Public Reason: Vol. 5, No. 2, December 2013
Climate Change and Compensation
Karsten Klint Jensen & Tine Bech Flanagan

This paper presents a case for compensation of actual harm from climate change in the poorest countries. First, it is shown that climate change threatens to reverse the fight to eradicate poverty. Secondly, it is shown how the problems raised in the literature for compensation to some extent are based on misconceptions and do not apply to compensation of present actual harm. Finally, two arguments are presented to the effect that, in so far as developed countries accept a major commitment to mitigate climate change, they should also accept a commitment to address or compensate actual harm from climate change. The first argument appeals to the principle that if it is an injustice to cause risk of incurring harm in the future, then it is also an injustice to cause a similar harm now. The second argument appeals to the principle that if there is moral reason to reduce the risk of specific harms in the future, then there is also moral reason to address these harms if they materialize now. We argue that these principles are applicable to climate change, and that given the commitment of wealthy countries to a “common but differentiated responsibility,” they lead to a commitment to address or compensate harm from climate change in poor and vulnerable developing countries.

Key words: harm, risk of harm, injustice, developing countries.


Jensen, Karsten Klint, and Tine Bech Flanagan. 2013. Climate Change and Compensation. Public Reason 5 (2): 28-47.