A Comprehensive Ethical Analysis of the Copenhagen Accord.

I. Introduction
If climate change must be understood as a civilization challenging ethical problem, what can be said about the positions taken by governments and results achieved at the recently concluded Copenhagen conference?
To evaluate what happened in Copenhagen one must understand that the Copenhagen meeting was only the last in  almost two decades of meetings that have failed to achieve a global solution to climate change. Copenhagen was the 19th meeting of governments from around the world that have been meeting every year since 1990 to forge a comprehensive climate change regime. Copenhagen was also the 15th conference of the parties (COP-15) since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) came into effect in 1994. (UN, 1992)
For more than twenty years some nations have been taking positions on climate change that raise serious ethical concerns. Copenhagen meeting was no exception. However, as we saw in a prior ClimateEthics post, there were two issues that arose with a new force in Copenhagen. They were the intensity and frequency of calls for: (a) global justice, and (b) increased funding for adaptation programs in vulnerable developing countries. See, ClimateEthics, Two Climate Change Matters Move To Center Stage In Copenhagen With Profound Implications for Developed Nations: Ethics and Adaptation, http://climateethics.org/?p=331.
Yet, at the conclusion of the Copenhagen conference, as we shall see, little was accomplished in response to these issues or the other climate change disputes that have now plagued climate negotiations for almost two decades. Although, as we shall see, some have pointed to a few positive Copenhagen outcomes, most observers have judged COP-15 to be a disaster.
This post begins with an analysis of what actually happened in Copenhagen and contains the following sections:
• The path to the Copenhagen Accord
• Arguments about whether Copenhagen was a disaster or a positive step forward.
• Analysis of the “disaster-step forward” controversy
• Ethical analyses of the Copenhagen Accord
• Climate change ethics after Copenhagen
II. The Path To The Copenhagen Accord
The Copenhagen conference took place from December 7-19, 2009. Copenhagen was intended to be the culmination of a two-year negotiating process that was agreed to in Bali, Indonesia, in December 2007.
In 1990 negotiations began that led in 1992 to opening for signature and ratification of the UNFCCC. This treaty itself does not contain binding greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions limitations for countries but nevertheless includes numerous other binding national climate change obligations.
To understand the significance of what happened in Copenhagen, it is necessary to understand the goals and objectives for an international climate regime that were originally set out in the UNFCCC. Among other things, for instance, the parties to the UNFCCC agreed that: (a) They would adopt policies and measures to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system, (b) Developed countries should take the first steps to do this, and (c) Nations have common but differentiated responsibilities to prevent climate change, (d) Nations may not use scientific uncertainty as an excuse for not taking action, and (e) Nations should reduce their GHG emissions based upon “equity.” (UN, 1992) As we shall see, some national proposals in Copenhagen, seventeen years after the UNFCCC was agreed upon, failed to abide by many promises made by governments in the UNFCCC.
As of December 2009, the UNFCCC had 192 parties, a number that includes almost all countries in the world including the United States which ratified the UNFCCC in 1994.
The UNFCC is a “framework” convention because it has always been expected that additional requirements would be added to the framework in updates that are known as “protocols” or in annual decisions of the conferences of the parties.
The first major addition to the UNFCCC was the Kyoto Protocol which was negotiated in 1997 because the international community had been convinced by emerging climate change science that developed nations needed to be bound by numerical emissions reductions targets. The Kyoto Protocol entered into force on February 16, 2005 and currently has 190 parties. The United States is the only developed country that never ratified the Kyoto Protocol.
Under the Kyoto, Protocol, the developed countries agreed to reduce their overall emissions of six greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2% below 1990 levels between 2008-2012. The developing countries had no binding emissions reductions obligations under Kyoto.
The Copenhagen negotiations were necessary because the emissions reductions obligations of developed countries set out in the Kyoto Protocol expire in 2012.
At climate negotiations at COP-13 in Bali, Indonesia in 2007, parties to the UNFCCC agreed to replace the Kyoto Protocol with an agreement that would create a second commitment period under the UNFCCC and would include binding emissions reductions for developed countries and new programs on adaptation for developing countries, deforestation, finance, technology transfer, and capacity building. This agreement is referred to as the Bali Roadmap which also called for articulating a “shared vision for long-term cooperative action,” including a long-term global goal for emission reductions.
The Bali decision also recognized that developing countries could make contributions to solving the climate change through the development of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs), that is climate change strategies for developing countries. The NAMAs, however, would not constitute binding emissions reduction requirements for developing countries in contrast to the binding obligations of developed countries in the Kyoto Protocol that would be further developed in Copenhagen.
At Bali the parties also agreed on a two-year negotiating process to achieve the objectives of the Bali Roadmap. Under this action plan, nations would proceed on two negotiation tracks. One under the UNFCCC and the other under the Kyoto Protocol. The first track was know by the acronym “AWG-KP,” standing for the Ad hoc Working Group on the Kyoto Protocol. The second track was referred to as “AWG-LCA,” standing for the Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action. The Bali agreement also included a deadline for concluding these negotiations in Copenhagen in December of 2009.
Intense negotiations in preparation for Copenhagen took place during the two years between Bali and Copenhagen including four separate meetings in 2009 alone. In these deliberations, many contentious issues surfaced. Among other things, these disputes included particularly strong disagreements about the magnitude of developed country emissions reduction commitments and institutional arrangements and funding amounts for financing developing country needs for technology cooperation, adaptation, reducing emissions from deforestation, and capacity building.
Although some progress was made on a few issues in the two year lead-up to Copenhagen, little progress was made on the major issues and particularly on commitments for GHG emissions reductions and funding for adaptation, deforestation programs, and technology transfer.

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Two Climate Change Matters Move To Center Stage In Copenhagen With Profound Implications for Developed Nations: Ethics and Adaptation

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of reports from the Copenhagen climate change negotiations.

I. Introduction.

There is something new in the air here in the Copenhagen climate change negotiations.These new developments have profound implications for the international community but particularly for developed nations such as the United States, Australia, Canada, and the European Union countries.

I have been participating in international climate change negotiating sessions since the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992 including seven conference of the parties (COPs) under the United States Framework Convention on Climate Change. I also negotiated climate change and other environmental issues for the United States EPA at the United Nations from 1995 to 1998. This experience leads me to conclude that there are two new big stories here in the Copenhagen that have implications far beyond those generated by the perennial climate change debates about whether nations should make meaningful commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, the world is still watching which nations will make significant greenhouse gas reduction commitments. Yet other climate change issues are pushing to be the central focus in  Copenhagen.

II. Ethics and Climate Change.

The first is the frequency and centrality in which the claim that climate change is an ethical problem, that is responses to climate change must be guided by ethical, justice, and human rights considerations. Unlike previous years, the agenda in Copenhagen has included dozens of meetings and side-events expressly devoted to the ethical dimensions of climate change. In addition claims that climate change raises ethical issues have also been frequently heard in other Copenhagen meetings and events devoted to other topics. Clearly, developing countries and NGOs have been successful in turning up the volume on the ethical dimensions of climate change.
Of course, one occasionally heard that climate change triggers ethical issues at prior climate change COPs, yet here in Copenhagen it is as if the ethical, justice, and human rights dimensions of climate change has become the central organizing principle for resolving climate change disputes. As we shall see, this development has important practical consequences.

However, despite the apparent growing recognition that climate change is an ethical, justice, and human rights issue, many nations continue to negotiate as if national economic interest alone is a sufficient justification for domestic climate change policies on the slate of Copenhagen issues under consideration including greenhouse gas emissions reduction commitments, and funding adaptation, technological transfer, and programs that will prevent deforestation. Yet, if climate change is an ethical issue, several practical consequences follow.

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The Collaborative Program on the Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change Issues Report to Press at COP-15

Editor’s Note: The Collaborative Program on the Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change (EDCC), a program comprised of 17 ethics institutions whose secretariat is Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State University, held several events at the United Nations 15th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, (COP-15). At a press conference on December 11, EDCC issued the following statement about the ethical dimensions of issues on the Copenhagen negotiating agenda and the failure of some nations to approach the Copenhagen negotiating agenda as an ethical issue.

Ethics: Crucial Missing Element in Negotiations: Duties and Responsibilities, Not Just Narrow National Economic Interest


Climate justice is a welcome theme at the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its related instruments, including those being discussed at Copenhagen, include ethical principles that are meant to guide the implementation of the treaty framework. What we see instead is that too many Parties are ignoring climate justice, and even the ethical principles embedded in the treaty and acting instead out of narrow self interest.
If parties recognized and acted on their ethical duties, obligations, and responsibilities when negotiating the Copenhagen text certain issues still under negotiation could be more easily resolved.

Long-term vision and national commitments

If parties acted on ethical principles in the negotiations on long-term vision and national commitments, we contend they would:
• Take a position based not only on their domestic economic interests, but acknowledge their duties and obligations to those most vulnerable to climate change including future generations. Given this, nations that do not support limiting additional warming to the lowest achievable target should be required to justify their position.
• Acknowledge that the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities and protection of the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations should guide mitigation commitments.
• Recognize that an atmospheric stabilization goal will affect not only health and the environment but also, the availability of natural resources on which life depends, and the very existence of some counties. Given this, national economic interest alone is an ethically bankrupt justification for national positions on long-term vision and national emissions reduction targets.
• Make commitments on national emissions targets that would represent their fair share of total global emissions necessary to achieve the atmospheric concentration goals mindful of the fact that scientists now believe that global emissions must peak in the next few years and be reduced by 25% to 40% by 2020.
• Furthermore, mitigation commitments must consider the biosphere as a whole – what has been called the commonwealth of life.


Ethical considerations should also guide the way adaptation issues are being debated. For example:
• Ethical considerations argue for the development of a process for overseeing adaptation efforts that is participatory, that is, represented by individuals from all geographic areas, and include the active input from all interested parties, especially the most vulnerable parties experiencing the most severe impacts of climate change, as well as transparent. Furthermore, distributive justice concerns must structure decisions as to which countries are eligible for funding for adaptation projects and how much funding can be so requested.
• The current text being negotiated leaves unresolved the status of ethical principles that are well established in the UNFCCC such as the precautionary principle; the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities; and the polluter pays principle, leaving it uncertain whether the obligations are binding (shall) or voluntary (should). Also included in this section and still up for negotiation is the status of the claims that the adaptation decisions be guided by the best available science and traditional knowledge, and include all relevant stakeholders in a participatory and gender-sensitive manner. Ethical considerations would require that all of these principles become binding obligations.
• Also currently up for debate is the strength of the commitment that financial support for adaptation be in addition to resources provided by developed country parties to meet their official development assistance (ODA) targets. Ethics would demand that the adaptation funds are in addition to the ODA funding.
• We commend the ethical integrity of the negotiating text for adaptation in upholding the polluter pays principle. This principle implies distinct and essential duties and responsibilities for both mitigation and adaptation. In regard to adaptation, it maintains that polluters compensate those affected by unavoidable and unavoided harms and. However, the fact that adaptation has been elevated to the position of importance that it has in the current negotiations is an indication of the failure to date to mitigate climate change as well as a clear expression of the fact that developing nations have demanded that justice concerns be an essential element of the negotiating text and taken on such importance.


Negotiations on REDD should also be guided by the demands of justice. For example:
• REDD protects forests in order to reduce greenhouse gases. Justice demands that developed countries support programs that effectively reduce deforestation.
• The draft REDD text contains promising ethical language, including obligations to “respect the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and members of local communities” and promote “the full and effective participation of all relevant stakeholders.” Some positions on REDD could lead to practices that endanger the livelihoods and traditions of indigenous peoples who depend upon forest resources. Procedural justice therefore requires that the REDD process be participatory and transparent and equitable in terms of how burdens and benefits are distributed.
• Some positions on REDD could undermine biodiversity though the support of such practices as monoculture plantations. This raises ethical issues regarding our duties to future generations as well as to the biosphere as a whole.
• Many ethical questions remain about accountability, implementation, measurements, and funding. In addition, timely and appropriate support for capacity building is essential to ensuring that a broad range of developing countries can participate in the REDD mechanism. These principles need to be articulated in a clearer and more compelling fashion if they are to inspire the trust and confidence of the peoples of the world and help to propel the changes in behavior that all citizens must embrace. Difficult as the necessary ethical choices may be, a consensus can be achieved if principles that have already been agreed to are strengthened and deepened.


Although there is growing acceptance that the issues issue being debated in Copenhagen must be understood as raising profound moral and ethical issues, it is clear that some parties continue to base their decisions on national economic interest.

The time has come to demand that nations be required to formulate policies in response to the climate change crisis on the basis of what justice requires. Therefore, we call on citizens around the world to demand that all nations accept their obligations and responsibilities to not harm others or the natural resources on which they depend. The press can play an important role in transforming how issues such as these we have discussed today are debated by asking those nations who appear to support their position based on national economic interest to justify their failure to accept their duties and responsibilities to others.

The Collaborative Program on the Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change (EDCC) is comprised of seventeen institutions around the world working on climate change ethics, with secretariat at the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State University. For further information contact Don Brown dab57@psu.edu or Nancy Tuana ntuana@psu.edu

Ethical Issues in the Use of Cost-Benefit Analysis of Climate Change Programs

I. Introduction

Economic analysis of climate change issues can help policy makers in many ways including identification of the least costly methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and how to structure incentives to encourage society’s maximum reduction of carbon footprints. Without doubt, economic analyses of climate change reduction strategies are vital to finding the most efficient solutions to human-induced climate change’s immense threat. The more low-cost solutions to climate change are found, the more hope there is to reduce climate change’s immense menace. Yet there are ethical limits to the use of some economic arguments frequently made in opposition to proposed government action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) of some environmental regulatory programs can help identify proposed market regulatory interventions whose costs significantly outweigh environmental benefits. Yet CBA of some government environmental programs including climate change emissions reduction strategies often ignore serious ethical limitations on the use of this tool to guide climate change policy.

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