The project "Basic Needs and Intergenerational Climate Justice", led by Prof. Dr. Lukas Meyer, runs from October 1st, 2020 until September 30th, 2023 and is sponsored by the fond for scientific research (FWF). In course of the project we will approach the topic of climate justice from a normative perspective and will make our outcomes more concrete by also incorporating findings from the field of economics.
Climate change is characterized by a temporally unequal distribution of benefits and costs. While most of the advantages of emission-generating activities are derived by currently living people, most of the harms that these activities cause will only materialize in the (distant) future. There is thus strong reason for considering climate change a matter of intergenerational justice. The most pressing question of intergenerational climate justice concerns the present generation’s relation to future generations. Do we owe future generations to adopt additional measures against climate change and its harmful consequences? And if yes, to what extent and in which way?
Scholars have addressed this question from the perspectives of various principles of intergenerational justice. There is one plausible principle that has so far been widely neglected, though. According to this principle, the present generation ought to enable future generations to meet their basic needs — for example, their needs for water, food and health. The aim of our project is to contribute to assessing states’ climate-related intergenerational duties of justice from the perspective of this particular principle. First, we develop a clear, plausible and workable version of the principle (which involves defining the concept of basic needs, determining the actual basic needs and basic needs satisfiers of present and future generations, and examining the social discounting of future basic needs and the moral implications of scarcity). And second, we investigate which scientific models and studies would be necessary for this principle to be able to provide concrete and realistic ethical guidance with regard to climate change (which involves identifying climate change measures that can be implemented in the near future, investigating how to best model the effects of business as usual and these measures on future generations’ ability to meet their basic needs, and examining how to assess the empirical assumptions of arguments for discounting and from scarcity).