Climate change, justice and collective responsibility

Angus Dawson1

1 Centre for Values, Ethics & the Law in Medicine (VELiM), School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006.

The issue of climate change is surprisingly little discussed in bioethics. This paper begins by exploring the reasons for this and suggests that we have good independent reasons for having a broader view of both bioethics as a concept and the relevant values. I argue that the dominant values in much bioethics, including much public health ethics, are actually a poor starting place to guide how to think about the relevant difficult ethical issues related to climate change. I begin to outline an alternative that draws upon the idea of environmental justice, an approach that seeks to move beyond the dominant model of current political philosophy that sees the central issue of the distribution of various goods. I explore the idea of responsibility in the context of climate change and argue for a focus on a more collective idea of responsibility.


Angus is Professor of Bioethics and Director of VELiM at the University of Sydney. He is joint-Editor-in-Chief of the journal ‘Public Health Ethics’ and is convenor of the AABLE Public Health Ethics theme.