Ethical dimensions of climate change /de ethische kant van klimaatsverandering

Blog Action Day 2009 on Climate Change was yesterday. So, yes, I know I’m late.

I’m just going to share a few thoughts from the Baha’i International Community (BIC) and the International Environment Forum (IEF) on the ethical dimensions of climate change.

In May I attended a workshop organised by the BIC and we were asked to look at several case studies of vulnerable countries such as Fiji, Niger, and Bangladesh. We were asked to identify what we considered to be the ethical issues embedded in the case study. I found the following questions very thought-provoking:

Who or what should be protected or safeguarded?
Who are affected most?
Who are the most vulnerable?
What rights do the most vulnerable have to protection?
Who has the responsibility to protect and assist the most vulnerable?
Who should participate in deciding what actions should be taken?

Not easy to answer any of these, but they do make you think!

The BIC statement “Seizing the Opportunity: Redefining the challenge of climate change” is as thought-provoking as the above questions, so I’m just going to share some of its paragraphs (emphasis in bold is mine). You can read the whole statement here:

“As negotiations proceed to set the rules and establish the mechanisms that will determine how governments assist vulnerable countries and approach this global challenge, they will test the resolve of the international community to address comprehensively and justly the shared threat of climate change.

Yet, in the face of the destructive impacts of climate change – exacerbated by the extremes of wealth and poverty – a need for new approaches centered on the principles of justice and equity is apparent. A dynamic and bourgeoning discourse on the ethical dimensions of climate change has brought to the fore the role of ethical inquiry in overcoming some of the most difficult substantive and process-related challenges. The fundamental questions it seeks to address include: Who is responsible for the consequences of climate change?; Who should pay for the damages?; How should target levels of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere be determined?; What procedures will ensure fair representation in decision-making?; and, if nations have a responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, how do those responsibilities devolve onto the various units of government, organizations, individuals and non-state actors? The challenge before the world community, then, is not only a technical one but a moral one, which calls for the transformation of thoughts and behaviors so as to allow our economic and social structures to extend the benefits of development to all people. To contribute to this important discourse, we assert that the principle of the oneness of humankind must become the ruling principle of international life. This principle does not seek to undermine national autonomy or suppress cultural or intellectual diversity. Rather, it makes it possible to view the climate change challenge through a new lens – one that perceives humanity as a unified whole, not unlike the cells of the human body, infinitely differentiated in form and function yet united in a common purpose which exceeds that of its component parts.

… the United Nations must give more attention to the gender dimensions of climate change. Neither the principal legal nor scientific framework guiding climate change negotiations – the UNFCCC and the Synthesis Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – makes reference to gender. To begin to remedy this situation, we call on the United Nations and member states to include a gender dimension in their response to climate change and in their ongoing and future negotiations of climate change agreements. As a starting point, a gender component could be included in national reports to the UNFCCC; the presence of gender experts on UNFCCC delegations would further strengthen the gender analysis.

Efforts to reconceptualize sovereignty, from an absolute right to a responsibility, signal that a shift in consciousness towards greater degrees of global solidarity is already underway. To be sure, the solution to climate change exceeds the capacities and resources of any one nation and requires the full cooperation of all nations, each according to their means.

Much has been said about the need for cooperation to solve a climate challenge that no nation or community can solve alone. The principle of the oneness of humankind presented in this statement seeks to move beyond utilitarian notions of cooperation to anchor the aspirations of individuals, communities and nations to those of the progress of humanity. In practical terms, it affirms that individual and national interests are best served in tandem with the progress of the whole. As children, women, men, religious and scientific communities as well as governments and international institutions converge on this reality, we will do more than achieve a collective response to the climate change crisis. We will usher in a new paradigm by means of which we can understand our purpose and responsibilities in an interconnected world; a new standard by which to evaluate human progress; and a mode of governance faithful to the ties that bind us as members of one human race.”


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