Climate change, intergenerational equity and international law: An introductory note
The change in the Earth's climate caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may be the most important environmental legacy that we leave to our descendants.
Global change raises difficult issues of equity between our generation and future generations, and between different communities within future generations. International law is accustomed to addressing the effects of intentional environmental change on people who are already alive. It needs to be augmented by principles of intergenerational equity. We have certain obligations to future generations to pass on a planet in no worse condition than we received it and to give them equitable access to its resources.
This requires a global strategy for climate change which will prevent excessively rapid climate change, prevent or mitigate the damage caused by climate change, and help countries to adapt to climate change. We need to avoid imposing major costs on future generations for our own benefit.
To implement this strategy will require enforceable norms of behavior, which should be embodied in a Declaration of Planetary Rights and Obligations to Future Generations, and implemented in appropriate treaties and national and local legislation. Agreements should be drafted in such a way that they can incorporate increases in scientific understanding, for example by the creation of scientific advisory committees.
KeywordsClimate Change Global Change Future Generation Advisory Committee Scientific Understanding
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