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Should contributions to climate change be criminalised?

Pearce, A. R. (2021) Should contributions to climate change be criminalised? PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00105587


The climate is warming rapidly and the emissions-ceiling for ‘dangerous’ climate change approaches fast. The spectre of dreadful impacts to lives and ecosystems is materialising. Greenhouse gas sources must be made artificially scarce by state regulation and enforcement. Can criminalisation, the state’s strictest regulation, be justified for contributions to climate change? This thesis takes its lead from advocates of criminalising some contributions to climate change. It argues that existing discussion fails to address or satisfy conditions of morally permissible criminalisation set out in the normative criminalisation literature. But we won’t know whether we should criminalise contributions to climate change unless and until we’ve satisfied defensible theories of when criminalisation is morally justified. So, this thesis tackles normative questions head on. It contributes to the climate justice literature by considering criminal justice as a source of climate change mitigation. I test the strength of the moral case for criminalising contributions to climate change and offer systematically substantiated policy advice for climate justice theorists and activists alike. The thesis first identifies some candidate criminal offences, disambiguating what counts as a ‘contribution’ to climate change in the process. Then it evaluates two constraints on morally permissible criminalisation prevalent in the normative criminalisation literature: a harm constraint and a wrongness constraint. It rejects a harm constraint but adopts a wrongness constraint: the view that conduct criminalised must be morally wrong. It then demonstrates that criminalisation of contributions to climate change satisfies the wrongness constraint under certain conditions. But just because contributions to climate change can be criminalised doesn’t mean they should. The thesis finally investigates whether criminalisation would be proportionate to a) would-be offenders and b) society generally. It concludes that some, but not all, candidate offences would be proportionate in each respect.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Jubb, R. and Elson, L.
Thesis/Report Department:Department of Politics and International Relations
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Politics, Economics and International Relations
ID Code:105587


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