Climate change and the impotence of international environmental law : seeking a cosmopolitan cure


Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


The latest scientific findings confirm that the international treaties designed to prevent dangerous changes to the Earth's climate are failing. Efforts by diplomats to incorporate interstate social and distributive justice into these treaties and the broader climate change regime have been terribly insufficient in addressing the growing menace of global warming. While serious consideration of interstate justice has been a practical and ethical prerequisite for gamering broader participation in the climate change regime, doing so has diverted all responsibility to states, thus failing to discourage consumption and pollution by capable people. This includes the tens of millions of people in the developing world whose governments have no obligation to limit nationwide pollution. The bulk of literature on justice and climate change, and all related treaties, speak of obligations of states to act (or not) to limit their emissions of greenhouse gases, or to act in ways to mitigate the effects of these emissions, and to assist poorer states to help them develop in less polluting ways. There is almost no discussion of the obligations of individuals. Increasingly, however, individuals matter: more and more of them, who are not now subject to any legally binding climate-related obligations, are able to afford lifestyles that lead to unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions and more climate change. This is especially true given the rapid increase in the numbers of affluent people in the developing world. Given this poor fit between existing international environmental law on climate change and the problem it is intended to address, this article assesses whether individuals should be brought into the equation. It goes around the still important question of interstate climate justice to explore what could be viewed as a possible cure for the impotence of extant international law: cosmopolitan climate justice. Cosmopolitan justice can locate more obligation to act on climate change, and to aid those people who will suffer from it, in capable individuals in both affluent and poor states.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-365
Number of pages43
JournalPenn State Environmental Law Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2008


Dive into the research topics of 'Climate change and the impotence of international environmental law : seeking a cosmopolitan cure'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this