From Burden-Sharing Justice to Harm-Avoidance Justice: Reimagining the EU's Approach to Climate Justice

Kevin Le Merle

Duodecim Astra, Issue 1, 2021, pp. 164 – 178

Author description

About the author: Kevin Le Merle is a Schuman trainee for the Industry, Research, and Energy Committee at the European Parliament where he is currently working on the Fit for 55 package/climate policy. He is also the founder of Lingua Natolina – a multilingual and hybrid publication featuring art, literature, journalism, and academia.


With the climate crisis set to become the defining issue of our generation, it appears vital to reimagine the ethical principles that underpin the EU’s climate action policy. The concerted political action necessary to limit the harmful effects of climate change will have high mitigation, adaptation, and compensation costs. The question of how that cost should be distributed is a question of global redistributive justice, which has led to the development of an entire sub-field of moral-political philosophy – climate justice. I will show how an ethical framework of equal relative sacrifice measured in terms of human well-being can become the new foundation for effective climate-change justice that realistically considers the scope and potential existential threat of climate change and expends energy seeking to avoid further harm rather than assigning responsibility. The EU can no longer afford to have a less than ‘all hands on deck’ approach towards climate change. Ethics should not stand in the way of effective climate action but support it. This begs the inter-related questions: What is the moral and normative motivation for a switch to harm-avoidance justice? Can the Ability to Pay Principle (ATP) or Polluter Pays Principle (PPP) fulfil the imperatives set out by a harm-avoidance justice framework? This paper explores which principles of burden-sharing justice translate into harm-avoidance justice and normatively evaluates the two principles ATP and PPP in view of such a switch.


Keywords: Climate justice, climate change, European Green Deal, Polluter Pays, Ability to Pay

Full article: From Burden-Sharing Justice to Harm-Avoidance Justice: Reimagining the EU's Approach to Climate Justice

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