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Climate ethics

Climate Ethics or Climate Justice is a new and growing area of research that focuses on the ethical dimensions of climate change.

Human-induced climate change raises many profound ethical questions, yet many believe that these ethical issues have not been addressed adequately in climate change policy debates or in the scientific and economic literature on climate change; and that, consequently, ethical questions are being overlooked or obscured in climate negotiations. It has been pointed out that those most responsible for climate change are not the same people as those most vulnerable to its effects.


The Collaborative Program on the Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change

One group working on climate ethics is the Collaborative Program on the Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change.

History of the Program

The Program on the Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change was launched at the 10th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that was held in early December of 2004 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The major outcome of this meeting was the Buenos Aires Declaration on the Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change.


The program on the Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change seeks to: • Facilitate express examination of ethical dimensions of climate change particularly for those issues entailed by specific positions taken by governments, businesses, NGOs, organizations, or individuals on climate change policy matters; • Create better understanding about the ethical dimensions of climate change among policy makers and the general public; • Assure that people around the world, including those most vulnerable to climate change, participate in any ethical inquiry about responses to climate change; • Develop an interdisciplinary approach to inquiry about the ethical dimensions of climate change and support publications that examine the ethical dimensions of climate change; • Make the results of scholarship on the ethical dimensions of climate change available to and accessible to policy makers, scientists, and citizen groups; • Integrate ethical analysis into the work of other institutions engaged in climate change policy including the Intergovernmental Program on Climate Change and the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change.


Given the severity of impact to be expected and given the likelihood that some level of important disruptions in living conditions will occur for great numbers of people due to climate change events, this group contends that there is sufficient convergence among ethical principles to make a number of concrete recommendations on how governments should act, or identify ethical problems with positions taken by certain governments, organizations, or individuals.

Facts about climate change and fundamental human rights provide the starting point for climate ethics.


Members of the Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change program include:

Rock Ethics Institute, Penn State University Secretariat

  • Penn State Institutes of the Environment
  • Pennsylvania Consortium for Interdisciplinary Environmental Policy
  • Brazilian Forum on Climate Change
  • Center for Ethics, University of Montana
  • Centre for Applied Ethics, Cardiff University
  • Centre for Global Ethics, Birmingham University
  • Coordination of Post Graduate Programs in Engineering of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro–The Energy Planning Program
  • EcoEquity
  • Global Ecological Integrity Group
  • International Virtual Institute on Global Change
  • IUCN Environmental Law Commission–Ethics Specialist Group
  • Munasinghe Institute for Development
  • New Directions: Science, Humanities, Policy
  • Oxford Climate Policy
  • Sustainability Research Institute, University of Leeds
  • Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

The Relation Between Climate Ethics, Human Rights, Distributive Justice and Procedural Justice

A recent article in the scientific journal Nature (Patz, 2005) concluded that the human-induced warming that the world is now experiencing is already causing 150,000 deaths and 5 million incidents of disease each year from additional malaria and diarrhea, mostly in the poorest nations. Death and disease incidents are likely to soar as warming increases. Facts such as this demonstrate that climate change is compromising rights to life, liberty and personal security. Hence, ethical analysis of climate change policy must examine how that policy impacts on those basic rights.

The rights to life, liberty, and personal security are basic human rights that are the foundation for deriving other widely recognized rights found in international law and practice. These rights, for example, have been the basis for such practical rules as the “no harm principle” and the “precautionary principle.” These rights are recognized in a number of international treaties and decisions in international tribunals, and are widely recognized as foundational by many of the world’s religions. These rights are also expressly set out in Article Three of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ( that expressly provides that:

  • Everyone has a right to life, liberty, and personal security.
  • Humans have rights to life, liberty, and personal security that create duties in others to refrain from interference with these basic rights. In this paper we seek to help clarify our duties to prevent the neglect or violation of those rights. Of course, climate change policy making raises additional ethical issues including questions about duties to protect future generations of humans, plants, animals, and ecosystems.

Climate change raises a number of particularly challenging ethical issues about distributive justice, in particular concerning how to fairly share the benefits and burdens of climate change policy options. Many of the policy tools often employed to solve environmental problems such as cost-benefit analysis usually do not adequately deal with these issues because they often ignore questions of just distribution.

See also

  • Green banking

Climate Ethics topic outline (.pdf format).

Baha'i International Environment Forum: Ethics and Climate Change

Climate ethics principles (blog entry).

At the Earth Charter Initiative site.

Yale University's Links to organisations addressing the ethics of climate change.

Princeton environmental ethics workshop

Gardiner's paper
MacCracken's paper

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Climate_ethics". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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