10th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/O’Doherty

Selina O’Doherty

The Green Responsibility to Protect? Justifying Pre-Emptive Humanitarian Intervention in Environmental Cases?

In spite of the enduring principle of non-intervention, multi-laterally sanctioned international intervention, carried out to intentionally affect the behaviour of another sovereign state, is currently authorised in circumstances of self-defence or humanitarian protection. Justified intervention is invoked under humanitarian principles when gross and systemic harm is being carried out against citizens – either by the state itself or by an actor whose behaviour the state cannot or will not curtail – to the extent that it is considered a threat or crime against humanity. Regulatory guidelines which produce intervention as an ethical obligation which not only could but should be carried out under humanitarian principles has been adopted by UN member states through the ICISS’s Responsibility to Protect doctrine. This doctrine assigns states with sovereign responsibilities in addition to rights, one of which is the obligation to intervene when deemed necessary to prevent or protect citizens from crimes against humanity. While this doctrine makes no attempt to incorporate environmental risks and their effects, such as climate change, certain environmental actions undeniably pose both direct and diffuse threats – immediate, imminent and potential – to human security. Thus under the criteria applied to conventional threats, environmental harm arguably qualifies as a potential crime against humanity. However by nature environmental harm is accumulative and indirect, and therefore is a particularly complex threat which raises questions of applied ethics relating to the comparative value of ways-of-life, and the distribution of accountability. This paper summarises my research drawing from the politics of harm, the ethical underpinnings of humanitarian intervention, and the self-defensive rationale of just-war theory, as well as engaging with the challenges posed by concepts of intergenerational justice and sustainable development, and considers the notion of environmental harm being classified as an imminent threat to humanity, adequate of invoking pre-emptive humanitarian intervention tout court.