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Publication - Dr Megan Blomfield

    Historical Use of the Climate Sink

    Citation

    Blomfield, MR, 2016, ‘Historical Use of the Climate Sink’. Res Publica, vol 22., pp. 67-81

    Abstract

    In this paper I discuss a popular position in the climate justice
    literature concerning historical accountability for climate change.
    According to this view, historical high-emitters of greenhouse gases—or
    currently existing individuals that are appropriately related to
    them—are in possession of some form of emission debt,
    owed to certain of those who are now burdened by climate change. It is
    frequently claimed that such debts were originally incurred by
    historical emissions that violated a principle of fair shares for the
    world’s natural resources. Thus, a suitable principle of natural
    resource justice is required to render this interpretation of historical
    accountability complete. I argue that the need for such a principle
    poses a significant challenge for the historical emission debt view,
    because there doesn’t appear to be any determinate answer to the
    question what a fair share of climate sink capacity would have been
    historically. This leaves the historical emission debt view incomplete
    and thus unable to explain a powerful intuition that appears to motivate
    the view: namely, that there is something
    unjust about how the climate sink has historically been used. I suggest
    an alternative explanation of this common intuition according to which
    historically unequal consumption of climate sink capacity, whether or
    not wrongful in and of itself, is a symptom of broader global injustice
    concerning control over and access to the world’s natural resources.
    This broader historical injustice will be harder to quantify and harder
    to repair than that which the historical emission debt purports to
    identify.

    Full details in the University publications repository