Transnational Environmental Harm, Inequity and the Cosmopolitan Response

Handbook of Global Environmental Politics

Author/s (editor/s):

Lorraine Elliott

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Publication type:

Book chapter

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Edward Elgar

Published in Peter Dauvergne, Handbook of Global Environmental Politics, 2nd edn, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2012, pp. 492-506.

Issues about justice, ethics, and equity are fundamental to the ways in which we understand and seek to overcome global environmental change. These challenges require that we specify “the entitlements that people have … as well as the duties or obligations … that persons or other agents are bound by to respect these entitlements.” Yet “ethical reflection on international environmental affairs is in its infancy” and equity-based norms have not had a strong impact in global environmental governance. One starting point for addressing these challenges is to understand environmental degradation as a particular form of transnational harm that results from environmental displacement. This harm, in turn, is characterized by forms of inequity in which the lives of “others-beyond-borders” are shaped without their participation and consent. These transactions of harm therefore extend the bounds of those with whom we are connected, to whom we owe obligations and against whom we might claim rights. They create, in effect, a cosmopolitan community of reciprocal rights and duties which, as Andrew Linklater points out, transcend the “morally parochial world of the sovereign state.” The question of how best to respond to this kind of inequity has both ethical and political dimensions. The purpose of this chapter is to examine whether and in what ways ideas drawn from cosmopolitan thought can provide a normative basis for a global regime of rights and duties which responds to the harm inequities associated with environmental degradation.

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