Ethics, International Relations, and Global Environmental Governance

LORRAINE ELLIOTT, Professor of International Relations at the Australian National University, delivered a public lecture entitled "Ethics, International Relations, and Global Environmental Governance" in Singapore at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, on Monday, November 19, 2012.

The seminar was co-convened by RSIS and the Global Ethics Network of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, and was moderated by the RSIS's Associate Professor See Seng Tan, a Carnegie Council Global Ethics Fellow. Dr. Tan also served as rapporteur of this summary.

Lorraine's talk drew on more than a decade's published work to canvass ways in which we might understand—and indeed make sense of—the links between ethics and global justice, key organizing principles in International Relations (particularly sovereignty and legitimacy), and a critical-practical politics of global environmental governance. She did so with a reference to a cosmopolitan sensibility underpinned by principles that acknowledge a global community of humankind based on a structure of mutual recognition, solidarity, and equal moral worth, and that recognize global justice among peoples as well as among states as a fundamental objective of international political practice.

Cosmopolitan Harm Conventions

Building on the scholarship of Andrew Dobson, Ian Clark, Andrew Linklater, Thomas Pogge, and others, Lorraine discussed two forms of harm to the environment, namely, that caused by environmental degradation and that caused by environmental injustice. Borrowing from the so-called "harm conventions"—(1) do no harm, (2) protect from all harm, and (3) remedy harm—she assessed the prospects for cosmopolitan harm conventions for dealing with environmental injustices. Lorraine discussed problems associated with "rights-based" approaches to environmental injustice and presented a case for "duty-based" approaches to the issue, arguing for individual and collective action even if those who assume such obligations are not the specific instigators of harm nor had a direct hand in creating or perpetuating inequalities themselves. Crucially for Lorraine, peoples and societies who are most affected by transnational environmental harm and injustice—and most often excluded from the list of stakeholders and "rightsholders"—need to be heard.

Legitimacy and Sovereignty

Lorraine focused on legitimacy and sovereignty as the link between harm conventions and ethical principles, on the one hand, and global environmental governance on the other. She discussed the problems confronting a legality-based approach to legitimacy, which stresses state sovereignty and property and authority rights, when viewed through the lens of a cosmopolitan harms convention. Rather than conflating legality with legitimacy and states, she proposed appropriating the concept of political community, which effectively places the treatment of environmental injustices within the intersubjective context of the relevant political community and rule systems. Those rule systems ought to frame global environmental governance not just in

regulatory terms but, fundamentally, in ethical terms and with that implicit value judgments about appropriate practices, justice, and the nature of rights and duties and to whom these are owed.

Institutional Practice

Lorraine concluded with a reflection on what all of this means at the practical/operational dimension. She discussed the tensions between representation and effectiveness in existing institutions and the prospects for building more inclusive, democratic, transparent, and accountable institutional arrangements, principles, and norms for responding to environmental injustices. She also reflected on the challenges posed by the need to ensure intergenerational equity where cosmopolitan harm conventions are concerned.

Audience Response

The talk was warmly received and elicited a number of comments and questions from the floor. Concerns touched on included the entrenchment of the neoliberal economic order and the apparent limited prospects for reforming if not transforming that order. Discussion focused on the role of academics and experts as "activists" whose intellectual and moral duty was to speak truth to power not only via education but possibly political action. There was some discussion on the debate over whether a "responsibility to protect" principle were required for climate change and other environmental challenges.

Finally, there was concern over whether a global environmental crisis—what Thomas Friedman has referred to as hitting "rock-bottom"—were necessary to impel governments to act. It was suggested that, as it was, 20–30 percent of the world's population was already at "rock-bottom" and hence in desperate need for redress.

About the Speaker

Lorraine Elliott is Professor of International Relations at The Australian National University. She has also held appointment as Reader in International Relations at the University of Warwick, with visiting appointments at the University of Oxford (Balliol College), the Asia Research Centre at the London School of Economics and Political Science, the University of Keele, and the Institute for Environmental Studies at the Free University of Amsterdam. Professor Elliott researches, publishes and teaches in the areas of global and regional environmental governance and ethics; non-traditional security including climate security and human security; transnational environmental crime (for which she has an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant); and Australian foreign policy (again with a focus on international environmental issues). She is the author of more than 100 book chapters and journal articles on these topics. Her publications also include books on Antarctic environmental politics, cosmopolitan militaries, comparative environmental regionalism, climate change and human security, and two editions of The Global Politics of the Environment (Palgrave Macmillan 1998 and 2004). She has held grants from the Australian Research Council, the Canadian government, the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the United States Institute of Peace.

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Tags: GEF, cosmopolitanism, environment, ethics, harm, intergenerational, justice, legitimacy, poverty, rights, More…sovereignty


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