Climate Change and Responsibility to Future Generations: Reflections on the Normative Questions

  • Robert Heeger Utrecht University, The Netherlands
Keywords: Uncertainty, Cost-benefit analysis, Duty of justice, Future benefits, Human rights approach


Climate change raises in an important way the problem of moral responsibility. It forces us to recognise that we have a responsibility to future generations, and to ask what this responsibility implies. Here I identify four key normative questions: (1) How should we respond to uncertainty? Should we apply cost-benefit analysis in order to cope with uncertainty? (2) How should we evaluate the emission of greenhouse gases? Given that the effects of emissions will be bad, should we judge that we as emitters harm the receivers and by that do them an injustice? (3) How should we compare present costs and future benefits? Should we give little or much weight to the benefits and well-being of people in the further future? (4) How should we take heed of human rights? Should we try to avoid the adverse outcomes of a cost-benefit approach by adopting a human rights approach that specifies minimum thresholds to which all human beings are entitled?


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How to Cite
Heeger, R. (2014) “Climate Change and Responsibility to Future Generations: Reflections on the Normative Questions”, De Ethica, 1(1), pp. 9-16. doi: 10.3384/de-ethica.2001-8819.14119.