Discussion Topic: Climate Justice Beyond the State

The latest special report from the IPCC (IPCC 2018) suggests that, without a very significant to limit greenhouse gas emissions, global warming is likely to exceed 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052. The same report outlines a series potentially very severe consequences, from sea level rises to biodiversity loss to the spread of disease.

In 2016, the states of the world signed on to the Paris Climate Agreement, acceding to the idea that global temperature rises must be contained to no more than 1.5-2°C, and making a series of emissions-reduction pledges to contain temperature rises to within this range. Recent analysis, however, suggests that most states’ pledges were too weak to achieve this goal (Rogelj et al. 2016), and that no major industrialised nation is presently on-track to meet its pledges, in any case (Victor et al. 2017).

Given the apparent failure of states to take the steps so urgently needed to address climate change, it is growing increasingly important to consider the roles which other sorts of actors might have to play in mitigating the threat posed by climate change. It is to such issues that this section of the website is devoted.

Consider, for example, that the majority of GHG emissions are associated with the activities of corporations in some way or other. Richard Heede found that around 63% of global emissions over the period 1854-2010 are traceable to the activities of just 90 large petrochemical and concrete corporations (Heede 2014). For example, what are the duties of such corporations in light of their contributions to climate change? Which members of those corporations are responsible for discharging those duties?

Another set of issues concerns sub-national political communities, themselves also substantial contributors to climate change. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (2016) reports that Texas, for example, emitted 708.81 million metric tons of CO2 in 2014. Meaning that if it had been a country, it alone would have been the 8th largest emitter of CO2, worldwide, in that year (Olivier et al. 2016, pp. 42-3). Cities have been estimated to account for upwards of 70 percent of global energy-related CO2 emissions (IEA, 2008). What are the duties of sub-national communities? How might they be justified?

Finally, there is the matter of individuals. All emissions are ultimately traceable to the decisions of individual human beings. What’s more, many individuals are beginning to take steps to address climate change. Millions  have begun to practice ‘green consumption’, altering their purchasing habits in an attempt to reduce their impact upon the environment (Erhardt-Martinez et al. 2015, pp. 113-5). Others have engaged in political activism. The BBC (2014) reports that over 600 000 people marched in several cities around the world on the 21st of September 2014, in the lead-up to the United Nations’ Climate Summit.

References

BBC, 2014 Climate change summit: Global rallies demand action’, BBC News, 21st September.
Erhardt-Martinez, K. Schor, J. B. Abrahamse, W. Alkon, A. H. Axsen, J. Brown, K. Shwom, R. L. Southerton, D. & Wilhite, H. 2015 ‘Consumption and Climate Change’, Climate Change and Society: Sociological Perspectives, pp.93-127, Oxford University Press.
Heede, R. 2014 ‘Tracing athropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854-2010’, Climatic Change, Vol. 122, No. 1-2, pp.229-241,
IEA 2008. World Energy Outlook 2008. Paris: International Energy Agency.
Masson-Delmotte, V. Zhai, P. Pörtner, H.-O. Roberts, D. Skea, J. Shukla, P.R. Pirani, A. Moufouma-Okia, W. Péan, C. Pidcock, R. Connors, S. Matthews, J.B.R. Chen, Y. Zhou, X. Gomis, M.I. Lonnoy, E. Maycock, T. Tignor, M. Waterfield, T. 2018 ‘Summary for Policymakers’, Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty, IPCC, World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.
Olivier, J. G. J. Janssens-Maenhout, G. Muntean, M. Peters, J. A. H. W. 2016 ‘Trends in Global CO2 Emissions: 2016 Report’, The Hague PBL Netherlands Environmental  Assessment Agency, Ispra: European Commission, Joint Research Centre, pp.1- 86.
Rogelj, J. Elzen, M. D. Höhne, N., Fransen, T. Fekete, H. Winkler, H. Schaeffer, R. Sha, F. Riahi, K. Meinshausen, M. 2016 ‘Paris Agreement climate proposals need a boost to keep warming well below 2 °C’, Nature, Vol. 534, pp.631- 639
Victor, D. G. Akimoto, K. Kaya, Y. Yamaguchi, M. Cullenward, D. Hepburn, C. 2017 ‘Prove Paris was more than paper promises’, Nature, Vol. 548, pp.25-27.

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