Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: June 2014

5 - The Right to Sustainable Development


“Those Greek were superficial – out of profundity.”

– Friedrich Nietszche

The seventeenth Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – meeting in Durban, South Africa, in 2011 – agreed on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, which contains a commitment “to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties.” The negotiations around such a protocol will be conducted within the framework of norms expressed in the Convention. Analogous to a game, these norms are the rules according to which the parties to the Convention have agreed to play when deliberating about joint action and supplemental treaties, such as the one they committed to develop in the Durban Platform. If taken seriously, the norms would play an important role in constraining negotiations, thereby narrowing the range of disagreement.

This chapter discusses one especially important norm for the morality of climate change policy expressed in the Convention; the right to sustainable development is stated in Article 3, paragraph 4:

The Parties have a right to, and should, promote sustainable development. Policies and measures to protect the climate system against human-induced change should be appropriate for the specific conditions of each Party and should be integrated with national development programmes, taking into account that economic development is essential for adopting measures to address climate change.

Sustainable development is understood in many different ways. But in the context of the Convention and other related UN resolutions, its meaning is fairly determinate. I call the conception of the right to sustainable development more or less fixed by this context the institutional conception of the right to sustainable development in order to distinguish it from the many other understandings of sustainable development in use.

Beitz, Charles, The Idea of Human Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)
On Human Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 35–36
Ethics 120 (2010): 711–740
Making Sense of Human Rights, 2nd ed. (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), pp. 53–64.
Vasak, Karl, “A 30-Year Struggle: The Sustained Effort to Give Force of Law to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights,” UNESCO Courier 30 (1977): 29.
Moellendorf, Darrel, Cosmopolitan Justice (Boulder: Westview Press, 2002), p. 103
Shue, Henry, “Eroding Sovereignty: The Advance of Principle,” in McKim, Robert and McMahan, Jeff, eds., The Morality of Nationalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 340–359.
Sachs, Wolfang ed., The Development Dictionary, 2nd ed. (London: Zed Books, 2010)
Plato, , Gorgias (518e–519a) Hamilton, Walter, trans. (London: Penguin Classics, 2004), p. 124
A Theory of Justice, rev. ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 9.
Sen, Amartya, Development as Freedom (New York: Anchor, 2000).
Brock, Gillian, Global Justice: A Cosmopolitan Account (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)
Caney, Simon, Justice Beyond Borders: A Global Political Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)
Moellendorf, Darrel, Global Inequality Matters (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)
Pogge, Thomas, World Poverty and Human Rights, 2nd ed. (London: Polity, 2008).
Barry, Brian, “Sustainability and Intergenerational Justice,” Theoria 45 (1997): 43–65
Norton, Bryan, “Ecology and Opportunity: Intergenerational Equity and Sustainable Options” in Dobson, Andrew, ed., Fairness and Futurity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 118–150
Shue, Henry, “Avoidable Necessity: Global Warming, International Fairness, and Alternative Energy,” in Shapiro, Ian and Wagner DeCew, Judith, eds., NOMOS XXXVII: Theory and Practice (New York: NYU Press, 1995)
Shue, Henry, “Environmental Change and the Varieties of Justice,” in Osler, Fen and Reppy, Judith, eds., Earthly Goods: Environmental Change and Social Justice (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996), p. 27
Shue, Henry, “Responsibility to Future Generations and the Technological Transition,” in Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter and Howarth, Richard B., eds., Perspectives on Climate Change: Science, Economics, Politics, Ethics (Amsterdam and San Diego: Elsevier, 2005), p. 273
Shue, Henry, “Climate Hope: Implementing the Exit Strategy,” Chicago Journal of International Law 13 (2013): 396–398.
Catastrophe: Risk and Response (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 156–158.
Buchanan, Allen, “From Nuremburg to Kosovo: The Morality of Illegal International Legal Reform” in Allen Buchanan Human Rights, Legitimacy, and the Use of Force (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 299–300
Goodin, Robert, “Toward an International Rule of Law: Distinguishing International Law-Breakers from Would-Be Law-Makers,” Journal of Ethics 9 (2005): 225–246.
Buchanan, AllenHuman Rights, Legitimacy, and the Use of Force (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 111–114.
A Theory of Justice rev. ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), pp. 506–514.
Doran, Peter T. and Kendall Zimmerman, Maggie, “Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” EOS, Transactions, American Geophysical Union 90 (2009): 22–23
Oreskes, Naomi and Conway, Erik M., Merchants of Doubt (New York: Bloomsbury, 2010)
Waldron, Jeremy “Can Communal Goods be Human Rights?” in his Liberal Rights: Collected Papers 1981–1991 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 339–369.
Climate Change Justice (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), pp. 73–98
Roberts, J. Timmons and Parks, Bradley C., A Climate of Injustice: Global Inequality, North-South Politics, and Climate Policy (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2007)
Baer, Paul, Athanasiou, Tom, Kartha, Sivan, and Kemp-Benedict, Eric, The Greenhouse Development Rights Framework: The Right to Development in a Climate Constrained World (Berlin: Heinrich Böll Foundation, Christian Aid, EcoEquity, and the Stockholm Environment Institute, 2008)
Banuri, Tariq and Hällström, Niclas, “A Global Programme to Tackle Energy Access and Climate Change,” Development Dialogue (2012)
Llavador, Humberto, Roemer, John E., and Joaquim Silvestre, “North-South Convergence and the Allocation of CO2 Emissions,” unpublished, (accessed June 26, 2013)
Ethics and International Affairs 21 (2007): 431–450