As we have explained from many angles on this website, climate change is a civilization challenging ethical problem. We have also explained why nations urgently need to immediately respond to their ethical obligations in making national emissions commitments under the UNFCCC. In addition, ethics requires those engaged in dangerous behavior to understand the effects of their policy choices and respond to their ethical obligations. Yet complex interactions of ghg emissions levels, atmospheric ghg concentrations, the climate system’s response to atmospheric ghg concentrations, and how policy options must consider the magnitude of the global threat as it changes in time make it difficult for policy makers and NGOs to visualize and understand the significance of climate policy choices. And so ethics requires policy makers to understand these complex interactions, yet the sheer complexity of these interactions makes clear understanding of the significance of policy options very challenging.
We have also explained on this website how the debate on climate change in the United States and several other high-emitting nations is largely ignoring national ethical responsibilities. If nations are to take their ethical obligations seriously, they need to understand the extreme urgency of increasing their ghg emissions reduction targets to comply with their ethical obligations. Yet to understand their ethical obligations policy-makers must understand the significance of policy choices. And so ethics requires climate change policy-makers to understand many complex scientific issues.
Ethics would also hold nations morally responsible for the failure to do this. Delay makes the climate change problem worse. Yet understanding how delay makes achieving the goals of preventing dangerous climate change extraordinarily more challenging also requires some knowledge about how increasing atmospheric concentrations affect global emissions reductions pathways options. In addition, because each national emission reduction target commitment must be understood as an implicit position of the nation on safe ghg atmospheric concentration levels, setting national ghg emissions goals must be set with full knowledge of how any national target will affect the global problem.
However, a clear understanding of how national emissions reductions commitments affect global climate change impacts requires an understanding of complex relationships between atmospheric ghg concentrations, likely global temperature changes in response to ghg atmospheric concentrations, rates of ghg emissions reductions over time and all of this requires making assumptions about how much CO2 from emissions will remain in the atmosphere, how sensitive the global climate change is to atmospheric ghg concentrations, and when the international community begins to get on a serious emissions reduction pathway guided by equity considerations. The problem in understanding these variables is a challenge that no static graph can capture.
A new website should be of great value to policy-makers to view and understand the relationship between their national emissions reduction strategies and the global climate change problem, issues that must be considered in setting national ghg targets as a matter of ethics. This tool is the Carbon Budget Accounting Tool (CBAT) which is available at http://www.gci.org.uk/cbat-domains/Domains.swf
Some features of CBAT are still under development, yet the site is already practically useful to policy-makers.
The CBAT has been developed by the Global Commons Institute founded in the United Kingdom in 1990 by Aubrey Meyer as an organization to find to a fair way to tackle climate change.
The CBAT tool allows visualization of any national response for reducing national ghg emissions commitments based upon the idea of contraction and convergence, one of several equity frameworks under discussion in international climate negotiations, but is also of value for visualizing the policy significance of other equity frameworks that are under discussion internationally.
CBAT allows those interested in developing a global solution to visualize the otherwise complex interactions of international carbon budgets, atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, ghg emissions reductions commitments, the effect of a nation taking its ethical obligations seriously, resulting temperature, ocean acidification, and seal level rise,
The CBAT model should be very useful for all who hope to understand future climate change policy options and the scale of the global challenge facing the world. This writer has been engaged in climate change policy options since the 1992 Earth Summit at which the United Nations Framework Convention was opened for signature and have attended most of the Conference of Parties under the UNFCCC since then. Yet even though I have significant experience and knowledge about future climate change policy challenges, the CBAT model helps me visualize the significance of certain policy options facing the world.
Because ethics requires policy-makers to understand the policy implications of their policies, understanding the complex interactions of the variables displayed on the CBAT is indispensable for national climate change policy-makers as a matter of ethics.
Donald A. Brown
Scholar In Residence and Professor
Widener University School of Law
Visiting Professor, Nagoya University School of Law