (C) 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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