Climate ethics


Climate ethics is an area of research that focuses on the ethical dimensions of climate change (also known as global warming), and concepts such as climate justice.

Human-induced climate change raises many profound ethical questions, yet many[who?] 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 organizations.


The idea of climate ethics stems from ethics itself, mostly being a philosophical view at how to deal with global warming. This has been discussed over time by many countries and influential leaders. Because this is a large scale issue, climate ethicists have theorized about approaches that would have benefits globally.[1] The idea of climate ethics is important due to its impact on every level of life, from the economy and ecosystems, all the way down to the scale of a single persons' life. . This has made it a question of who is responsible for changes that need to be made, or if there is even a point of trying to make changes due to the polarity of climate change mitigation.[2] The topic of climate ethics has only become more complex moving into the 2020s as the topic of climate change has gained more traction. This results in having to take into consideration the opinions and views from different fields. It is also argued that this goes further than just being an issue to be solved, but that it is a humanitarian issue that needs to be faced ethically and have benefits that reach further than just those who can make the change, such as those in underdeveloped countries and the animal kingdom.[3]

An article in the scientific journal Nature (Patz, 2005)[4] 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.

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.

Environmental ethics theories applied to climate disruption

The principles of environmental ethics from utilitarianism, deontology, and care have direct applications to understanding the responsibilities of current people for future generations who will be affected by our actions on climate disruption today.[5] Of particular relevance are the concepts of "discounting" from environmental economics, individual rights and expectations as framed by Immanuel Kant's deontology, and the ethics of care as described by DesJardins. Jeremy Bentham's utilitarianism is based on maximizing the good for the most people over the longest time, and he further stated that we all tend to value near-term, future benefits more than those in the more distant future.[6] This is an especially germane concept, since incurring economic costs and taking actions today to mitigate climate change will only benefit future generations over decades to centuries. Kant emphasized the importance of respecting individual rights as more important that considering consequences of our actions, calculating cost-benefits for our choices, and trying to maximize the "good." Utilitarianism and deontology therefore seemingly create contradictions between the rights of living people and the needs and rights of future generations. In his essay entitled "Zuckerman's Dilemma", Mark Sagoff[7] moves beyond this conflict by focusing on an ethics of care that invokes intrinsic value, love, and caring for other people and non-human life. In an encyclical entreaty, Pope Francis, as head of the Roman Catholic Church, invokes caring for God's creation and other people as a responsibility of extant humans for the sake of future generations, and in so doing, "it has to do with the ultimate meaning of our earthly sojourn".[8] Similarly, traditional ecological knowledge and respect for life and nature, especially that from spiritual perspectives and ancestral beliefs, has been used to develop plans for adaptation and resilience in the face of climate change.[9]

Collaborative 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.

See also


  1. ^ Green, Fergus; Brandstedt, Eric (2020). "Engaged Climate Ethics*". Journal of Political Philosophy. n/a (n/a). doi:10.1111/jopp.12237. ISSN 1467-9760.
  2. ^ Hayward, Tim (2012-10-14). "Climate change and ethics". Nature Climate Change. 2 (12): 843–848. Bibcode:2012NatCC...2..843H. doi:10.1038/nclimate1615. ISSN 1758-678X.
  3. ^ Sánchez García, José Luis; Díez Sanz, Juan María (2018-05-01). "Climate change, ethics and sustainability: An innovative approach". Journal of Innovation & Knowledge. 3 (2): 70–75. doi:10.1016/j.jik.2017.12.002. ISSN 2444-569X.
  4. ^ Patz, Jonathan A; Campbell-Lendrum, Diarmid; Holloway, Tracey; Foley, Jonathan A (17 November 2005). "Impact of regional climate change on human health". Nature. 438 (7066): 310–317. Bibcode:2005Natur.438..310P. doi:10.1038/nature04188. PMID 16292302. S2CID 285589.
  5. ^ DesJardins, Joseph R. (2013). Environmental Ethics: An introduction to environmental philosophy. Boston, Massachusetts: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. pp. 3–6. ISBN 978-1-133-04997-5.
  6. ^ "The history of utilitarianism". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2021. Retrieved 18 March 2021.
  7. ^ Sagoff, Mark. (1991). Zuckerman's Dilemma: A plea for environmental ethics. Hastings Report 21 (5):32-40.
  8. ^ Pope Francis (2017). "On Care for Our Common Home". In Hawken, Paul (ed.). Drawdown. New York: Penguin Books. pp. 190–191. ISBN 9780143130444.
  9. ^ Morrison, Jim (24 November 2020). "An ancient people with a modern climate plan". Washington Post. Retrieved 18 March 2020.

Further reading

  • Broome, J. (2006). "Valuing policies in response to climate change: some ethical issues" (PDF). HM Treasury. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 15, 2009. Retrieved August 28, 2009.
  • Vandana Shiva - 2005, Earth Democracy; Justice, Sustainability, and Peace, South End Press, ISBN 0-89608-745-X ; See the online "preview" version of this book at this link

External links

  • Climate Justice Action.
  • Climate, Ethics and Equity[permanent dead link]
  • Climate Ethics class at the University of Colorado
  • Collaborative Program on the Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change
  • GenderCC - Women for Climate Justice
  • Baha'i International Environment Forum
  • Research on Justice and Climate Change, Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs project on International Climate Agreements
  • Earth Charter Initiative article Archived 2008-10-30 at the Wayback Machine
  • Global Warming eco money
  • James Garvey interviewed on the ethics of climate change
  • Yale University's Links to organizations
  • Princeton environmental ethics workshop
Gardiner's paper
MacCracken's paper
  • Climate Ethics program at Pennsylvania State University
  • Naomi Klein on Climate Debt: Why Rich Countries Should Pay Reparations To Poor Countries - video report by Democracy Now!
  • Climate Rage by Naomi Klein
  • Democratizing climate governance