Climate change is the first global triage crisis. It is caused by the overuse of a severely limited natural resource—the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb greenhouse gases—and millions of lives depend on how international law allocates this resource among nations.

This Article is the first to explore solutions for climate change mitigation through the lens of triage ethics, drawing on law, philosophy, moral theory, and economics. The literature on triage ethics—developed in contexts such as battlefield trauma, organ donation, emergency medicine, and distribution of food and shelter—has direct implications for climate change policy and law, yet it has been overlooked by climate change scholars. The triage lens rules out climate policies—including the current emissions path—that will lead to catastrophic warming, and it puts options on the table that are marginalized in the current United Nations negotiations on a climate change agreement.

This Article examines three allocation principles that could potentially apply in climate change triage—utilitarianism, egalitarianism, and a market-based distribution—and it concludes that egalitarianism is the preferable allocation principle from the standpoint of ethics and international law. This Article ends by exploring four major policy implications that emerge from viewing climate change through the lens of triage.

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