Protecting the Global Commons: Comparing three
ethico-political foundations for response to climate change
School of Education and Arts, University of Ballarat
The ecological underpinnings of our world are at risk. According to the 2007 Assessment Report carried out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), since the start of industrialization in the eighteenth century, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane) have markedly increased. This is predicted to entail increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, leading to a larger proportion of the Earth being affected by drought and extreme weather events such as tropical cyclone activity, the reduction and/or loss of glaciers and sea ice, rises in sea level with consequent increases in coastal erosion and losses of coastal wetlands and mangroves, as well as persistent changes to oceanic currents and levels of salinity. These effects entail reductions in fresh water supplies, a loss of biodiversity, the risk of large-scale species extinctions, and significant reductions in the capacity of natural systems to absorb greenhouse gases. All of these effects will drastically impact both natural ecosystems and human societies and economies.
What is at stake, then, is the global commons itself, in particular the Earth’s atmosphere which is of common concern to all of humanity and all other life on Earth. This situation – what we can call the tragedy of the atmospheric commons – demands immediate and effective response for the effects of climate change to be minimized, yet current proposals for response have been manifestly inadequate. This paper, then, contrasts three different ethico-political foundations for response: that constructed through the terms of state-centric international justice; that proposed under the logic of a global cosmopolitanism; and the array of responses collected under the umbrella of radical democracy. More particularly, the paper is concerned to explore key overlaps and tensions between these three responses, thereby not only making manifest some of the problems inherent in the current climate change response regime – so far founded primarily on the state-centric principles of international justice – but aiming to propose some more productive ethico-political principles by which the debate regarding a more efficacious response to climate change might be moved forward.
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© borderlands ejournal 2012