Climatic Change

, Volume 130, Issue 3, pp 371–382 | Cite as

Conceiving the rationale for international climate law

  • Benoît Mayer


A rationale is a reasoned narrative used to justify a norm or set of norms; in turn, it determines the expectations that one holds from the law and provides a framework in which complementary norms are bargained. This article proposes a reflection on the elusive rationale for international climate law. Its first, analytical claim is that there is currently no consensus on such a rationale—an absence likely to impede climate negotiations. References to “equity,” “common but differentiated responsibilities” and “respective capabilities” in existing climate law provide insufficient guidance to ongoing negotiations, reflecting an agreement to disagree rather than a common vision. The construction of a rationale is prevented by protracted disputes regarding the ethical grounds relevant to climate law and by the ambivalence of national interests, which are essentially social constructs. A second, normative claim of this article is that the rationale for climate law should be construed as a hybrid narrative reconciling moral aspirations with pragmatic constraints. Thus, it is submitted that the concept of complex interdependence could be applied to climate change to emphasize existing national interests in fostering global sustainable development. Although important debates remain, complex interdependence provides essential guidance by calling states to take moral arguments into account, in their own interest—when such arguments are widely accepted by civil societies—in order to avoid human destitution and resentment and to preclude the possibility of disastrous consequences on international peace and security.


National Interest Ethical Argument Human Security Complex Interdependence Climate Negotiation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Insightful comments were provided by the participants to a NUS Law doctoral seminar and to the Como workshop on Multi-disciplinary Perspectives on Climate Ethics, and by four anonymous reviewers.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National University of Singapore Faculty of LawToulouseFrance

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