Three conceptions of justice: non-domination, impartiality, and mutual recognition

To broaden our understanding of climate justice, we start from a tripartite conception of global justice consisting of non-domination, impartiality, and mutual recognition (Eriksen 2016; Sjursen 2017). Each of these three conceptions is closely linked to specific aspects of global justice. Together they can aid us to better understand, and also give recommendations for changing the non-ideal political circumstances in which climate policies are negotiated. A key advantage of this threefold theoretical perspective lies in its avoidance of a single essentialist conception of what global justice ought to

Reconfiguring climate justice 17 be (Sjursen 2017, 4). Instead, each of the three conceptions highlights specific aspects of justice that might be important for particular actors and issues around the world and allows for a differentiated normative discussion. Moreover, each conception comes with shortcomings and blind spots that the other two conceptions are to some extent able to address. We thus understand the three justice conceptions not as opposites, but as corners of a triangle that need to be kept in balance (see Figure 2.1 on page 30). This balance can look very differently for different aspects of the climate regime. In order to abate climate change we need shared norms and binding rules that do not privilege some actors over others; yet we also need to take into account the diversity of histories, identities, and interests that are at stake in any global climate regime; and we have to acknowledge the desire of states for self-determination and sovereignty and need to be wary of undue impositions of centralised rules against countervailing claims. In the following section, we discuss the three conceptions in more detail.

2.3.1 Global justice as non-domination

Global justice as non-domination (Eriksen 2016, 8-13) is strongly connected to neo-republican theory and its focus on freedom from domination or arbitrary interference (Pettit 1997; 2010, 140; Lovett 2009; Shapiro 2012; Bachvarova 2013). This pertains especially to forms of unauthorised or unconstitutional rule and the lack of reciprocal power (Shapiro 2012, 293-94; Sjursen 2017, 4). At the core of the conception stands the idea that states remain the key actors in the international realm and are central in causing, but also in working against, global injustices (Eriksen 2016, 11). In that sense, non-domination can be seen as a central tenet of a pluralist international society, in which states work together in institutions that primarily guarantee their own existence (Bull 1977). However, not all states are equally powerful, be it in terms of economic, military, ‘soft’, or ‘normative’ power (Nye 2004; Diez 2005; Sjursen 2006a, 2006b). In effect, this inequality can lead to ‘unjust’ constellations in the international system or international treaties, and to breaches of the principles of sovereignty and non-interference (Skinner 2010, 100; Sjursen 2017, 6; Eriksen 2019).

Finding ways to alleviate the influence of more powerful states, i.e. preventing them from directly or unlawfully pressuring weaker states, ignoring international agreements or dominating the outcome of the negotiations, contributes to more just solutions to global problems. Yet the conception of non-domination does not fundamentally challenge the existing pluralist order of international society (see Chapter 6). Instead, it aims at improving it to ensure a fair system of global governance and to prevent less powerful states from being harmed by the action or inaction of others (Eriksen 2016, 11-12). Practically, this can take different forms. Weaker states or those particularly affected by certain global problems could build coalitions or form bilateral cooperation agreements in order to withstand more powerful statesand to increase their chances of getting favourable negotiation outcomes. Strengthening non-domination could also entail the support and safeguarding of international norms such as sovereignty or non-intervention, aiming to protect less powerful states from outside interference (Sjursen 2017, 7). Ultimately, however, a focus on non-domination rejects global, universalist regulations as well as supranational institutions, and instead aims to find ways to tackle global issues without relying on binding, top-down measures.

While promoting non-domination may contribute to global justice, it also has significant shortcomings (see also Markell 2008; Eriksen 2016, 12). Not all forms of domination are necessarily unjust, and leadership by certain states or coalitions is sometimes necessary for finding universally applicable international solutions to immediate collective action problems (Falkner 2007; Wurzel and Connelly 2011b; Delbeke and Vis 2015). This includes binding international treaties or supranational institutions that impose rules and behaviours onto all states. Such efforts limit the freedom of individual states and interfere with their sovereignty; hence, partly running against the idea of non-domination. Beyond these concerns, focussing only on non-domination might be insufficient for achieving global justice because it does not aim at fundamentally challenging the status quo (Cox 1981). It largely accepts the current system of states and merely aims at amending it, which neglects many injustices that are ingrained in this very system, and runs the risk of being abused by powerful states to safeguard their own sovereignty and reinforce their power position, as in the case of the United States (US)’ withdrawal from multilateral institutions under the Trump Administration.

2.3.2 Global justice as impartiality

Justice as impartiality (Kane 1996; Follesdal 2000) has its roots in Kant, natural law theorists and other proponents of universal understandings of justice and rights (Kant and Reiss 1991; Eriksen 2016, 13—18). It understands justice as a ‘context transcending principle’ (Eriksen 2016, 14) and emphasises the need for neutral, universalist values and institutions. These are considered just from the perspective of all involved parties and in all contexts (Sjursen 2017, 8). Moreover, justice as impartiality does not primarily aim at states as the central political subjects but focusses directly on the rights and needs of individuals, which ultimately trump the rights of states (Dworkin 2011, 333; Eriksen 2016, 14-15). Here, freedom is primarily linked to the autonomy of the individual, which goes beyond the conception of justice as non-domination (Sjursen 2017, 8). Instead of amending the existing system of states, impartiality means to actively transform this system, strengthening law-based orders to deter dominance and power inequalities, and eventually build a cosmopolitan society of individuals (Eriksen 2016, 16; Sjursen 2017, 6, 8). In the long term, disputes in the international realm are to be decided by an impartial third party, which in practice involves the strengthening of international institutions such as the United Nations (UN), the International Criminal Court (ICC), cosmopolitan law and the rights of individuals. Impartiality, as we elaborate in Chapter 6, thus is a core principle of a solidarist international society, in which states are not the only legitimate actors on the global level, and in which they share responsibilities for people and goods outside their own borders (Wheeler 2000). Impartiality therefore clashes with non-domination because it presupposes the possibility to interfere in other states and at the very least requires a redefinition of sovereignty as we find it, for instance, in the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) (Bellamy 2010).

On the downside justice as impartiality cannot escape the context-bound nature of justice claims. What some would see as a neutral and universal position, will certainly be perceived as biased imposition by others (Ashley 1988; Ashley and Walker 1990), as the various disputes about the extent and applicability of human rights exemplify (Donnelly 1999, 2007). Some will therefore always perceive the strengthening of international institutions and binding global policies as a form of domination and interference in their sovereignty. In the current system of states, enhancing impartiality is thus a difficult task. Moreover, to be accepted by all or at least by most, impartial norms would always have to be phrased in fairly general terms because the more specific they get, the more resistance they will invoke (Wiener 2007). This may also include a certain ambiguity, which, however, may contribute to long-term transformation, as we discuss in Chapter 6. Finally, strengthening a certain set of norms that allows to interfere in the sovereignty of other states runs the risk of indeed being exploited to promote one’s own, partial position in the global order, a critique often levelled, for instance, at the advancement of the liberal peace during the post-Cold War era (Chandler 2004; Richmond 2017; Chandler, Cudworth, and Hobden 2018).

2.3.3 Global justice as mutual recognition

The concept of mutual recognition (Anderson and Honneth 2005; Schmidt 2007; Eriksen 2016, 18-22) addresses the contested nature of apparently universal norms and acknowledges the Western or European bias in much of the literature underlying impartiality in particular and moral philosophy in general (Tickner 2003; Hobson 2012). Core to mutual recognition is therefore the recognition of difference (Sjursen 2017, 9). Justice is not a universal or neutral principle that applies to all and in every context in the same manner but one that has to be conceptualised as an inter-subjective category (Eriksen 2016, 20). What is just is decided not prior to the political struggles but directly in processes of deliberation among all affected parties (Young 2011; Eriksen 2016, 19). The focus is on rules of procedure that increase the legitimacy of resulting decisions by taking into account the multitude of different contexts and identities, and ensuring that all voices are heard and recognised by each other. In this respect, a particular focus of mutual recognition lies on a better representation and due hearing of formerly marginalised groups.

One problem of mutual recognition is that it is often unclear where we should draw the line between hearing all voices and actually integrating their concerns in the resulting decisions. What about positions that may themselves be normatively questionable? Furthermore, especially given the time constraints of political negotiations, recognising, and including the standpoints of all involved parties may be difficult and lead to less demanding standards that eventually only represent the lowest common denominator. This is a problem even if one excludes purely economic or privileged actors and instead focusses on formerly underrepresented groups such as indigenous people or grassroot organisations. Including all parties into negotiation processes may also underestimate the impact of existing power inequalities and the need for strong institutions to deter domination (Eriksen 2016, 22, 2019). And last but not least, the old Habermasian problem re-appears of who decides which collective identities and standpoints are legitimate and have to be included in the deliberative process. It may be important to include coal miners in the deliberations on climate change because of the possibly devastating effects that climate change mitigation efforts may have on their lives, but does the same apply to coal company executives? And how may we assess the outcomes of such deliberative processes without reference to any kind of impartial criteria? In other words, would every outcome of such negotiation processes be just, even if it fundamentally neglects the (long-term) interests of some actors or those of future generations?

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