Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 23, Issue 5, pp 1273–1287 | Cite as

Territorial Rights and Carbon Sinks

  • Steve Vanderheiden
Original Paper


Scholars concerned with abuses of the “resource privilege” by the governments of developing states sometimes call for national sovereignty over the natural resources that lie within its borders. While such claims may resist a key driver of the “resource curse” when applied to mineral resources in the ground, and are often recognized as among a people’s territorial rights, their implications differ in the context of climate change, where they are invoked on behalf of a right to extract and combust fossil fuels that is set in opposition to global climate change mitigation imperatives. Moreover, granting full national sovereignty over territorial carbon sinks may conflict with commitments to equity in the sharing of national mitigation burdens, since much of the planet’s carbon sink capacity lies within territorial borders to which peoples have widely disparate access. In this paper, I shall explore this tension between a global justice principle that is often applied to mineral resources and its tension with contrary principles that are often applied to carbon sink access, developing an analysis that seeks to reconcile what would otherwise appear to be fundamentally incompatible aims.


Territorial rights Carbon sinks Climate justice Emissions rights Permanent sovereignty Carbon budgets 


  1. Armstrong, C. (2014a). Against ‘permanent sovereignty’ over natural resources. Politics, Philosophy and Economics, 14(2), 129–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Armstrong, C. (2014b). Justice and attachment to natural resources. Journal of Political Philosophy, 22(1), 48–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beitz, C. R. (1975). Justice and international relations. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 4(4), 360–389.Google Scholar
  4. Blomfield, M. (2013). Global common resources and the just distribution of emission shares. Journal of Political Philosophy, 21(3), 283–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bumpus, A. G., & Liverman, D. M. (2008). Accumulation by decarbonization and the governance of carbon offsets. Economic Geography, 84(2), 127–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Caney, S. (2012). Just emissions. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 40(4), 255–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Climate Council of Australia (2015). Unburnable carbon: Why we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground. Accessed 25 February 2016.
  8. Hardin, G. (1968). The tragedy of the commons. Science, 162(3859), 1243–1248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hertwich, E. G. (2005). Consumption and the rebound effect: An industrial ecology perspective. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 9(1–2), 85–98.Google Scholar
  10. Kolers, A. (2009). Land, conflict, and justice. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kolers, A. (2012). Justice, territory, and natural resources. Political Studies, 60(2), 269–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Miller, D. (2012). Territorial rights: Concept and justification. Political Studies, 60(2), 252–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Myneni, R. B., Dong, J., Tucker, C. J., Kaufmann, R. K., Kauppi, P. E., Liski, J., et al. (2001). A large carbon sink in the woody biomass of Northern forests. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), 98(26), 14784–14789.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Pogge, T. (2001). The influence of the global order on the prospects for genuine democracy in developing countries. Ratio Juris, 14(3), 326–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Pogge, T. (2008). World poverty and human rights (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  16. Princen, T. (2015). The ethical: A fossil fuel ethic. In T. Princen, J. P. Manno, & P. L. Martin (Eds.), Ending the fossil fuel era (pp. 97–106). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Schrijver, N. (1997). Sovereignty over natural resources: Balancing rights and duties. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Steiner, H. (1994). An essay on rights. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  19. Vanderheiden, S. (2008). Atmospheric justice: A political theory of climate change. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Vanderheiden, S. (2009). Allocating ecological space. Journal of Social Philosophy, 40(2), 257–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Wenar, L. (2008). Property rights and the resource curse. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 36(1), 2–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Wolf, C. (1995). Contemporary property rights, Lockean provisos, and the interests of future generations. Ethics, 105(4), 791–818.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of Colorado at BoulderBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE)Charles Sturt UniversityCanberraAustralia

Personalised recommendations