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Does the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities facilitate distributive justice in adaptation finance for the Pacific region?

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posted on 2022-09-09, 01:17 authored by Thomas Peter Riddell

Developing states in the Pacific region shoulder an unfair burden of the climate crisis. Exposed geographies and developing economies endanger states in this region by hampering their ability to adapt to threats that include rising seas and intensified weather events. In an unfair twist, many states in the Pacific region bear minimal responsibility for the drivers of the climate crisis given their historically low contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. Without the economic benefits of industrialisation, the region’s economies are ill-suited to weathering the financial stress of adaptation. Their situation is in stark contrast to the emissions-intensive economies of developed states that makes them primarily responsible for and well placed to manage the climate crisis. Cognizant of this disproportion, the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities has been embedded into the international laws regulating climate change to redistribute inequalities between the global divide through differentiating legal obligations. In the context of adaptation, this means mandating the flow of finance from developed states to vulnerable states, such as those in the Pacific region, in a just manner that overcomes resource and wealth disparities. This paper examines whether CBDR-RC has shaped the legal framework of adaptation finance to promote distributive justice through correcting economic disparities. A doctrinal approach is applied to identify the key legal provisions regulating adaptation finance followed by consideration of the underpinning policies to highlight flaws in the distribution of adaptation finance. Human geographies and scientific scholarship are drawn on to illustrate diverging policy bases for the concept of vulnerability. The paper analyses how an ambiguous usage of vulnerability is embedded in law and the effect that this has on allowing the distribution of finance to preference physical vulnerability over the underlying economic, social, and institutional causes of vulnerability. The ambiguity in the definition of vulnerability is argued to undermine the ability of law to facilitate the just distribution of adaptation finance to those in the Pacific region that need it most.


Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- 2. The legal foundations of CBDR-RC and adaptation finance -- 3. Defining distributive justice -- 4. Vulnerability: definitions and framings -- 5. Framings of vulnerability in practice -- 6. Analysis and discussion -- 7. Conclusions -- Bibliography


This thesis is submitted in partial fulfilment of the degree of Master of Research (MRes)

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


Thesis (MRes), Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, 2021

Department, Centre or School

School of Law

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Kirsten Davies

Additional Supervisor 1

Nengye Liu


Copyright: The Author Copyright disclaimer:




Pacific region


72 pages

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