Most observers agree that equity is an essential condition for a new international agreement on climate change. However, equity is an equivocal concept, and different interpretations of equity clash with each other. Though equity concerns have been placed at the core of negotiations on mitigation efforts, they have been little addressed in the discussions on adaptation. As a result of this, the criteria that will be used to allocate the adaptation funding remain unclear and vague, which is detrimental for the negotiation process as a whole. This paper aims to offer a new perspective on this issue, departing from the traditional perspective inspired by retributive justice.
With regard to adaptation, who owns what to whom? Two different possible answers can be provided to this question. The first answer derives from retributive justice, which is the perspective on justice most commonly referred to in Western countries. The concept of ‘climate debt’, put forward by campaigners for climate justice, derives from this perspective. A strict application of retributive justice to adaptation would imply that the countries with the greatest responsibility in global warming would transfer funds to compensate for the damages they have caused in countries that bear the least responsibility for these damages, and are the first and most affected.
Yet this paper aims to show the practical problems that would arise from an application of retributive justice to adaptation, and makes the case for a perspective inspired by distributive justice. Unlike retributive justice, distributive justice is not concerned with the identification of responsibilities, but rather with the equalisation of resources and benefits, according to the needs and capacities of each party. The paper also seeks to identify the political and practical obstacles in the implementation of distributive justice, and suggests some options to overcome these obstacles.
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