Pre-emptive justice for future generations: reframing climate change as a 'humanitarian climate crime'

Selina O'Doherty

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Climate change has been acknowledged as a transnational political issue for decades, but despite advances in scientific knowledge and predictions of imminent large-scale and long-term disasters due to anthropogenic climate change, it remains in the realm of low politics, with little more than lip-service and aspirational commitments resulting from the numerous conferences held to tackle it. Binding agreements are notably lacking, and commitments projected forwards, identifying targets to be reached at future points in time, with no immediate action addressing the ongoing causal actions of climate change. There is a sense around tackling catastrophic climate change of ‘all talk and no action’. Yet the imminent consequences of climate change would - if carried out deliberately and with immediate effect – qualify as breaches of global justice, human rights violations, and crimes against humanity. International intervention against such actions is sanctioned under circumstances of humanitarian protection, most notably through the Responsibility to Protect doctrine which frames intervention as an ethical obligation and a sovereign responsibility.
Taking a moderate cosmopolitan stance on both harm and human security, coupled with an English school approach to an international society of States imbued with sovereign responsibilities, my concept of “humanitarian climate crimes”, frames the causal-actions of climate change as intentionally violating human rights and committing crimes against humanity. This subsequently creates a “Green Responsibility to Protect” case for pursuing climate justice through invoking pre-emptive humanitarian intervention on behalf of future victims, against the State actors and facilitators who are liable, accountable and responsible for anthropogenic climate change.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA Research Agenda for Climate Justice
EditorsPaul Harris
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing Ltd.
Number of pages11
ISBN (Print)1788118162
Publication statusPublished - 08 Nov 2019


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