Climate change is unjust for children and future generations.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the greenhouse gas that is most responsible for climate change [1]. Its lifetime is much longer than yours or mine [1]! CO2 leaves the atmosphere by, for example, dissolving in the ocean or being taken up by a plants for photosynthesis [2]. Whilst over half of the CO2 produced by humans leaves the atmosphere within a century, about 20% of it stays in the atmosphere for many millennia [2]!

This means that much of the CO2 released decades ago is still warming the atmosphere today, and CO2 we release today could still warm the atmosphere in thousands of years [1,2]. This is a problem of intergenerational justice [3]. Put simply: burning fossil fuels today benefits people now, at the cost of the wellbeing of future generations [4]. This raises questions of ‘climate justice’, such as how to balance the rights of people alive today against the rights of future generations [4].

A dominant view of climate justice is that each person or country should be entitled to emit a certain amount of greenhouse gas, and should pay for anything exceeding this by funding projects to slow climate change and adapt to it [1]. This is called the ‘quota-based polluter pays principle’ [1].

This principle fails, however, when considering emissions from people who are no longer here to pay [1]. When we look back in time, the USA has emitted the most CO2 since 1751, being responsible for 25% of historical emissions [5]. China is the biggest emitter of CO2 today, and whilst it comes in second place for historical emissions it has still only emitted half as much as the USA’s total [5].

Youth campaigners, including the Fridays for Future movement, are in part fuelled by intergenerational injustice [10,11]. The potentially devastating future effects of climate change [12] will be felt in decades time by people who are young now [11]. This is recognised and supported by some government leaders and organisations such as the United Nations [6,7,8,9].

References

[1] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13698230.2013.810395?casa_token=o739DOJ4W74AAAAA%3AbWlO6JHeiV9tXB_FXZpFKL4nP1oOy0XMidnhI3wkdVIASrbZdIMqiKyyR58gD49BlQ1W_WcHjoERHg The problem of past emissions and intergenerational debts. See: The problem of past emissions

[2] https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/05/ar4_wg1_full_report-1.pdf Climate Change 2007, The Physical Science Basis, IPCC 2007. See: If Emissions of Greenhouse Gases are Reduced, How Quickly do Their Concentrations in the Atmosphere Decrease?

[3] https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Upendra_Baxi2/publication/299575972_Towards_a_climate_change_justice_theory/links/573d8c4c08ae298602e695a0/Towards-a-climate-change-justice-theory.pdf Towards a climate change justice theory?

[4] https://www.unicef-irc.org/article/920-climate-change-and-intergenerational-justice.html Climate Change and Intergenerational Justice, UNICEF

[5] https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions#cumulative-co2-emissions CO2 and Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Our World in Data 2019. See: Cumulative CO2 emissions

[6] https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/09/1046872 UN staff support youth-driven global action on climate crisis

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/08/what-will-you-do-about-the-climate-crisis-the-parties-answer What will you do about the climate crisis? The parties answer. See: Does your party support the students striking from school and/or the Extinction Rebellion protests demanding urgent action on the climate crisis?

[8] https://www.dw.com/en/germanys-angela-merkel-backs-student-friday-for-future-climate-protests/a-47750479 Germany’s Angela Merkel backs student ‘Friday for Future’ climate protests

[9] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/27/italian-minister-urges-pupils-to-skip-class-for-global-climate-strike Italian minister urges pupils to skip class for global climate strike

[10] Emotional Greta Thunberg attacks world leaders: “How dare you?”

[11] https://downloads.unicef.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/intergenerationaljustice.pdf See: iv. Procedural rights: voice and participation, and Generational Inequality

[12] https://www.worldbank.org/content/dam/Worldbank/document/Full_Report_Vol_2_Turn_Down_The_Heat_%20Climate_Extremes_Regional_Impacts_Case_for_Resilience_Print%20version_FINAL.pdf See: E.g. Human Impacts

Join our Newsletter!

Impress

Climate Science Ltd
Company Nr: 12370672
Registered in England & Wales
Mail: [email protected]

address

15 Hope Close
Totnes
TQ9 5YD
United Kingdom

Climate Science is registered as a non-profit company limited by guarantee in England and Wales.

Copyright © 2019-2020 Climate Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Climate Science uses Cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.