Responsibility in international society

With Sanna Kopra

Book China and Great Power Responsibility for Climate Change

This chapter offers an approach to responsibility informed by the English School by discussing the ways in which responsibilities are negotiated, allocated and implemented in international society. It begins with an overview of theoretical accounts of responsibility by asking what responsibility means in legal and moral terms. The chapter argues that responsibilities are always constructed in social processes that are collectively referred as responsibilisation. It examines how the practices of state responsibility materialise in real life and asks what sort of multidimensional responsibilities states bear and ought to bear regarding climate change. Coercion has been an important means of the expansion of European international society; many non-Western states, including China, were coerced into participating in international practices by way of colonisation and other oppressive means prior to the twentieth century. Within the English School, pluralists take a highly state-centric approach to responsibility. They emphasise the values of states and pay less attention to other ethical aspects of state practices.

Within and outside the English School it is widely accepted that organisations such as states, corporations  and institutions are moral  agents. After all, they are human constellations, and humans cannot evade moral questions of right and wrong (cf. Erskine 2003; French 1984; French & Wettstein  2006; Mayer

& Vogt 2006). States – more precisely, the legitimate representatives of states – bear ultimate responsibility for peaceful coexistence in international society because they have the highest authority to make decisions and take actions, including ones concerning the use of coercive power in their respective sover- eign territories. This chapter offers an approach to responsibility informed by the English School by discussing the ways in which responsibilities are nego- tiated, allocated and implemented in international  society. I begin with an overview of theoretical  accounts of responsibility by asking what responsi- bility means in legal and moral terms. I deliberately avoid discussing rights at length  given the  extensive  body of literature  on human  rights,  including environmental ones.1 Clearly, responsibilities are tied to rights; if someone has a right, then others have, at a bare minimum, a corresponding responsibility to refrain from infringing  that right. Next, I argue that responsibilities are always constructed in social processes that I refer to collectively  as responsi- bilisation. As members of international  society, states have to participate in fulfilling and assigning responsibilities within that society. In the last section, I examine how the practices of state responsibility  materialise in real life and ask what sort of multidimensional  responsibilities states bear and ought to bear regarding  climate  change. To that  end, the English  School  provides insightful standpoints for investigating those questions.

Many meanings of responsibility

Responsibility is a nebulous concept, and talking about what it means to be responsible warrants the consideration of numerous dimensions. For instance, we have to clarify the subject and the object of responsibility: who or what is responsible for what, and to whom  is the subject accountable? By extension, we also have to draw a distinction between ‘identifying  responsibility and assigning it’  (Miller 2007, 84). According  to David Miller, the former  task concerns determining  ‘who,  if anybody,  meets the relevant  conditions  for being responsible’, whereas the latter ‘involves  a decision to attach certain costs or benefits to an agent, whether or not the relevant conditions are ful- filled’ (ibid.). In his landmark book  Punishment and Responsibility, H. L. A. Hart (1968, 212–230) characterises four types of responsibility: role-responsi- bility, causal-responsibility, liability-responsibility  and capacity-responsibility. Role-responsibility  suggests that  all social  roles  have  their own ‘sphere  of responsibility’; each position in a social organisation is attached to short-term tasks or duties whose fulfilment somehow advances the goals of the organi- sation. Accordingly,  a responsible person is someone who takes those duties seriously and behaves correspondingly  (ibid.,  212–213). By contrast, causal- responsibility  describes  the  relationship  between  cause  and outcome;  for instance, ‘A is responsible for Y’ means that Y is a direct or indirect result of what A has done.  As Hart’s  (1968,  211) story about  a drunken  captain demonstrates,  it is  also possible  for things,  conditions  and events  to be responsible for results. In that sense, no moral  blame is attached to causal responsibility.  To some extent,  causal  responsibility  is  assumed  to be an important, although not an entirely sufficient, precondition for moral and legal responsibility, or what Hart calls liability-responsibility. Hart’s conceptualisa- tion of liability-responsibility  distinguishes legal from moral liability-responsi- bility. When considering liability in the context of legal responsibility, ‘A is responsible for Y’ means that A is somehow at fault in causing Y and can be rightfully punished for it in legal terms. For instance, a person who breaks the law is usually regarded to be liable if a certain range of necessary and sufficient (e.g. psychological)  conditions are met.2  However,  when considering moral liability-responsibility, ‘A is responsible for Y’ means that A is blameworthy  for Y, which can be rightfully disapproved in moral terms. Similar to legal liability, moral liability-responsibility  also presupposes that a person has certain normal capacities, including freedom  of choice. Last,  capacity-responsibility can be understood from the expression ‘A is responsible for his/her actions’  if he or she possesses a normal (e.g. psychological) capacity of understanding and control (Hart  1968, 227). In international justice, capacity is an important  precondi- tion for judging a state’s responsibilities.  If a state  has no capacity to act appropriately, then how can it be held responsible?

Many scholars distinguish legal from moral responsibility. At first glance, both types presumably refer to the same sort of responsibility, at least in an ideal world. However, mostly for practical reasons, they are not always iden- tical. The greatest  difference  between  them  is  that  legal responsibility   is always judged by a jurisdiction,  whereas moral  responsibility  is assessed by morals, a ‘kind of internal law, governing  those inner thoughts and volitions which are completely  subject to the agent’s control,  and administered before the tribunal of conscience’ (Feinberg  1970, 33). Another  distinguishing fea- ture of legal compared to moral responsibility is their temporal orientation. The focus of legal responsibility is always retrospective; for instance, a court asks whether A is guilty of doing harm to X. Accordingly,  a person cannot be held legally responsible for something that he or she has not done (or failed to do). Usually,  assessing moral  responsibility follows  a similar logic; we cast moral blame upon someone for something that he or she has done or failed to do. Moral responsibility, however, can also be prospective, as the concept of sustainable development  demonstrates. Often,  both legal responsibility and moral responsibility contain  a causal component;  one is either  legally  or morally at fault for the harm that one has committed.3  Thus, a person cannot be held responsible  for something  that has not happened  because of their actions. With respect to climate change, however, it is exceptionally difficult, if not impossible, to identify a single state or private enterprise as being at fault for causing climate change. On its own, causality is not a justified factor of responsibility; however, there are other conditions of moral and legal judge- ment as well, including intentions, motives and choices, which are important when determining responsibility. A person cannot be held responsible for an event that occurs incidentally or due to factors beyond their control. To be morally blameworthy, a person is usually expected  to have had an opportu- nity and the freedom to ‘have acted otherwise than he did’ (Ross 1975, 15). Thus,  free will and the  absence of coercion  is an important  condition;  a person has to have acted voluntarily  in order to be held responsible for an event (May 1992, 16). However,  that dynamic does not necessarily mean that people are held responsible for their actions only: omissions matter as well.

Consequentialist  theorists,  who emphasise  the  significance  of beneficial outcomes, claim that a person can also be held morally responsible for his or her  omissions.  In fact, they  make  no distinction  between  consequences resulting from acts or omissions.  That view opposes deontologism,  whose proponents seek to determine why agents do what they do and thus ask what the real motives are behind their actions. ‘What matters much more to them [deontologists]’, Goodin  (1995, 47) writes, ‘are individuals’ [or states’] motives and intentions. They also insist that it be done, and be seen to be done, for the right reasons’. Because deontologists pay less attention to the consequences of acts, they do not hold persons responsible for their omissions. The distinction between positive and negative responsibility is often demonstrated in terms of the difference between killing (i.e. in which an agent plays an active role) and letting die (i.e. in which an agent plays a passive role), which have the same consequence (Vanderheiden  2008, 151–152). However,  in climate politics, it does not matter what an agent’s motives are in taking action; climate miti- gation  does not have to be performed for humanitarian, environmental  or other altruistic reasons but could be a side-effect of energy security projects or the development of so-called ‘green jobs’.4  What counts is that states shoulder their responsibility to mitigate  climate change and cut their greenhouse gas emissions, to which end they can choose the most suitable and cost-efficient mitigating actions. Although  some states prefer to rely upon market-oriented economic  mechanisms, some choose to establish new regulations  and taxes and some pursue new technologies, all such means seek to achieve the goal of climate protection.

Feinberg  (1970, 31–32) points out that moral responsibility ‘cannot be a matter of luck’, as it often is in the law, but ‘must be something one can nei- ther escape by good luck nor tumble into through bad luck’. Feinberg illus- trates that concept – what Thomas Nagel (1979, 24–38) calls ‘moral luck’ –  with the following  example:

One man shoots another and kills him, and the law holds him responsible for the  death  and hangs  him. Another man, with exactly  the  same motives  and intentions, takes careful aim and shoots at his enemy  but misses because of a last-minute movement  of his prey or because of his own bad eyesight.  The law cannot  hold him responsible  for a death because he has not caused one; but, from the moral point of view,  he is only luckier than the hanged murderer.(Feinberg  1970, 31–32).

When it comes to international climate politics, Russia has benefitted  from the decision that the benchmark year of the Kyoto Protocol  is 1990, a year prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union  and, in turn, the closure of many inefficient  factories.  Because  post-Soviet  Russia’s  emissions  are therefore compared to the emissions of all 15 former Soviet republics, the country does not need to not do anything in order to comply with targets for reducing international  emissions. In that case, Feinberg’s example, when applied ana- logously,  suggests that  international  climate  law cannot  hold Russia  irre- sponsible even if it does nothing to mitigate climate change; however, from a moral  standpoint, Russia is simply  luckier  than other  polluting  states. By contrast,  Iceland  is one of the few states operating  entirely  on renewable energy,  which,  though  outstanding,  is not the  result  of political  decision making. More accurately,  Iceland,  as a small volcanic  island blessed with geothermal energy sources, is simply a very lucky country in terms of renew- able energy resources. To some extent, both Russia’s and Iceland’s fulfilment of climate  responsibility  is a matter of luck; however, in moral terms, they could be urged to make additional efforts to mitigate  climate change, espe- cially if we assume that being responsible involves making sacrifices.

In addition to the division between legal liability and moral responsibility, there  are other ways  to conceptualise  responsibility.  For example,  David Miller  (2007, 81–109) provides an interesting alternative by distinguishing two senses  of responsibility.  On the  one hand,  outcome  responsibility  is  the responsibility that people shoulder for their own actions and decisions; on the other, remedial responsibility acknowledges that people have responsibility to aid others in need of help. Another  useful conceptualisation  is Iris Marion Young’s division between the liability model of responsibility and the social connection model of responsibility. ‘Under this liability model’, Young (2006,

116) writes, ‘one assigns responsibility to a particular agent (or agents) whose actions can be shown to be causally connected to the circumstances for which responsibility  is sought’. By contrast, the social connection model recognises that ‘[o]ur  responsibility  derives from belonging  together with others in a system of interdependent  processes of cooperation  and competition through which we seek benefits and aim to realize projects’ (ibid., 119).

Both Miller and Young argue that  the  concepts  of legal and moral responsibility focus too much on causality and past actions by asking who is to blame for specific harms. In doing so, the concepts fail to identify the for- ward-looking responsibility of agents to seek beneficial outcomes and prevent harmful ones from happening. After  all, asserting responsibility involves more than pinpointing  the chief culprit in a specific crisis. As Young (2006, 122) hypothesises,  the  point of responsibility  is ‘not  to blame,  punish, or seek redress from those who did it [committed  an act], but rather to enjoin those who participate by their actions in the process of collective action to change it’. As the principle of the responsibility to protect maintains, states have a forward-looking responsibility to prevent humanitarian crises whether or not they can be legally or morally held at fault for the course of events that have resulted in the current state of affairs. If states do not contribute to resolving the problems  for which they are not to blame,  then harmful  practices will persist and could negatively affect other international practices in the process. Adhering to that system would  contradict the ultimate purpose of assigning responsibilities – that is, ‘not for duty-bearers to suffer more but for right- bearers  to enjoy more of what they are entitled  to’   (Shue  1988, 697). Responsibility is therefore not only retrospective, although it largely consists of elements derived from legal and moral ethics.

Yet another conceptualisation is Robert  Jackson’s situational  ethics, which emphasises  that,  in the  end, taking or assigning  responsibility  involves making  responsible  choices.  Responsible  choices  should  not, as  Jackson (2000, 22) notes, be ‘confused with perfect choices’: ‘Human decisions, espe- cially political  decisions, cannot  be expected  to be perfect’  but  ‘only  be expected to be justified’. Accordingly,  ‘Responsible choices are the best choi- ces in circumstances, or at least most defensible choices’ (ibid.), meaning that when we assess state  responsibility,   we can at least expect  states to make responsible choices in restrictive circumstances. Responsible choices are diffi- cult decisions made between ‘conflicting but equally compelling’  interests and values;  sometimes  such choices  are ‘between  greater  and lesser evil’,  and sometimes  they involve sacrifice  (ibid., 142).  Because making  responsible choices is highly  difficult  decision  making,  Jackson suggests that we char- acterise a responsible state leader as ‘somebody  who can make the best of a bad situation’ (ibid., 148).


As demonstrated in the previous section, responsibility is a social conception. There  is no single moral  compendium  that applies to everybody in all cir- cumstances or any ‘final authority’, comparable to God, which would have the highest moral  authority. Life is far too complex to formulate a single, universal moral ethics, but statements about responsibility always derive from human practices. The only way to evaluate  an actor’s responsibilities  is to situate them in the context of the social practice or practices in which he, she or it operates  as a moral actor. By extension, the responsibilities of states are not given or known facts of life, but defining and allocating  them are matters of ethics. Legal ethics makes no exception, either; viewing any legal text as a given is unnecessary because legal texts are generally reflections and products of social  practices. Legal responsibility  is thus always  relative  and cannot simply be ‘read off the facts’ or ‘discovered’ because it is ‘something to be decided’ (Feinberg 1970, 27).

Inspired by William  Clapton (2011), who has theorised  processes of ris- kisation,  meaning  social processes  in which  certain  issues are identified, assessed and managed  as risks and their constitutive effects on international society, I apply  the concept of responsibilisation  to scrutinise  processes  in which  (international)  responsibilities  are constructed.  As much  as  issues become risks or security threats by way of riskisation or securitisation, some issues are responsibilised  via discursive  practices  in order to promote  their normative  importance,  for instance,  or to oblige agents  to take  certain measures.  My  conceptualisation  of  responsibilisation  differs  significantly from the  sort of responsibilisation  that  appears  in studies  of neoliberal governmentality  and criminology  in reference  to a state’s  disavowal   of responsibility or shunting of responsibility to its citizens.5   By contrast, my notion of responsibilisation   stresses that  responsibilities  are not given but socially  conceived;  consequently, the only way to study them  is to investi- gate processes of how and by whom  they are discursively shaped in (inter- national)  social interactions   as  well as  how and by whom they  are performed in specific settings. Understanding  why someone is considered to be responsible to another for an event  in a specific  context  requires  sys- tematically  analysing  numerous aspects of responsibility,  especially agency, subject and object (i.e. who should be deemed responsible for what and to whom or what), normative context (i.e. which  values underpin notions  of responsibility),  institutional organisation  (i.e. whether  notions  of responsi- bility are institutionalised and, if so, then how) and the social and political effects  of responsibilisation  (i.e. whose  notions  of responsibility  work to empower or marginalise others), for instance (cf. Clapton  2011).

Responsibilisation suggests that though responsibility is impossible to see or measure, it can be discussed, hence my close attention to discourses in studying processes of responsibilisation. Interviews,  for example, can afford insights into what is understood to be responsible behaviour in specific con- texts and why. My understanding of responsibilisation  assumes that secondary institutions  are key venues  of the  international  politics  of responsibility because they offer  states and non-state actors a forum in which to negotiate definitions, discuss the distribution and implementation  of rights and respon- sibilities in international society and monitor  the fulfilment of those agree- ments.  In contrast  to primary  institutions, secondary ones are empirically observable bodies, meaning that their decision-making  procedures, rules and other  organisational   structures can  be investigated.  It is  also possible  to examine the power relations among members of secondary institutions and analyse the contributions of specific participants to processes of responsibili- sation. Moreover,  secondary institutions and their constitutive documents are principal  sources for collecting  empirical  research material  about how pri- mary  institutions have sustained and organised international  society  in the modern era (Kopra 2018, Kopra forthcoming).

Resolutions of the UN General Assembly provide a good starting point from which to consider the emergence and evolution of processes of respon- sibilisation in international society. At first glance, such abstract declarations may seem  insignificant  and irrelevant  to actual  political  practices.  After all, they do not necessarily create legally  binding obligations  but instead express  what  states hope to achieve.  From a legal perspective,  however, they are important  ‘acts from which views  about customary law can be inferred’  (Perrez  2000, 278). ‘What matters’, Falkner (2012, 514) observes,‘is that they  represent an explicit  manifestation  of an implicitly  assumed and broadly accepted fundamental norm’. The more often the UN reiter- ates the environmental  responsibility of states, for instance, the more likely the UN is to affect both international law and state practices. At the same time, though changes in political  discourses are integral to the process of changing political  practices, focusing on discourse is not entirely sufficient for studying state responsibility.  It is worthless  to merely  discuss responsi- bility  because responsibility  has to materialise  in responsible actions both at home and abroad. When studying climate responsibility in particular, it is therefore  necessary to look beyond statements expressing responsibilities, for how  such words are institutionalised and acted upon requires scrutiny. Ultimately,  we  need to consider  the broader  ramifications  of those  pro- cesses as well.

Drivers of responsibility

Ian Hurd (1999)  identifies  three general  reasons why states participate  in international  practices: coercion,  calculations  as well as identity  and belief (cf. Buzan 2004a, 103, 130–133, 253–261; Hurd  2007, 30–40; Hurrell  2007, 67–77; Wendt  1999, 247–250). I argue that all three drivers are active pro- cesses and that, contrary  to the constructivist tendency, it is unnecessary and impossible to assess the extent to which a state has internalised  the rules of international practice. First, coercion, which Hurd  identifies from a realist perspective, is the weakest reason of the three because social practices force- fully imposed by outsiders are not internalised whatsoever by actors them- selves. Second, calculations, identified from a liberalist perspective, rests upon rational self-interest comparisons of the costs and benefits of participating in international  practices.  Third, identity  and belief, identified  from a con- structivist perspective, is the most profound  and stable of the three reasons; states participate  in and follow the  rules of a given  international practice because they believe in the moral legitimacy of the rule or the legitimacy of the international organisation that formulated it (Hurd 1999, 387). In reality, the relationship of the three drivers of internalising practices is complex,  and none of them is likely to exist in a ‘pure, isolated form’  (ibid., 389). On the contrary,  because all social practices are held together by a mélange of all three drivers, it is the ‘necessity of mixture, and how to deal with it, [that] … defines  politics’  (Buzan  2004a, 130).  Of course,  states’  identities  and pre- ferences change over time; the world  changes, political  leaders change and values change. Even  if a state participates  in an international  practice for egoistic  or other  less-than-magnanimous reasons at one time, it does not mean that those interests alone will motivate the same practice in the future. At the  same  time, international  practices  can  also influence  participants’ beliefs and identities by shaping their values and preferences. Participation in international  climate  practices, for example,  can change a state’s ideas  of human wellbeing; though a state might have previously prioritised economic factors of wellbeing, it could begin to give greater value to cultivating a clean environment and a stable climate system. Over time, initially groundbreaking ideas  can  even  become  established  practices  taken  for granted  in social relations.

In the following  sections I only briefly introduce Hurd’s first two reasons why states participate in international practices – coercion and calculations – for the former  is not a widely meaningful factor in the context of climate responsibility,  whereas  the  latter  has already  been  extensively  studied  by rationalists. By contrast, because Hurd’s third reason, legitimacy and belief, is of interest to the study of state responsibility, I explore it in greater detail and from a broader perspective of identity politics. In particular, I argue the links among identity, participation in social practices and responsibility  are espe- cially strong.

Coercion and regulations

‘Coercion’,  Hurd (2007, 35) writes, ‘refers to a relation of asymmetrical phy- sical power  among  agents, where this asymmetry is applied to changing the behavior of the weaker  agent’. Amid the circumstance of coercion, a state participates in an international practice because it is physically  or psycholo- gically  forced to. In other words, a state’s participation   in the  practice  is motivated by the fear of retribution or of physical compulsion. Coercion  has been an important means of the expansion of European international society; many non-Western states, including China, were coerced into participating in international  practices by way of colonisation  and other oppressive means prior to the twentieth  century. However,   practices of solidarity,  including human rights, can also be spread via coercion. For instance, in response to climate change, an eco-intervention could be made to coerce reluctant states to adopt environmentally beneficial laws.

Economic  sanctions are a typical example of a non-violent form of coer- cion in contemporary  international politics. International  law can also be viewed as a more restrained and prudent form of coercion; when an interna- tional norm is given the status of law, states become legally bound to adhere to the norm. The status of law thus ‘constitutes an independent  reason for action’ (Bodansky 2010, 91). To a similar extent, international treaties can set directives and specific responsibilities in order to guide the conduct of parti- cipants, who might be permitted, encouraged, or even required to take a cer- tain action or not. At times, states might also be socially coerced to follow the formal rules of a practice – for example, majority decision making – because they are ‘adopted in a manner that the actor accepts as legitimate’  even if the states themselves resist such rules (ibid., 90). Once a state has ratified a treaty, it is obliged  to follow the treaty’s rules and fulfil its stipulated responsibility not because it has internalised the responsibility  but because it is bound  by the treaty and acting otherwise could warrant sanctions. In that case, a state’s compliance  is not only coerced by international  regulations  but also moti- vated by calculations.  Last, international regulations additionally  influence state behaviour, whether or not the state has ratified  a specific international treaty concerning the issue. Even if the political leaders of a state do not place a premium on solidarist practices such as human rights and animal welfare, international  practices  and regulations  might nevertheless  constrain  and influence domestic  policies.  In that case, the agency  of non-state  actors  is essential to creating social pressure put upon states.

Power  politics is an important incentive for states’ participation  in interna- tional practices. States can use international institutions to promote their values and policies globally,  which is naturally considered to constitute a more legit- imate means than coercion. As Franz Xaver Perrez (2000, 340) observes:

efforts to ensure international cooperation  may be conceived sometimes rather as attempts to coerce less powerful  states to bring their behaviour into conformity  with the interests of the most  powerful  states than as efforts to solve common problems cooperatively.

Although  negotiations  of responsibilities within  secondary  institutions are bound by power, the most powerful  participants cannot dictate what sort of responsibilities participants ought  to shoulder.  All of the participants  can usually participate in negotiations regarding what sort of responsibilities they are assumed to bear; in that sense, they are not coerced into taking responsi- bility, for such responsibilities are voluntary and not subject to coercion. It is therefore unlikely that real normative  change results from coercion.


Liberalists maintain that states cooperate with each other because it is in their interest to do so. Above all, they argue, the costs of warfare have increased, and states cannot solve global  problems without international cooperation. Moreover,  international norms and organisations are available to help states to solve common problems and organise cooperative  efforts. From that per- spective, states participate  in international practices and make commitments in order to promote and maintain their national interests for the same reason that they comply  with international treaties that they have signed. Because most of the goals and interests of a state are domestic, a state’s participation in international  practices is thus motivated  by domestic interests; the needs and desires of the state guide the practices in which it participates, how it attempts  to shape the goals  and rules of the practice  and which  sorts of responsibilities it is willing  to shoulder. In response to climate change, each state makes calculations regarding whether and, if so, then to what extent it is willing bear the costs of mitigating climate change and what the costs of non- participation should be in terms of lost credibility and financial consequences. Such calculations necessarily involve  normative evaluations of the value that a state places upon cultivating  a healthy environment. For example, does a state regard environmental protection only in terms of costs, or does nature have some intrinsic value in the calculations?

Self-interest  can  be  an  influential  incentive  for states  to participate  in international  practices. Cost–benefit  calculations can motivate  a state  to change  its behaviour  and assign responsibility  for practices  because non- participation  would harm its interests and image on an international scale. However,  interests do not entirely explain state behaviour. As constructivists maintain, interests are not given, and different individuals, as well as states, have  different  sorts of interest.  ‘[I]nterests  presuppose  identities’,  Wendt (1999, 231) writes, ‘because an actor cannot know  what it wants until it knows who it is’. Ringmar  (1996, 13) similarly observes, ‘It is only as some- one that we can want some-thing, and it is only once we know who we are that we can know  what we want.’ Cost–benefit  calculations are therefore unlikely to cause profound changes in an actor’s preferences and values, and consequently, their influence can be brief or limited, if not both. Long-term relations among participants motivated  by self-interest are thus difficult  to maintain because such participants do not value those relations or sorts of cooperation.  Social  practices that rely  heavily  on  self-interest necessarily have weak foundations  and can easily disintegrate if power  relations shift (Hurd 1999, 387). Therefore, we have to examine a state’s identity  in order to understand why it assumes responsibilities that can even involve  under- mining its interests.

Identity, practices and responsibility

Cosmopolitans   believe  that  globalisation  and increased  interdependence among states and populations have fostered the emergence of a global society characterised by solidarist notions of morality. In accordance with the argu- ably fragile global ‘we-feeling’, Hurd’s third reason why states participate in international practices indicates that states take part because they believe they have to. That belief relates closely to identity, which is both a subjective and an objective discourse of the self; it concerns how a person, society or state as well as others perceive and establish distinctiveness in social interactions. At the personal level, questions to that end include ‘Who  am I?’, ‘What am I?’ and ‘What do others think I am?’ Identity is also always linked to others, the common question about which is ‘What am I not?’. Furthermore,  identity is material as well as ideational. Although  based on the material site of a body or the territory of a state, ideas – values, beliefs, knowledge,  attitudes and memories – make it special.  Identity  is ‘what  allows  us to define  what  is important to us and what  is not’  (Taylor 1989, 30). ‘My identity’, Charles Taylor (1989, 27) explains, ‘is defined by the commitments and identifications which provide the frame or horizon within which I can try to determine from case to case what is good,  or valuable, or what ought to be done, or what I endorse or oppose.’  Such ‘commitments and identifications’  are constructed within  social  practices –  for example,  religious, political,  educational and family practices in which a person, society or state participates – that allocate certain responsibilities to participants. Identity is therefore a ‘lived experience of participation in specific communities’  (Wenger  1998, 151), and practices shape participants’  identities, notions  of morality  and senses of appropriate courses of action. Because practices anchor identities ‘in each other and what we do together’, it is challenging  to transform identity in isolation from other participants involved in the practice (Wenger  1998, 89). If a person is exclu- ded from a practice important to his or her identity, he or she might face a so- called ‘identity crisis’. By extension, large communities such as states need to have normative and organisational ideas that ‘signify to their members what they stand for’  and ‘guide  them  in their  interactions  in the  international arena’ (Legro  2005, 6). Ideologies, for instance, are beliefs that define what is deemed right and wrong in a society (Watson  1982, 68). They are incorpo- rated in identities and embedded  in various social practices related to gov- ernmental procedures, education systems and the rhetoric of the political elite (Legro  2005, 6; cf. Haas 2005).

Again,  an identity is not an exclusive, inherent asset of a person, society or state  because  others  shape  that  identity  as well. As Ringmar  (1996, 13) explains, ‘We need recognition for the persons we take ourselves to be, and only as recognised can we conclusively come to establish an identity’. Status or social identity is therefore an important element of identity, and the pursuit of a favourable  one can be a significant driver for a state’s participation  in international practices. That idea relates to questions of self-interest and cal- culations discussed above;  it can be quite difficult to distinguish legitimacy from interests, for states may accept international  norms because doing  so serves their interests. Conversely, the concept of legitimacy clarifies why states sometimes participate in practices against their own interests. According  to Mark Suchman  (1995,  574), legitimacy   is  ‘a  generalised  perception   or assumption that the actions of an entity are desirable, proper, or appropriate within some socially constructed system of norms, values, beliefs, and defini- tions’. If states accept the rules of an international practice as legitimate and justified, then they participate in the practice not only due to fear of retribu- tion or calculations  of self-interest but  because of their  ‘internal  sense of rightness and obligation’  (Hurd 2007, 30). The perception of legitimacy ‘may come from the substance of the rule or from the procedure or source by which it was constituted’ (ibid., 381). In that case, a state internalises the rules of a practice and incorporates them into its identity and interests, and, as a result, it assumes responsibility  for the practice  because it is the fairest course of action to take.

Consequently,  there are fundamental links among  practices, identity and responsibility. The first link, between identity and responsibility in particular, is historical. To some extent, any current self-understanding is a product of past choices and commitments. For example, China’s contemporary  identity and approach to responsibility has been shaped strongly by its past imperial  and Maoist practices. The second link concerns the here and now and, at a personal level, asks the question ‘Who  am I?’ Usually, the answer is a name (‘I’m Mary’) or a statement related to practices in which a person currently takes part (‘I’m the mother of Mary’, ‘I’m a Catholic’ or ‘I’m a professor’). The latter sort of answer thus refers to what Hart (1968, 212) would call role-responsibility, what Wendt (1999, 227) would call role identity and what role theorists would call role conceptions (e.g. Harnisch 2011). The third link is social; the commitments and identifications of others also shape self-understandings and the responsi- bilities that people assume. To quote Buzan (2004b, 68):

At the end of the day, it is not what states are, or what they say about themselves  and others,  that  determines  status, but  how they calculate their own behaviour  and, most importantly,  how they respond to the behaviour of others.

Regarding  China’s  climate  responsibility,  the  commitments  of developed countries form an essential precondition  of China’s motivation  to assume greater global responsibility. At the same time, there is no causal relationship between  identity  and responsibility,  and identities alone  cannot  explain action. To understand why and what sort of responsibilities a person assumes in practice, we have to explore their interests. By extension, when it comes to states, national  interests and goals  are important  when assigning responsi- bilities  because each state – more  accurately, its government  – has certain goals that it seeks to accomplish. Those goals reflect a state’s identity  and values and motivate  it to take certain actions. Accordingly,  a state’s identity and interests influence the sort of practices in which it might participate and what sorts of responsibilities it is willing to or capable of assuming in relation to the practice. Free-riding and the failure to fulfil those responsibilities would harm its international image and self-conception – its identity – as a respon- sible member of the international society.

Climate change and practices of state responsibility

Within  the English School, pluralists take a highly state-centric approach to responsibility. They emphasise the values of states and pay less attention  to other ethical aspects of state practices. Because pluralists regard international order as the most valuable common good of international society, they stress the duty to uphold international order as a state’s primary  responsibility  to other  states. In practice, however,  a state’s policies  and actions, especially those of a great power, affect the lives of all people  as well as non-human species worldwide.  Conversely,  the  solidarist  camp of the English School underscores human values in international  relations. They maintain  that a state’s chief responsibility  is to promote  human justice at home and abroad. Since  both pluralists  and solidarists make  important  observations  of and contributions to international ethics, I do not confine my theorisation of state responsibility to either one but employ  Buzan’s highly useful conception  of state-centric solidarism. According  to my state-centric solidarist reading, both pluralists and solidarists essentially agree that the ultimate referent object of state responsibility  is humans; both consider peace and security to be crucial to human wellbeing. From a pluralist perspective, states should uphold inter- national order because it is a precondition of international security and, in turn, of human wellbeing. By contrast, solidarists conceive international jus- tice to be an important condition of human wellbeing as well. Whereas soli- darists regard the entire community of humans as the referent object of state responsibility, pluralists focus on the wellbeing of citizens of individual states and scrutinise the ways in which states can fulfil their domestic responsibilities to their citizens. From the perspective of state-centric solidarism, the ultimate aim of international society is therefore to promote human wellbeing.

Although  pluralism has a so-called ‘ought-side’, solidarism has been more purposeful in campaigning for situations that ought to be pursued in order to cultivate a fairer world. However,  Buzan’s (2014a, 113) conception of state- centric solidarism  argues that solidarism  and pluralism are not necessarily opposite  poles but ‘interlinked sides in an ongoing  debate about the moral construction of international  order’.  Although  Jackson can doubtlessly be categorised in the pluralist camp of the English School, he also offers excep- tionally  useful conceptual tools for analysing  state responsibility  from the perspective of state-centric solidarism. According  to Jackson (2000, 170–178), governments  have  plural,  multi-dimensional  responsibilities: national  ones based on realism and the promotion  of national interests, international ones based  on rationalism and the  state’s membership  in international  society, humanitarian ones based on revolutionism or cosmopolitanism and member- ship in the human race and other  responsibilities to the global commons based on the idea of global  trusteeship and humankind’s responsibility for Earth’s health.

Inspired by Buzan and Jackson, I locate practices of state responsibility on a broad  spectrum of differing  orientations towards  moral  referent objects.

Such a conceptualisation is not a matter of value judgement because I do not mean  that one category  is somehow  more important  than the others. By contrast, I intend to demonstrate that different notions of responsibility are based on different ideas about the referent objects of responsibility. At one end of the spectrum is pluralism, which focuses on states as moral  referent objects. Environmental issues, apart from national environmental security, are thus largely ignored from the pluralist end, and the creation and enforcement of international norms is therefore difficult and rare. At the other end of the spectrum  is  ecocentrism,  which  gives  nature  moral priority,  and between those  two ends  are state-centric  solidarism  and cosmopolitan  solidarism. Because the two ends of the spectrum are unlikely pursuits in reality, I dismiss the pluralist end of the spectrum, at which a state is responsible only for its own survival. Instead, I argue that, at a bare minimum, states have national responsibilities and are always responsible for the wellbeing of their citizens. If not, then why would states exist at all? Instead, I discuss the other end of the spectrum – ecocentrism – which I consider to be the ultimate ought-side of the responsibility of states. An important, albeit unanswerable, question thus concerns the relationship between cosmopolitanism  and ecocentrism. If viewed as the very end of the spectrum, does ecocentrism presuppose a cos- mopolitan world society, or can international society be ecocentric?

State responsibilities are doubtlessly very complex. Although  I distinguish four categories of general responsibilities, I do not by any means argue that the  categorisation   is exhaustive.  A state’s responsibilities  can  overlap  and conflict;  they can also shift when circumstances change. Different  types of international societies have different sorts of primary  institutions and prac- tices  because  the  ‘institutions  of international society  are according to its nature’  (Wight 1999 [1946], 111). Likewise,  distinct sorts of practices have distinct  ethics;  even  if it is  accepted  that  environmental   trusteeship  has emerged as a primary institution of international society (Buzan 2004a, 186; Buzan 2014a, 161–163; Falkner  2012; Falkner  & Buzan 2018; Kopra forth- coming; Palmujoki  2013), the nature of the institution depends, for instance, upon where international society falls on the spectra of pluralism–solidarism and anthropocentrism–ecocentrism. In the  system of states  or in a highly pluralist international society, a state is interested  only in the environment within its national territory. States conceive nature as a stock of resources and thus focus on environmental  concerns such as pollution,  waste and the insuf- ficiency of natural  resources from a local perspective. In a more solidarist international  society,  by contrast,  states cooperate   to respond  to global environmental  concerns because they recognise  that  they  cause as well as suffer from environmental harm beyond their borders. At the ultimate end of the  pluralist-solidarist   spectrum,  states  may follow ecocentric  principles. Altogether, the primary institution of environmental trusteeship can be highly pluralist, yet its existence does not necessarily mean that a shared norm of climate responsibility  exists. Although  climate change is often  viewed  as a subcategory of environmental  problems,  it differs  starkly  from traditional environmental  problems.

Climate  change is truly a global problem, and all attempts to counteract it presuppose the existence of an international society. Similarly  to Jackson,  I distinguish national  and humanitarian  responsi- bilities even though they can be merged into the single category of human- centric responsibility. Because I am slightly pessimistic about the potential of states to act for reasons above  and beyond  pluralism, I assume that states tend to pay greater attention to the wellbeing  of their citizens than to the wellbeing of other humans. The term national responsibility also implies that states  have  state-centric  responsibilities,  including   their  own survival   as sovereign  states. In a cosmopolitan international society, both the categories of  national  and international  responsibility  can  be abandoned  because nationality  becomes irrelevant to assessing the nature, scope  and depth  of responsibility. At the same time, environmental responsibility becomes parti- cularly difficult to demarcate. If nature is viewed as having only instrumental value for humans, then differentiating  it as an independent category becomes unnecessary  and only the sort of environmental  aspects that pertain  to a state’s national,  international  and humanitarian  responsibilities need to be discussed. In that case, the focus would fall upon the environmental  security of each category. However,  such a view would be too limited and would not acknowledge  the intrinsic value of nature. To emphasise nature as a referent object of state responsibility,  I choose to distinguish it as the ultimate end of state responsibility.

National  responsibility

Although  many realists have averred that a state’s responsibility  stops at the national border, some have begun to question that assumption by introducing ethical questions into realist research agenda (cf. Chang 2011) and maintain- ing that  states  should  respect  the  views  and interests  of other nations. Although  Jackson’s conceptualisation of national  responsibility derives sig- nificantly from classical realism it does not necessarily dismiss ethics. On the contrary, it presents an enlightened version of realism holding that a state’s first obligation’   and ‘chief duty’  is to preserve its national  interests (Wight 1999  [1946],  95;  Watson   1982,  206). For Jackson  (2000,  170), national responsibility is par excellence a ‘moral relation between a state and its citi- zens’ as he sees the moral obligation  of national interest as the ‘fundamental standard of conduct’  and national  security as a foundational value. In other words, Jackson suggests that national  interest is a ‘moral idea governing the conduct of statespeople: the idea that the nation  and its population  are a treasure which they have the responsibility to safeguard’ (ibid., 21). Therefore, states have a moral obligation to defend national interests driven by a ‘moral concern for the flourishing  of the national  population,  for their good life’ (ibid.,171).  Clearly,  however,  national  interest can be viewed  as a moral guideline only if defined more broadly than in narrow, self-interested terms that focus on state security.6

From another angle, literature on happiness suggests that governments  face strong  incentives  to assume  the  happiness  of citizens  as  their ultimate responsibility (e.g. Duncan 2010; Bok 2010). However,  thus far, Bhutan is the only nation to have adopted  ‘gross-national happiness’ as the central aim of its national  policy.7 A pluralist approach  to national  responsibility would suggest that the happiness of the state – or more broadly, the wellbeing of citizens – should be the only legitimate goal of national policies. However, solidarists would disagree for both moral and practical reasons. They would argue, for example, that even if a government’s moral duty is to promote the wellbeing of its citizens, it should not do so by infringing upon the wellbeing of citizens of other states because it has responsibilities beyond its own bor- ders. Moreover,  they would add, responsible governments should not exclu- sively promote the short-term wellbeing of their present populations and not avoid making difficult decisions that promote the long-term wellbeing of their citizens but conflict with their short-term (e.g. economic) interests.8

Because the concept of national responsibility  emphasises the significance of the domestic  responsibilities of states, it identifies international  law and secondary  institutions as ‘instrumental  arrangements  which  are justified by how well they serve  the  national  interest  of states’  (Jackson  2000, 170). Accordingly,  the concept maintains that states are foremost responsible for the wellbeing  of their own citizens, not that of foreign  countries and their populations (ibid., 171). As for foreign affairs, that sort of normative standard supports Machiavellian principles of self-interest because it holds that a state needs to put its own nation and citizens first and cooperate with other states only when necessary to promote national interests and, among other things, to avoid putting their citizens and military  at risk of harm. Linklater  and Suganami  (2006,  235) rightly criticise  Jackson’s (2000)  argument  for its incomparable normative basis for national responsibility. According  to Jack- son, the ‘“first duty of a government  is to protect its own people. After that it can try to help whoever else it can”’ (quoted in Linklater & Suganami 2006, 235).

Taken literally, Jackson’s argument  means that states have to first do whatever they can to assist their own citizens and only afterwards may they pay attention to the needs and interests of citizens of other states. However, Linklater  and Suganami admit that such an idea is not necessarily the inten- tion of Jackson’s argument,  for it would  mean that, during a war, a state could ignore the  international  codification  of humanitarian  law and do whatever it pleased to secure the interests of its people and only later, if at all, think about  the human suffering  of the soldiers and civilians of opposing states (ibid.).  Because Machiavellian  principles were defined amid a system of separate and often rival states, it is understandable that they consider state responsibilities in purely national terms. International society did not exist at the time, and there were no responsibilities beyond a state’s national borders; if there were, then they derived from the national interest of securing peaceful international order. In today’s global era, however, such principles are inevi- tably outdated and do not provide a normative basis for international ethics.

Sovereign  states, at least liberal democratic ones, define and allocate their national  responsibilities  according  to their constitutions  and other  laws. However,  such practices do not mean that states are responsible  for every- thing that occurs within their borders; after all, states are not protectors of property and life, nor are they responsible for their citizens’ actions. Entering into international agreements does not decrease a state’s sovereignty;  it may even preserve that sovereignty  when international cooperation  is needed to diffuse transnational threats that risk its sovereignty. The concept of national responsibility does not necessarily ignore the environment, either. Unlike tra- ditional  approaches to security that focus on a state’s national  security,  a broader  approach is concerned with human and environmental  security and emphasises the idea that states bear a responsibility to protect their citizens from threats of environmental origin. It is becoming increasingly more certain that causal links therefore exist between environmental degradation and inter- and intra-state conflicts.

International  responsibility

Based on liberalism,  Jackson’s conceptualisation  of international  responsi- bility suggests that, unlike the Hobbesian ‘war of all against all’, states form an  international  society.  Such an  international  society  is constitutional  in nature, for its members’ duties and rights are written into international  law, among which the UN Charter (1945) is the most fundamental. When inter- national  society recognises a state’s sovereignty  and membership in such a society,  the state presumably accepts and becomes  capable  of exercising  its rights and responsibilities in that society. It is, to quote Eagleton (1928, 5), upon this agreement to observe the rules of the community that international responsibility is founded’. Given  the constitutional relationship, states are not only accountable to their own citizens  but also ‘responsible for upholding international law and the society of states as a whole’  (Jackson 2000, 172). They have  a general  responsibility  to preserve  international  society  and maintain  its  functioning,  and they are obliged to pursue  their national responsibilities without infringing upon the rights of other states. Due to the state-centric  basis of international  society,  the most  essential international right listed in the UN Charter is non-intervention, meaning a responsibility to not intervene unless in lawfully  recognised circumstances. States also have a right and responsibility to participate in diplomatic practices, meaning that, at a minimum, every state should respect the UN Charter, prevent harm to others and refrain from unnecessary military action. However,  if a state fails to uphold its responsibilities, methods of sanctioning states in the absence of a supranational body remain unavailable.

From the perspective of the English School, international law provides an important normative framework  no less binding  than domestic  law within which and with reference to which states make choices about what actions to perform in international society. Apart from the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts drafted and compiled by the International Law Commission in 2001, however,  there is no international law regarding state responsibility. From the perspective of international law, states can be held responsible  for pollution only if such pollution  is wrongful  under interna- tional law. Because carbon dioxide  and other greenhouse gas emissions are legal forms of pollution caused primarily by the activities of individuals and private corporations, states cannot be held legally responsible for the damage caused. Conversely,  the idea of a state’s international  responsibility  usually refers to its political  responsibilities as the most authoritative  within interna- tional society.

As members of international society, all states have equal, general respon- sibilities derived  from the UN Charter. They have a responsibility to safe- guard international peace and security, prosperity and the wellbeing of people of present and future generations both locally  and globally.  They are also obliged to not cause harm to others. In practical terms, however, the circum- stances and capacities  of states vary considerably, as does their power  and capability  to shoulder  international   responsibilities.  Henry Shue’s (1993) dichotomy  between the general responsibilities of all states and the special responsibilities of states with greater  capabilities  elucidates the practices of global responsibility, including those related to the climate. Regarding climate responsibility,   Shue’s distinction  between  subsistence emissions and luxury emissions clarifies  that  not all greenhouse  gas  emissions are equally  detri- mental.  In short,  developing   countries’  subsistence emissions,  or survival emissions, are unavoidable  because they are produced  in order to guarantee a basic minimum  standard of living for the poor. Whereas  general  responsi- bilities relate to so-called ‘arithmetical justice’, meaning that states have equal rights and responsibilities, the distribution of special responsibilities is a poli- tical decision made by international  society as a whole in the ‘consideration of its common  good or interest’ (Bull 2002 [1977], 77). Although  states gen- erally agree that the distribution of responsibilities  is a matter of fairness and some  states have  special  responsibilities, political  debate  about  the ethical underpinnings  of ways  to define  and distribute  responsibilities  equitably remains heated. From another perspective, moral philosophers have elaborated upon the fairness of the allocation of climate responsibilities  (e.g. Caney  2010; Gardiner 2011; Gardiner, Caney, Jamieson & Shue 2010; Vanderheiden  2008). From a legal and moral  perspective, a significant  causal link joins con- tribution and responsibility. If a person, society or state is guilty of an action, then it has a responsibility to remedy  that action’s effects. In international environmental  politics,  that notion  has been best captured by the so-called polluter pays’  principle, which is nevertheless problematic  at least for three reasons.  Many polluters  cannot  pay because they  are dead, many  simply cannot afford to pay and many refuse to pay (Caney 2010, 134). Although  it is impossible  to pinpoint who is guilty  of causing climate  change, which is caused  by countless people  participating  in morally  and legally accepted practices, they can be collectively held responsible for it.9 However, would it be fair to ask all states or people to shoulder similar responsibility to mitigate climate change?

Humanitarian  responsibility

Jackson’s (2000) idea of humanitarian responsibility derives from cosmopoli- tanism  and the notion  of world society.  Cosmopolitanism  maintains that people have universal negative responsibilities not to dispossess other people’s rights  (Shue  1988,  690). Due to their specific  positions  and capacity  to improve or harm the wellbeing  of fellow humans around the world,  state leaders are responsible for the good life of all people, not only the citizens of their respective countries (Jackson 2000, 174–175). Therefore,  states have a fundamental positive  responsibility to ‘respect the dignity  and freedom of human beings’ and need to do their utmost to defend human rights all over the world.  From a humanitarian  standpoint,  ‘respect for human beings  – whoever they are and whatever they happen to be living – is a fundamental normative consideration in foreign policy’ (ibid., 174). At the same time, the humanitarian approach is also deeply rooted in Western traditions, including Christianity. From the Chinese perspective, conversely,  it is entirely  Euro- centric to justify the humanitarian responsibilities of states by invoking nat- ural law and the universal valuation of human rights.

International  practices emphasising human rights began to evolve after the atrocities committed  during World War II, when liberal-democratic  states agreed upon new humanitarian principles for international society. Procedu- rally, the humanitarian approach  is now written into international humani- tarian law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights  (1948) recognises that all humans are born free and have an equal right to life, liberty and security. In practical terms, the humanitarian approach is recognisable in the strong human rights doctrines of Western countries. Linklater  and Suganami (2006, 243) regard Article  5 of the Universal Declaration  of Human Rights, which states that all humans have the right to be free from ‘torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading  treatment or punishment’,  as the ‘grundnorm of the solidarist position on good international citizenship’. During  the Cold War, questions of human right norms were muted in practice. In more recent dec- ades, however,  interest in international  humanitarian ethics has rapidly  risen as globalisation   has introduced  new sorts  of political  concerns, including global  inequality and justice, sustainable development  and non-state actors’ increased role in world politics. Although those global developments indicate that  states ‘cannot  advance  significantly  beyond  a pluralist conception  of good citizenship’, there is nevertheless room for solidarist ethics (ibid., 229).

In particular,  the concept  of sovereignty  as responsibility  developed  by Francis M. Deng et al. (1996) has stimulated extensive political and academic discussions about state responsibility that have prompted a shift from the right to interfere to the responsibility to protect (e.g. Wheeler  2000). In 2001, the International Commission on Intervention  and State Sovereignty  (2001, XI) introduced the ‘responsibility  to protect’, for which it highlighted two basic principles:  that  ‘state  sovereignty   implies  responsibility,  and the primary responsibility for the protection of its people lies with the state itself ’ and that where a population   is suffering  serious harm,  as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable  to halt or avert it, the principle  of non-intervention yields  to the international responsibility to protect’. The UN General  Assembly  (2005) adopted the ‘responsibility to protect’  as follows:

Each  individual  State has the responsibility  to protect  its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through  appropriate  and necessary means. We  accept that responsibility and will act in accordance with it. The international com- munity should, as appropriate, encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility  and support the United  Nations in establishing  an early warning capability.

The UN General Assembly (2005) has defined the responsibility to protect to consist of three pillars: a state’s responsibilities  to its citizens,  international society’s responsibility to assist states to fulfil their responsibilities and inter- national society’s responsibility to take collective action if a state manifestly fails to protect its citizens. That  definition  reveals two important  aspects of state responsibility.  On the one hand, sovereignty  remains the fundamental principle of international society. Indeed, the definition  confirms that sover- eignty is an essential precondition  of state responsibility, for without indepen- dence from external control and full authority over a territory, a state cannot exercise full responsibility. Therefore,  the ‘exclusive territorial  jurisdiction of the state’, as Eagleton (1928, 7) writes, ‘is the chief source of its responsibility’. On the other, the definition indicates that state responsibility presupposes the existence of international society and is therefore constructed in social interac- tion. After all, if there were only one state, then the concepts  of external sovereignty and the responsibility to protect would not make much sense.

Climate change violates basic human rights, including the right to life, the right to health  and the  right to subsistence  (Caney 2009,  230–231).  The Human Rights Council of the UN acknowledged  that dilemma in 2008 when it passed its first  resolution  related  to climate change, according  to which climate  change poses an immediate  and far-reaching  threat to people and communities around the world and has implications for the full enjoyment of human right’ (Human  Rights Council 2008). Because climate change endan- gers the traditional  practices of indigenous people and the very existence of island nations, legal cases against developed  countries for violating indigen- ous  communities’   human  rights  by causing  climate  change  have  already begun to emerge.10 An important breakthrough in state climate responsibility occurred in 2015, when a court in the Hague ordered the Dutch government to cut emissions at least by 25 per cent within five years in order to protect its citizens from climate change.

Since carbon dioxide,  the chief human cause of climate  change, is a so- called ‘stock pollutant’, meaning that today’s emissions might not harm  us today but could cause problems for future generations, humanitarian respon- sibility can be extended to include future generations as well. Although  the idea that people are concerned with the lives of future generations  is nothing new, the capacity of the present generation to negatively affect the wellbeing of future generations is relatively novel. Although  we cannot know with any certainty what the interests of future generations will be, we can assume that some basic needs, including access to clean water and air, are common to all humans and other animals regardless of time and place. Furthermore, if we agree that future generations have corresponding rights, then the present generation  has responsibilities to them. After all, if contemporary practices harm the basic interests of future generations, then they violate  their rights, and no optimism  about the future’s advanced technologies to clean today’s pollution can reduce the responsibility of the present generation. The princi- ple of sustainable development  clearly  acknowledges  that fact, at least in principle. In reality, however, intergenerational responsibilities are often not discussed in terms of humanitarian responsibility (cf. Weiss 1989).

Environmental responsibility

According to Jackson (2000, 175–178), people have a conservationist respon- sibility because the health of Earth is vital to humans. Because people can live without  nation-states but not without the planet, we are bound to shoulder responsibility for the global  environment. That norm has been best captured by the idea of global  trusteeship, which holds that because humans have the industrial power to shape the balance  of nature, they also have a responsi- bility to conserve it. The greatest ‘responsibility for the global commons’ falls to governments,  which  are the  ‘chief  trustees or stewards  of the  planet’ because they have juridical power to regulate activities and control potential harm to the environment (ibid).  From Jackson’s pluralist perspective,  states are expected to protect nature within their jurisdictions and take international action to preserve the global environment.

Although I do not disagree with Jackson’s idea of responsibility for the global commons in general, it needs to be revisited for two reasons. First, the definition of global commons is not clear enough. Often, the global commons refers to the oceans,  the atmosphere,  the ozone layer, global biodiversity, outer space, the North Pole and Antarctica, of which global  biodiversity  is the least clear, particularly in respect to its location. Apart from ecosystems in the oceans, Antarctica  and the North  Pole, biodiversity  is not global in a physical  sense but  always  exists  in the territory  of specific  countries.  For example, the Amazon  rainforest is typically  described as a global commons despite its location  in the territory  of several sovereign  states. People  who happen to live in those countries have the privilege to decide what to do with the rainforest, how to use its biodiversity   as natural  resources and how to treat specific  species. Consequently,  as a local resource, biodiversity  is gov- erned according  to a sovereign  state’s political,  cultural and social values, principles and norms. Second,  it seems that  Jackson’s conceptualisation   of global  trusteeship is highly anthropocentric. Because it suggests that humans, particularly  state leaders, are responsible for the health of the planet as the only home we ultimately have, humans are the sole objects of moral respon- sibilities,  whereas  nature  has no intrinsic value  (i.e. the value  of ends, or nature for its own sake) but only instrumental value (i.e. the value of means, or nature  in terms  of resources).  From that  perspective,  states  have  to shoulder responsibility  for the  global commons only because  it is  in the interest  of humans.  By contrast,  considering  the intrinsic value  of nature would indicate that nature must be respected and preserved for its own sake and that states have responsibilities to the natural world as such. Nevertheless, the instrumental value judgement  of nature does not necessarily mean that humans  have  no responsibility  to nature  but  face a strong  instrumental incentive to protect nature because it provides ecosystems vital to humans.

Ecocentrism  recognises  that  humans and therefore  states have  a moral standing vis-à-vis Earth and not only for anthropocentric and instrumental reasons. Ecocentrism recognises various human interests related to the envir- onment  and thus national  interests as well.  It does not overlook  the role of anthropocentric   interests such as economic  needs for natural resources and human welfare,  but it does provide a more encompassing approach by also recognising  the interests of non-human species, ecological  communities and future generations of both humans and non-humans. At a fundamental level, the conservation of biodiversity  is a moral recognition that all species have rights and should not be treated as lifeless or valueless objects (Eckersley 1992). The ecocentric  conceptualisation  of state  responsibility   is  not merely  a utopian idea. Practices of environmental  constitutionalism, which regard the environment  as a ‘proper subject for protection in constitutional texts and for vindication by constitutional  courts’, are now evolving worldwide (May & Daly 2015, 1–2),  and a growing  number of states explicitly  recognise  the substantive environmental  rights of citizens and the government’s  environ- mental responsibilities (ibid., Appendices A and C). Although  such environ- mental rights and duties are largely motivated  by anthropocentric reasons, a more ecocentric  constitutionalism  ‘advancing  the  right of nature’ is not uncommon (ibid., 255).11  Plus, contemporary international law ‘already car- ries the seeds of possibility for non-anthropocentric conceptions’ of responsi- bility (Bosselmann  2015, 40), as  I demonstrate  in the following  chapters. Currently, however, international environmental law is highly fragmented and largely ill equipped to fulfil climate responsibility (cf. Voigt 2008), and no independent international treaty on environmental  rights exists. In fact, the UN  International  Law Commission’s  State  Responsibility  Project in the

1980s and 1990s abandoned  the idea that state criminal responsibility  includes the widespread pollution of the seas and atmosphere (Koivurova 2014, 174–175). At present, the most prominent articulation of ecocentric responsibility appears in the Earth  Charter  (2000),  a civil society  initiative  launched in 2000, whose first principle urges humans to ‘Respect Earth and life in all its diversity’,  based on an  ontological   assumption that ‘all  beings  are inter- dependent and every form of life has value regardless of its worth to human beings’. However,   because the Earth  Charter  is not endorsed by states, its legal status remains  a document of soft law and is not legally binding for governments.  Nevertheless,  because it is a statement expressed by the world over civil society, it is, to use Klaus  Bosselmann’s (2015, 110–111)  words, arguably one of the most legitimate international statements of principle ever to be made’. As such, it should be morally binding to states.


Both the legal and moral conceptualisations of responsibility are pivotal for analysing  the scope of state responsibility,  especially  from a historical per- spective. However,  they do not pay attention to the fact that international responsibilities are not static but produced and reproduced in social interac- tion. Because they do not recognise that states can fulfil their forward-looking responsibilities only by joining with others in the practices of international society, legal and moral approaches to responsibility are insufficient views for studying state responsibility (cf. Young 2006, 123). This chapter has demon- strated that responsibility not only looks retrospectively at the past even if it largely  consists of elements derived  from legal and moral ethics.  In that regard, the English School’s theorisation of responsibility has proven  to be valuable.  This  chapter  has  also demonstrated  that  state-centric solidarism offers an enlightened approach for conceiving  state responsibility by acknowledging  that, in addition to inter-state responsibilities,  governments are always responsible for the wellbeing of individuals. From a thinner, plur- alist perspective, they are chiefly  responsible for the citizens  of their own states, whereas from a thicker, solidarist perspective, they have responsibilities for the wellbeing of all humans worldwide.  The thickest perspective acknowl- edges that states also have responsibilities for the wellbeing of planet Earth.


1  See Shue (1980) for a detailed study of basic rights and Alfredsson  (2010), Anton and Shelton (2011) and Weiss  (1989, 95–117),  for example,  for comprehensive analyses with numerous examples of how the environment has been treated in the field of human rights and how international  environmental  regimes incorporate human rights.

2  For a detailed analysis of legal responsibility in the context of civil and criminal law, see Fletcher (1998), Ross (1975), Hart (1968) and Morris (1961).

3  For a detailed elaboration on causation and responsibility,  see Hart and Honoré


4  By contrast, China’s climate policies are sometimes criticised because they are not implemented  for the  so-called  ‘right’  reasons. For example, Richerzhagen  and Scholz (2008, 311) complain that though renewable energy has been priortised in China’s  energy  strategy  since 2006, related  measures may not have been imple- mented for the climate’s sake but to cut energy costs and increase energy security, which are essential measures to maintain economic growth.

5  According to Alison Wakefield  and Jenny Fleming  in the  Sage Dictionary of Policing,  responsibilization is a ‘term developed in the governmentality literature to refer to the process whereby  subjects are rendered individually  responsible for a task which  previously  would  have  been the duty of another –  usually  a state agency – or would not have been recognized as a responsibility at all. The process is strongly  associated with neoliberal political  discourses, where it takes on the implication  that the subject being  responsibilized  has avoided  this duty or the responsibility has been taken away from them in the welfare state era and managed by an expert or government agency’.

6  Public opinion is not synonymous with national responsibility; at times, the fulfil- ment of the latter requires difficult  decisions and policies  that conflict  with the former. In democratic  societies, politicians might fail to shoulder their national responsibilities because they have to consider voters’  opinions and preferences in order make a case for their re-election.

7  According to Bok (2010),  Bhutan’s four pillars of gross national  happiness are

good governance and democratization,  stable and equitable socioeconomic  devel-

opment, environmental protection and the preservation of culture.

8  Environmental  protection  is an excellent example, for it sometimes conflicts with people’s short-term interests, especially  those measured in economic terms. Simi- larly, banning cigarettes would promote  people’s health and thus their happiness. In the short term, however, people would probably not be pleased with the ban, and their happiness might even diminish.

9  Larry May’s  (1992, 38) distinction  between  shared and collective responsibility holds that ‘[w]hen a group of people shares responsibility for a harm, responsibility distributes to each member of the group. When a group is collectively  responsible for a harm,  the group  as such is responsible;  but this does not necessarily mean that all, or even any, of the members are individually responsible for the harm.’

10  See, for example, the Petition to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights Seeking Relief from Violations Resulting from Global Warming Caused by Acts and Omissions  of the United  States  (2005)  and the Petition  to the  Inter American Commission on Human  Rights  Seeking  Relief from Violations of the Rights  of Arctic Athabaskan Peoples  Resulting from Rapid Arctic Warming  and Melting Caused by the Emission of Black Carbon by Canada (2013).

11  For example, Ecuador’s constitution includes a chapter on nature’s rights.


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SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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