Climate ethics

Climate Ethics is a new and growing area of research that focuses on the ethical dimensions of climate change, and concepts such as climate justice.

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, policies and discussions . It has been pointed out that those most responsible for climate change are not the same people as those most vulnerable to its effects.

Terms such as climate justice and ecological justice ('eco justice') are used worldwide, and have been adopted by various groups.



An 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 which 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.

The Program on the Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change

In December 2004 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Collaborative 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. 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 Changes
  • 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


In June 2009 prominent anti-mining activist Marcelo Rivera Moreno was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in Cabañas. In December 2009 two more activists (Ramiro Rivera Gomez on December 20[1] and Dora Alicia Recinos Sorto on December 26[2]) that oppose the activities of the Pacific Rim Mining Corporation in their home region were killed. Dora Sorto was eight months pregnant when she was shot dead, and her two year old son was also wounded in the attack.[3] Dora “Alicia” Recinos Sorto was shot dead near her home. Sorto was an active member of the Cabañas Environment Committee, which has campaigned against the reopening of a gold mine owned by the Vancouver-based Pacific Rim Mining Corporation.[4][5][6][7]

See also


  1. ^ "Salvadoran activists target gold mine". The Straight. January 7 2010. Retrieved January 11, 2010. 
  2. ^ "Pacific Rim Corporation: Anti-Mining Activists Assassinated". Pacific Free Press. January 2 2010. Retrieved January 11, 2010. 
  3. ^ "Escalating violence against anti-mining capmpaigners". Indymedia. 2010-01-17. Retrieved 2009-01-31. 
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^

Further reading

External links

Gardiner's paper
MacCracken's paper

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