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Ethics, Responsibility and the Carbon Budget


This project aims to provide a rigorous ethical framework for dividing the world’s remaining ‘carbon budget’ (CB). In order to avoid dangerous climate change the world must drastically limit its emissions of greenhouse gases. The project will develop a new analysis of how our assumptions concerning risk and harm shape conception of the CB. It will also provide a new understanding of how future emission rights should be allocated given that countries have emitted vastly different quantities of greenhouse gases in the past. The project will analyse how the CB will impact the climate transition plans of countries such as Australia. The project will thus bring significant new research in philosophy to bear on a practical issue.

The moral and practical dimensions of the carbon budget problem centre on how we allocate entitlements to emit and ensure access to a safe climate in a way that is just. Outlining a framework involves conceptualising the dimensions of harm related to dangerous climate change, identifying the justifications for dividing emissions between countries, understanding what kinds of distributive schemes are consistent with these justifications and, finally, determining whether the framework can provide guidance in a real-world setting, which may include policies on emissions trading, exports and land use.

Additional issues include:

· What should Australia’s carbon budget be?

· What are the justifications for exclusions from the budget?

· How will the size and timeframe of the budget affect climate transitions?

· Do individuals in high-emitting countries have extra obligations?

· What role do historical emissions play in the carbon budget?

· How should carbon budgets for developing countries differ from those for developed countries?

Recent publications and events

The project is supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant, ‘Ethics, responsibility and the carbon budget’ (Christian Barry ANU, John Broome Oxf, Garett Cullity Adelaide, Jeremy Moss UNSW).


J. Moss, ‘Constraining Supply: The Moral Case for Limiting Fossil Fuel Exports’, in Transformative Climates and Accountable Governance, edited, B. Edmonson and S. Levy, Palgrave, London, 2018.


J.Moss, R Kath., ‘Historical Responsibility and the Carbon Budget’, Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol 36/2, 2019, pp. 268-289


J.Moss, ‘The Morality of Divestment’, Law and Policy, Vo. 39/4, October 2017. Published online August 11, DOI: 10.1111/lapo.12088


L. Umbers, J. Moss, ‘The Climate Duties of Sub-National Political Communities’ Political Studies. Published Feb 20, 2019.

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