Ethics and Climate

Donald Brown

Ethics and Climate - Donald Brown

A Call for Researchers on A Project On Deepening National Responses to Climate Change On The Basis of Ethics and Justice

This is a call for researchers in different nations to investigate how national debates about climate change policies have expressly considered or not ethics and justice issues in formulating climate policies. So far we have researchers who have committed to produce papers on Australia, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Equator, Germany, Ghana, India, Japan, Kenya, Netherlands, Nigeria, Malawi, Mauritius, Marshall Islands, Nepal, Panama, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom, and USA.

We are also looking for researchers from other nations.

The following description of the project:

  • explains the purpose and urgency of the research,
  • includes a research template that includes 10 questions that entail the research questions to be answered,
  • describes procedures for researchers who wish to become involved,
  • explains that the research will become part of a peer-reviewed publication to be published initially as a book and later as an ongoing web-based project, and
  • identifies additional guidelines on producing the research papers.

This new project has been organized by Widener University School of Law, Environmental Law Center and the University of Auckland, School of Architecture and Planning. As the following explains, those interested in participating in the research project should email Prue Taylor at the University of Aukland at and Donald Brown at Widener University School of Law at indicating your interest and the nation you will research.

Research Project on Ethics and Justice in Formulating

A.    The Need for Research

This program will encourage researchers around the world to investigate how individual nations have or have not taken ethics and justice into account in their national responses to climate change.

There is widespread agreement among many observers of international attempts to achieve a global solution to climate change that there is little hope of preventing dangerous climate change unless nations take their equity and justice obligations into account in setting national responses to climate change. In ratifying the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), nations agreed to adopt policies and measures based upon “equity” to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.  Yet, many nations continue to make national commitments under the UNFCCC as if national economic self-interest rather than ethical obligations is an adequate basis for determining national policies on climate change.  As a result there is a huge gap between national commitments to reduce greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions that have been made thus far under the UNFCCC and global ghg emissions reductions that are necessary to limit warming to 2 oC, a warming limit that has been agreed to by the international community as necessary to prevent very dangerous climate change.

The research agenda outlined below seeks to develop information and analyses that could be helpful in ensuring that nations take equity and justice seriously when making national commitments on climate change.  Experience with international human rights regimes demonstrates that national performance on ethical and justice issues can be improved through the development of publically available records of national compliance with justice obligations. If records were available on national compliance with ethical obligations for climate change, they could be used both by the international community to pressure nations to improve performance on their climate change ethical obligations and also create a factual basis that could be used by citizens within the nation to ensure that the national climate change policies consider ethical obligations in setting their emissions targets. Currently there is no international database on how nations have taken equity and justice into account in setting national ghg reduction target or other wise responded to the ethical dimensions of climate change.

This research project calls upon researchers around the world to examine the issues outlined in the template below.

This is a project of Widener University School of Law and the University of Auckland who will manage the project and provide results to interested governments, NGOs students and citizens and publish the research and summaries of this work.

B.    Research Template

Focusing on a nation’s response to climate change in respect to policies adopted or under consideration, the researcher will examine the following issues, ideally over at least the last 5 years:

  1. To what extent has the national debate about how the nation should respond to climate change by setting a ghg emissions reduction target expressly considered that the nation not only has economic interests in setting the target but also ethical obligations to those who are most vulnerable to climate change and that any national ghg emission reduction target must represent the nation’s fair share of safe global emission.  In answering this question, identify the national ghg emissions reduction target, if any, that the nation has committed to under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
  2. In making a national commitment to reduce ghg emissions under the UNFCCC, to what extent, if at all, has the nation explained how it took equity and justice into consideration in setting its ghg emissions reduction target.
  3. Given that any national ghg emissions target is implicitly a position on achieving an atmospheric ghg concentration that will avoid dangerous climate change, to what extent has the nation identified the ghg atmospheric concentration stabilization level that the national emissions reduction target seeks to achieve in cooperation with other nations.
  4. Given that any national ghg emissions target is implicitly a position on the nation’s fair share of safe global emissions, to what extent has the nation identified the ethical and justice considerations that it took into account in allocating a percentage of global ghg emissions to the nation through the identification of a ghg emissions reduction commitment.
  5. To what extent, if at all, has the nation acknowledged that nation’s emitting ghg above their its share of safe global emissions have a responsibility to fund reasonable adaptation measures or unavoidable losses and damages in poor developing countries.
  6. What formal mechanisms are available in the nation for citizens, NGOs and other interested organizations to question/contest the nation’s ethical position on climate change?
  7. How is the concept of climate justice understood by the current government? Have they articulated any position on climate justice issues that arise in setting ghg emissions policy or in regard to the adaptation needs of vulnerable nations or people?
  8. Are you aware of any regional, state, provincial, or local governments in your country that has acknowledged some ethical responsibility for climate change? If so, what have they said?
  9. Has your national government taken any position on or other wise encouraged individuals, businesses, organizations, subnational governments, or other entities that they have some ethical duty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  10.  What recommendations would you make to get the nation or civil society to take ethics and justice issues seriously in climate change policy formulation?

C.   Procedures

Researchers interested in participating in this project should send an email to Prue Taylor  and Donald Brown at

Please indicate the country you will be working on and include a bio.

We will then acknowledge your willingness to participate and provide any additional information.

Questions should be directed to Prue Taylor or Donald Brown at above email.

First drafts of Report due September 5th. 2014

D.  Additional Guidelines for Research Papers.

  • Each paper should be limited to 8 single spaced pages (16 doubled spaced) or about 3000 words.
  •  First drafts of the  papers should be submitted  by September 5, 2014 to myself and Prue Taylor from the University of Auckland for those researchers that desire to be published in the initial book on the topic.
  • Research papers received after this date will be published on the project website which is under construction. We expect this work will continue to be updated by additional papers on the website and that eventually the website will be the main method of publishing the research work.
  • Approximately the first 10 papers which are relieved and pass a quality control review will be published in the initial book which is part of phase one of this project.
  • All papers should follow the format of Earthcan/Routledge which follows.

Format guidelines for authors:

The following guidelines are provided to help you in the preparation of your manuscript,

• Text files must be supplied as Word documents containing plain text with no formatting (such as linked footnotes, section numbers, etc.) and no embedded images.

• Please use Oxford English spelling: -ize endings for words such as ‘organize’ and ‘dramatization’; ‘analyse’, not ‘analyze’; ‘colour’, not ‘color’; ‘labelling’, not ‘labeling’, etc.

• Figures and tables must have captions, e.g. Figure 1.1 The poverty spiral. Note the convention of giving the number in bold and the caption in italics.

• Tables should appear in the chapter file, at the appropriate point in the text, with the caption above the table and note and source (if applicable) below. If the table is particularly large or complex it may be best to supply it as a separate file, as for figures.

• Figures must be supplied as separate files (i.e. not embedded within the text files) with the filename clearly identifying it, e.g. Figure 1-1.jpg for Figure 1.1. Preferred file types are jpeg or tif. Try to avoid sending images embedded in Word documents. Please supply line diagrams and graphs in black and white only (not colour) unless you have specific agreement that they will be printed in colour. The text file should just include the caption (and source and note if applicable) in the appropriate place in the text to indicate the correct position for the typesetter.

• Image size, when resolution is set to 300dpi, should be as close as possible to the size at which the image is likely to appear in the book. Often this will mean a width of 120mm, although it obviously depends on the chosen dimensions for the book.

• Provide full details of source for figures and tables, even if the work is your own. You must obtain permission for Earthscan/Routledge to use any material you submit.

• Cite references in the text using the Harvard system of author name and date. For three or more authors use the first author’s name followed by et al. If citing more than one reference consecutively put them in date order, e.g. (Heard, 1984; Heard and Tyler, 1989, 1995; Adams, 1998; Adams et al, 1998).

• Follow the style of referencing in the following examples:

Dyer, C. (1996) ‘Evidence rules plea rejected’, The Guardian, 10 July, p4

Edwards, M. F. and Hulme, D. (1992) Making a Difference, Earthscan, London

Hawken, P. (1996) ‘A teasing irony’, in R. Welford and R. Starkey (eds) The Earthscan Reader in Business and the Environment, Earthscan, London

Hawken, P. and James, M. R. (1995) ‘Biodiversity to go: The hidden costs of beef consumption’, Chinese Biodiversity, vol 4, no 3, pp145–152

Joly, C. (2001) ‘Is enlightened capitalism possible?’,, accessed 30 January 2002

Jones, A. (1984a) ‘Sustainability and the environment’, PhD thesis, University of Kent at Canterbury, UK

Jones, A. (1984b) Environmental Sustainability, Smith Press, Sunyani, Ghana

• Notes should be placed at the end of your contribution under their own section. Please do not use footnotes or automatic notes/note numbering.

Additional Formatting Instructions


The following guidelines are provided to help you in the preparation of your manuscript, and to ensure the book’s smooth progress through the editorial production process. The most important points are summarized below, while the following pages go into more detail

• TEXT FILES must be supplied as Word documents containing plain text with no formatting (such as linked footnotes, section numbers, etc.) and no embedded images.

• FIGURES must be supplied as separate files (i.e. not embedded within the text files) and should be clearly and logically labelled with the same name as is used to refer to the figure in the text file (see following pages for the best way to label figures). Do not send duplicate or extraneous images. The image files supplied should be all, and only, those to appear in the book



• Electronic files for both text and figures can be supplied to you editor and editorial assistant as attachments by e-mail. If the figures add up to more than about 10MB in total it is likely to be simpler to supply them by posting them on a CD.

• Please save the text using one Word document for each chapter. Additional material such as the contents or list of figures should also be supplied using a separate document for each, clearly labelled.

• Please advise the editor if anything is missing and has to be supplied at a later date. Often we can start production work on a book with the knowledge that, for example, the acknowledgements will be supplied later. It is important to know exactly what is missing and when you will be able to supply it in order to be sure that it will not disrupt the production schedule.



• Please do not insert linked footnotes/endnotes, embedded figures or any other complicated coding.

• The whole text file should be in plain 12-point type, double-spaced. Avoid unnecessary carriage returns; one carriage return at the end of a paragraph is sufficient. Do not use larger type or bold/italic for headings – see note below on distinguishing levels of heading. Bold and italic should be used only within the main text where necessary (see notes below under House Style heading)



• Avoid numbering your headings unless the text is complex and would be confusing to follow without reference to numbered headings.

• Code them clearly with square bracket tags according to the level of emphasis needed, i.e. ‘[a]’ for the most important headings, ‘[b]’ for the next sub-level and so on. Do not leave a space after the tag and the text that it codes. For example:

[a]Public policy

[b]Green taxes

[c]The EU carbon tax

• It is fine if you only need to use [a] and [b] headings, or even just [a] headings. It is best to avoid more than four levels of heading (i.e. [a], [b], [c] and [d]).


• You may wish to have bulleted or numbered lists. Only use the latter where there is a clear hierarchy in the list entries, or if the preceding statement warrants it (e.g. ‘There are four points to be borne in mind…’).

• Avoid lists with very long entries – it is often less confusing to use subheadings.

• Insert one hard carriage return before and after the list (i.e. one line space above and below) and a tag at the start indicating either bulleted list or numbered list.

• Numbers followed by one character space will indicate a numbered list:

1 First point in a numbered list

2 Second point in a numbered list

3 Third point in a numbered list.


• Bulleted lists should have a double asterisk to represent each new point:

** First point in a bulleted list

** Second point in a bulleted list

** Third point in a bulleted list.


• Figures and tables must have captions, e.g. Figure 1.1 The poverty spiral. Note the convention of giving the number in bold and the caption in italics.

• Tables should appear in the chapter file, at the appropriate point in the text, with the caption (and note and source if applicable) above the table. If the table is particularly large or complex it may be best to supply it as a separate file, as for figures.

• Figures must be supplied separately (see below for more about this) so the text file should just include the caption (and source and note if applicable) in the appropriate place in the text to indicate the correct position for the typesetter. If the figure is referred to in the text the position should obviously be as near as possible to that mention.

• Provide full details of source, even if the work is your own. You must obtain permission for Earthscan/Routledge to use any material you submit (see note on Permissions, below).


• Do not use any special formatting for boxes.

• As for tables and figure captions, boxes should be included within the text file at the point in the text at which they are intended to appear.

• Insert the square bracket tags [!box!]’ and [!box ends!] at the start and finish of the box text.

• Insert a caption at the top of the box (i.e. below the [!box!] tag and above the box text), e.g. Box 3.4 Information about boxes


• Notes will be grouped together as endnotes, either at the end of each chapter or in one section, grouped by chapter, at the back of the book. The sequence of numbers in each chapter should start at ‘1’ rather than having one consecutive list throughout the entire book.

• Do not use automatic footnote and endnote features in Word.

• Number the notes consecutively with Arabic numerals, ie ‘1’, ‘2’.

• List the notes at the end of your chapter under an [a]-level heading ‘Notes’.

• The superscript note number in the main text should be placed after punctuation, such as when it comes at the end of a sentence or refers to bracketed text. For example:

The revised tests (based on research carried out in the early 1970s)1,2 were adopted worldwide.3



• If you quote material from another author’s work, please make sure that you have quoted the passages correctly and supplied an accurate reference. References will be grouped together at the end of each chapter, or at the back of the book grouped by chapter.

• Cite references in the text using the Harvard system of author name and date. For three or more authors use the first author’s name followed by et al. If citing more than one reference consecutively put them in date order, e.g. (Heard, 1984; Heard and Tyler, 1989, 1995; Adams, 1998; Adams et al, 1998).

• We prefer to avoid use of op cit, ibid and idem. Please simply repeat the citation as appropriate.

• Include page references where possible, if it will help the reader. They can be either with the citation in the text (e.g. Heard, 1984, p21) or at the end of the full reference; including them with the short citation allows you to use several citations for different pages of a publication with one reference at the end.

• List your references at the end of each chapter under an [a]-level heading ‘References’. They should be in alphabetical order by surname of author. In this full list of references, include the names of all authors (not ‘et al’).

• If more than one work by the same author is referenced, these should be in date order. Use letters beside the year of publication if two or more by the same author appeared in the same year, as in the Jones examples below; make sure that the citation in the text includes the correct letter).

• Book publications must include both the publisher’s name and their location (town or city), stating the country as well as the if it is not obvious. For American publishers we prefer the town/city name to be followed by the two-letter state abbreviation, e.g. Boston, MA

• Internet references should give an exact URL for what is referred to rather than just a home page address, and include a note of when the page was accessed (see Jones, 1984a below). Often it is not possible to be sure of date of publication, in which case put ‘(undated)’. If something has both a print and a web reference (as for many newspaper articles) please give a full print reference if possible, and the URL can be added on the end optionally.


It is the author’s responsibility to clear permission to reproduce material protected by copyright; the publisher is indemnified against breaches of copyright by the author in the contract. It is usually considered unnecessary to clear permission for text extracts shorter than 400 words, but if you are in any doubt, check with the copyright holder.


Avoid using material which may give offence to readers. Racist and sexist remarks are unacceptable; please avoid sexual stereotypes. It is the author’s responsibility to check the accuracy of the material before it reaches the publisher. It is particularly important that any defamatory or potentially libellous material is checked carefully by a lawyer with competence in that field, and revised as necessary.




• We prefer to receive files as tif, jpeg or eps format. Please check with us if you intend to submit figures in other file formats. It is best to avoid using Word documents with photographs or other image files embedded in them; it will result in additional work and poorer quality.

• We can accept hard copy (e.g. photographs or transparencies) although the cost of scanning them to produce an electronic file may be passed on (see next point).

• If figures are not supplied in the ideal format or to specifications outlined below we are likely to need to carry out additional work on the files or have the figure redrawn, and the cost of this is usually passed on to the author.



• Please provide figures to be reproduced in monochrome as black and white (‘grayscale’) images, and provide colour figures as CMYK, not RGB.

• Image size, when resolution is set to 300dpi, should be as close as possible to the size at which the image is likely to appear in the book. Often this will mean a width of 120mm, although it obviously depends on the chosen dimensions for the book.

• Save each image file using the name of the figure as referred to in the chapter text, e.g. ‘Figure 1.1.tif’. If a Figure is made up of multiple images they may be saved as ‘Figure 1.1a.tif’, ‘Figure 1.1b.tif’, etc.

• If you are creating a diagram, graph, etc. yourself, it’s preferable to use 8pt Helvetica font for any labelling (assuming the figure is at the correct size). Do not include the figure caption, source or notes in the illustration. These will be inserted in the appropriate position in the main text


Please write clearly, with your intended audience in mind, so that your text is accessible to the appropriate level of readership. Jargon is acceptable in technical texts, but should be kept to a minimum in more general texts, and should be explained thoroughly on first usage.


• Use ‘ize’/’ization’ rather than ‘ise’/’isation’ spellings for words like realize, organization, specialize etc. Note that some words – generally those that don’t stem from Latin – cannot take ‘ize’, e.g. analyse, comprise, revise (check in an Oxford English Dictionary if in doubt). However, ‘ise’/’isation’ spellings in certain proper names should be retained (e.g. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).

• Use UK English rather than US English.


• Keep to a minimum. Don’t use capitals for words like ‘company’ or ‘manager’. Use lower case for generic references (‘European universities’); capitals for specifics (‘the University of Bristol’)


• Spell out in full the first time that they are used, e.g. ‘International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)’. Thereafter, the short form only need be given.

• Extremely common abbreviations need not be explained, e.g. TV, CD, BBC.

• Please provide a list of all acronyms and abbreviations used


• Italics are no longer used for common foreign words or phrases (et al, inter alia etc.), but may be used for more obscure ones.

• Italics should be used for the names of books, newspapers, journals, paintings, plays, films, TV series and ships (government papers or policy statements usually appear in inverted commas). The rule is essentially that anything that is a complete thing in itself takes italics (and initial capital for all main words) whereas anything that is part of a work (e.g. a chapter in a book, an article in a journal, a poem from a collection, a particular episode of a TV series) should be unitalicized but within inverted commas.

• Use italics sparingly for emphasis.

• Bold should be used very sparingly. It can be useful in adding your own emphasis within a quoted passage (in which case note ‘[emphasis added]’ at end of quote) and to highlight terms in, for example, a glossary or a lis


• Use metric units with no space between the numeral and abbreviation, e.g. ‘3055km’.

• Currencies other than £, euros or US$ should be converted to one of those three currencies and used instead of or (in brackets) in addition to the currency referred to.

• Use a comma as a separator in numbers over 9999, e.g. 41,500. However no comma is necessary for lower values.


• Do not use a comma before the penultimate entry in a list, e.g. use ‘rats, mice, gerbils and guinea pigs’, not ‘rats, mice, gerbils, and guinea pigs’.

• Use single quotation marks to denote speech; only use double quotation marks when speech is being reported within an extant set of quotation marks.

• No full stops after contractions such as Dr, Mr, Ms, ed for editor, BUT full stops after etc., or in e.g., i.e., and after initials of people’s names: J. B. Smith)



• There is no need for ‘http://’ before ‘www’; e.g. ‘’ not ‘’. But keep the full form in URLs such as

• Punctuate as normal, i.e. if a web address comes at the end of a sentence in the main text it should take a full stop but not if it comes at the end of a reference.

If there are questions about format issues please direct to Prue Taylor


Donald A. Brown

Scholar In Residence and Professor

Widener University School Of Law


Prue Taylor

Deputy Director

New Zealand Center for Environmental Law

University of Auckland

Auckland, New Zealand






Improving IPCC Working Group III’s Analysis on Climate Ethics and Equity, Second In A Series.


jutice climate


This is the second in a three part series examining the ethical and justice issues discussed by the IPCC Working Group III in its 5th Assessment Report (AR5) . In the first entry in  this series we concluded that although the recent IPCC AR 5 Working Group III report is laudable improvement over prior IPCC reports in regard to identifying ethical and equity issues that should be considered in developing climate change policy, some criticisms are also warranted of how IPCC has articulated the significance and implications of the ethical, justice, and equity principles that should guide nations in developing climate change policies.

In short, we will argue improvement is possible in how IPCC deals with ethics, justice, and equity issues entailed by climate change policy-making despite very significant improvements on these matters in the AR5 report compared to prior IPCC reports.

In this entry we will examine several preliminary ethical and justice issues raised by the new IPCC Working Group III Chapter 3, on Social, Economic, and Ethical Concepts.  The last entry will continue the examination Chapter 3 and then turn to Chapter 4 on Sustainable Development and Equity.

As a preliminary matter, one of the challenges that IPCC faces in its mandate on of ethics and justice issues relevant to climate change policy-making is that it is not IPCC’s role to be prescriptive in deciding what governments should do. It’s mandate is to synthesize the extant social-economic and scientific literature for policy-makers. In this regard, the IPCC chapter on ethics said expressly:

This chapter does not attempt to answer ethical questions, but rather provides policymakers with the tools (concepts, principles, arguments, and methods) to make decisions. (IPCC, 2014.WG III, Ch. 3, pg. 10)

And so it is not IPCC’s role to do ethical analyses of policy issues that raise ethical questions. IPCC can, however, distinguish between prescriptive and descriptive questions that arise in relevant socio-economic literature about climate policy-making, identify important ethical and justice issues that arise in this literature, where there is a consensus on ethics and justice issues in the relevant literature describe the consensus position, where there is no consensus on ethical and justice issues describe the range of reasonable views on these issues, and identify hard and soft law legal principles relevant to how governments should resolve ethical and justice issues that must be faced by policy-makers.

There are several subjects in climate change policy-making which raise important ethical and justice issues. They include policy judgements about:

  1. how much warming will be tolerated, a matter which is implicit but rarely identified when nations make ghg emissions reduction commitments,
  2. any nation’s fair share of safe global emissions, matters which are referred to by the IPCC usually as burden-sharing or effort-sharing considerations and a matter taken up in chapter 4 of IPCC, Working Group III chapter on sustainability and equity,
  3. any nation’s responsibility for funding reasonable adaptation and compensation for losses and damages for those who are harmed by climate change,
  4. when a nation is responsible for its ghg emissions given differences in historical and per capita emissions among nations,
  5. responsibility for funding technology transfer to poor nations,
  6. how to evaluate the effects on and responsibilities to others of climate change technologies that are adopted in response to the threat of climate change, including such technologies as geo-engineering or nuclear power, for instance,
  7. who has a right to participate in climate change policy-making, a topic usually referred to under the topic of procedural justice,
  8. the policy implications of human rights violations caused by climate change,
  9. the responsibility of not only nations but subnational governments, entities, organizations, and individuals for climate change,
  10. when economic analyses of climate change policy options can prescribe or limit national duties or obligations to respond to the threat of climate change,
  11. ethical and justice implications of decisions must be made in the face of scientific uncertainty,
  12. whether action or non-action of other nations is relevant to any nation’s responsibility for climate change,
  13. how to spend limited funds on climate change adaptation,
  14. when politicians may rely on their own uninformed opinion about climate change science,
  15. who is responsible for climate refugees and what their responsibilities are.

nw book advOn some of these issues, the recent IPCC report included a good summary of the extant ethical literature, on other issues important gaps in IPCC’s analysis can be identified, and lastly on a few of these issues, IPCC Working Group III is silent. IPCC reports cannot be expected to be exhaustive on these matters and therefore gaps and omissions in the IPCC reports in regard to ethics and justice issues relevant to policy-making is not necessarily a criticism of IPCC and is here pointed out only for future consideration. In fact, IPCC’s work on the ethical limits of economic arguments is a particularly important contribution to the global climate change debate. What is worthy of criticism, however, is if IPCC’s conclusions on guidance for policy-makers is misleading on ethics and justice issues.

II. Ethical Issues Raised by Economic Arguments About Climate Policy

Perhaps the most important practical ethical and justice issues raised by Working Group III’s work on ethics is its conclusions on the ethical and justice limitations of economic analyses of climate change policy options. This topic is enormously practically important because nations and others who argue against proposed climate change policies usually rely on various economic arguments which often completely ignore the ethical and justice limitations of these arguments (In the case of the United States, see Brown, 2012.) Because most citizens and policy-makers have not been trained in spotting ethically dubious claims that are often hidden in what appear at first glance to be “value-neutral” economic arguments, IPCC’s acknowledgement of the ethical limitations of economic arguments is vitally important.  It is also practically important because the first four IPCC reports, although not completely ignoring all ethical and justice problems with economic arguments about climate change policies, failed to examine the vast majority of ethical problems with economic arguments against climate change policies while making economic analyses of climate change policies the primary focus of Working Group III’s work thereby  leaving the strong impression that economic analyses, including but not limited to cost-benefit analyses, is the preferred way to evaluate the sufficiency of proposed climate change policies.  On this matter, the AR5 report has made important clarifications.

The AR5 III report included a section on this very issue entitled: Economics, Rights, and Duties which we reproduce here it  its entirety because of its importance to this discussion,  followed by comments in bold italics:

Economics can measure and aggregate human wellbeing, but Sections 3.2, 3.3 and 3.4 explain that wellbeing may be only one of several criteria for choosing among alternative mitigation policies.

Other ethical considerations are not reflected in economic valuations, and those considerations may be extremely important for particular decisions that have to be made. For example, some have contended that countries that have emitted a great deal of GHG in the past owe restitution to countries that have been harmed by their emissions. If so, this is an important consideration in determining how much finance rich countries should provide to poorer countries to help with their mitigation efforts. It suggests that economics alone cannot be used to determine who should bear the burden of mitigation.

What ethical considerations can economics cover satisfactorily? Since the methods of economics are concerned with value, they do not take into account of justice and rights in general. However, distributive justice can be accommodated within economics, because it can be understood as a value: specifically the value of equality. The theory of fairness within economics (Fleurbaey, 2008) is an account of distributive justice. It assumes that the level of distributive justice within a society is a function of the wellbeings of individuals, which means it can be reflected in the aggregation of wellbeing. In particular, it may be measured by the degree of inequality in wellbeing, using one of the standard measures of inequality such as the Gini coefficient (Gini, 1912), as discussed in the previous section. The Atkinson measure of inequality (Atkinson, 1970) is based on an additively separable social welfare function (SWF), and is therefore particularly appropriate for representing the prioritarian theory described in Section 3.4.6 . Furthermore, distributive justice can be reflected in weights incorporated into economic evaluations as Section 3.6 explains.

Simply identifying the level of inequality using the Gini Index does not assure that the harms and benefits of climate change policies will be distributed justly. For that a theory of just distribution is needed. The Gini index is also at such a level of abstraction that it is very difficult to use it as a way of thinking about the justice obligations to those most vulnerable to climate change. Even if there is strong economic equality in a nation measured by the Gini index, one cannot conclude that climate change policies are distributively just.

Economics is not well suited to taking into account many other aspects of justice, including compensatory justice. For example, a CBA might not show the drowning of a Pacific island as a big loss, since the island has few inhabitants and relatively little economic activity. It might conclude that more good would be done in total by allowing the island to drown: the cost of the radical action that would be required to save the island by mitigating climate change globally would be much greater than the benefit of saving the island. This might be the correct conclusion in terms of overall aggregation of costs and benefits. But the island’s inhabitants might have a right not to have their homes and livelihoods destroyed as a result of the GHG emissions of richer nations far away. If that is so, their right may override the conclusions of CBA. It may give those nations who emit GHG a duty to protect the people who suffer from it, or at least to make restitution to them for any harms they suffer.

Even in areas where the methods of economics can be applied in principle, they cannot be accepted without question (Jamieson, 1992; Sagoff, 2008). Particular simplifying assumptions are always required, as shown throughout this chapter. These assumptions are not always accurate or appropriate, and decision‐makers need to keep in mind the resulting limitations of the economic analyses. For example, climate change will shorten many people’s lives. This harm may in principle be included within a CBA, but it remains highly contentious how that should be done. Another problem is that, because economics can provide concrete, quantitative estimates of some but not all values, less quantifiable considerations may receive less attention than they deserve.

This discussion does not adequately capture serious ethical problems with translating all values into monetary units measured by willingness to pay or its surrogates nor that such transformation may greatly distort ethical obligations to do no harm into changes in commodity value.

The extraordinary scope and scale of climate change raises particular difficulties for economic methods (Stern, forthcoming). First, many of the common methods of valuation in economics are best designed for marginal changes, whereas some of the impacts of climate change and efforts at mitigation are not marginal (Howarth and Norgaard, 1992). Second, the very long time scale of climate change makes the discount rate crucial at the same time as it makes it highly controversial (see Section 3.6.2 ). Third, the scope of the problem means it encompasses the world’s extremes of wealth and poverty, so questions of distribution become especially important and especially difficult. Fourth, measuring non‐market values—such as the existence of species, natural environments, or traditional ways of life of local societies—is fraught with difficulty. Fifth, the uncertainty that surrounds climate change is very great. It includes the likelihood of irreversible changes to societies and to nature, and even a small chance of catastrophe. This degree of uncertainty sets special problems for economics. (Nelson, 2013) (IPCC, 2014.WG III, Ch. 3, pg. 12-13)

Again this discussion does not adequately describe the ethical problems with economic determinations of all values. In fact it leaves the impression that if non-market values can be discovered the problems of transforming all values to commodity values are adequately dealt with.

Chapter 3, also includes additional statements about the ethical limits of economic reasoning sprinkled throughout the chapter. They include:

1. Most normative analyses of solutions to the climate problem implicitly involve contestable ethical assumptions.(IPCC, 2014. WG III, Ch. 3, pg.10)

2. However, the methods of economics are limited in what they can do. They can be based on ethical principles, as Section 3.6 explains. But they cannot take account of every ethical principle. They are suited to measuring and aggregating the wellbeing of humans, but not to taking account of justice and rights (with the exception of distributive justice − see below), or other values apart from human wellbeing. (IPCC, 2014.WG III, Ch. 3, pg. 24)

And so Chapter 3 of the IPCC report contains a number or clear assertions  about the ethical limitations of economic arguments. However there are important gaps missing from this analysis. Also several sections of Chapter 3 that can be interpreted as claims that policy makers are free to choose economic reasoning as justification for climate policies. That is, some of the text reads as if a policy-maker is free to choose whether to base policy  on economic or ethical and justice considerations, choosing between these two ways of evaluation is simply an option. Some of these provisions follow with responses in italics

Chapter 3 page 6 says:

Many different analytic methods are available for evaluating policies. Methods may be quantitative (for example, cost‐benefit analysis, integrated assessment modeling, and multi‐criteria analysis) or qualitative (for example, sociological and participatory approaches). However, no single best method can provide a comprehensive analysis of policies. A mix of methods is often needed to understand the broad effects, attributes, trade‐offs, and complexities of policy choices; moreover, policies often address multiple objectives  (IPCC, 2014.WG III, Ch. 3, pg. 6)

Although economic analyses can provide policy-makers with valuable information such as which technologies will achieve ethically determined goals at lowest cost, thereby providing criteria for making remedies cost-effective, there are serious ethical problems with cost-benefit analyses used prescriptively to set emissions reductions targets. Some of these are alluded to in IPCC Chapters 3 and 4, others are not acknowledged. Because of the prevalence of cost-benefit justifications for climate change policies, future IPCC reports could make a contribution by identifying all of the ethical issues raised by cost-benefit analyses.

 Any decision about climate change is likely to promote some values and damage others. These may  be values of very different sorts. In decision making, different values must therefore be put together or balanced against each other. (IPCC, 2014. WG III, Ch. 3, pg. 6)

This provision can be understood as condoning a consequentialist approach to climate policy that fails to acknowledge deontological limits. Since when any nation makes policy on climate change it affects poor people and vulnerable nations around the world, there are serious procedural justice issues which go unacknowledged in this section and,  for the most part, all throughout Chapter 3. Nowhere does the chapter acknowledge that when a climate policy is  under development at the national level,  nations have no right to compare costs to them of implementing policies  with the harms to others that have not consented to the method of valuation being used to determine quantitative value.

Ideally, emissions should be reduced in each place to just the extent that makes the marginal cost of further reductions the same everywhere. One way of achieving this result is to have a carbon price that is uniform across the world; or it might be approximated by a mix of policy instruments (see Section 3.8 ). (IPCC, 2014.WG III, Ch. 3, pg. 26)

This statement fails to acknowledge that emissions reductions amounts should be different in different places according to well accepted principles of distributive justice. Although other sections of the chapter acknowledge that responsibility for climate change is a matter of distributive justice, this section and others leave the impression that climate policy can be based upon economic efficiency grounds alone. The way to cure this problem is to continue to reference other sections that recognize ethical limits in setting policy on the basis of efficiency.

(IPCC, 2014.WG III, Ch. 3, pg. 6)

Since, for efficiency, mitigation should take place where it is cheapest, emissions of GHG should be reduced in many developing countries, as well as in rich ones. However, it does not follow that mitigation must be paid for by those developing countries; rich countries may pay for mitigation that takes place in poor countries. Financial flows between countries make it possible to separate the question of where mitigation should take place from the question of who should pay for it. Because mitigating climate change demands very large‐scale action, if put in place these transfers might become a significant factor in the international distribution of wealth. Provided appropriate financial transfers are made, the question of where mitigation should take place is largely a matter for the  economic theory of efficiency, tempered by ethical considerations. But the distribution of wealth is amatter of justice among countries, and a major issue in the politics of climate change (Stanton, 2011). It is partly a matter of distributive justice, which economics can take into account, but compensatory justice may also be involved, which is an issue for ethics. (Section 3.3).(IPCC, 2014.WG III, Ch. 3, pg. 26)

There are a host of  potential ethical problems with mitigation taking place in one part of the world to satisfy the ethical obligations of a nation in another part of the world which is emitting above its fair share of safe global emissions that are not mentioned in this article. Included in these problems are:

  • Environmental Sufficiency. There are many technical challenges in assuring that a project in one part of the world that seeks to reduce ghg by an amount that otherwise would be required of a polluter will actually succeed in achieving the reductions particularly when the method of reduction is reliant on biological removal of carbon.
  • Permanence. Many proposed projects for reducing carbon in one part of the world to offset reductions ethically required in another part of the world raise serious questions about whether the carbon reduced by the project will stay out of the atmosphere forever, a requirement that is required to achieve the environmental equivalence to ghg emissions reductions that would be achieved at the source.
  • Leakage. Many proposed projects used to offset emissions reductions of high-emitters raise serious questions about whether carbon reduced by a project at one location will result in actual reductions in emissions because the activity which is the subject of the offset is resumed at another location.
  • Additionality. A project that is proposed in another part of the world to offset emissions reductions of a high-emitting entity may not be environmentally effective if the project would have happened anyway for other reasons.
  • Allowing Delay In Investing In New Technology. The ability to rely on a cheaper emissions reductions project in another part of the world as a substitute of reducing emissions creates an excuse for high-emitting entities to delay investment in technologies that will reduce the pollution load. This may create a practical problem when emissions reductions obligations are tightened in the future. 

Chapter 3 also treats other important ethical issues that arise in climate change policy formation. They include:

3.3 Justice, equity and responsibility,

3.3.1 Causal and moral responsibility

3.3.2 Intergenerational justice and rights of future people

3.3.3 Intergenerational justice: distributive justice

3.3.4 Historical responsibility and distributive justice

3.3.5 Intra‐generational justice: compensatory justice and historical responsibility

3.3.6 Legal concepts of historical responsibility

3.3.7 Geoengineering, ethics, and justice

3.4 Values and wellbeing

3.4.1 Non‐human values

3.4.2 Cultural and social values

3.4.3 Wellbeing

3.4.4 Aggregation of wellbeing

3.4.5 Lifetime wellbeing

3.4.6 Social welfare functions

3.4.7 Valuing population

III. Some Additional Gaps In Chapter 3

Some of the gaps in Chapter 3 on ethical issues raised by climate change policy-making include: (1) ethics of decision-making in the face of scientific uncertainty, (2) whether action or non-action of other nations affects a nation’s responsibility for climate change, (3) how to spend limited funds on climate change adaptation, (4) when politicians may rely on their own uninformed opinion about climate change science, and (5) who is responsible to for climate refugees and what are their responsibilities.

The last entry in this series will continue the analyses of IPCC  Chapter 3 on Social, Economic, and Ethical Concepts and Chapter 4 on Sustainability and Equity.


Brown, 2012,  Navigating the Perfect Moral Storm: Climate Change Ethics In Light of a Thirty-Five Year Debate, Routledge-Earthscan, 2012

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2014, Working Group III, Mitigation of Climate Change, –


Donald A. Brown

Scholar In Reference and Professor

Sustainability Ethics and Law

Widener University School of  Law



A Picture To Help Citizens Understand the Justice and Equity Issues That Must Be Faced in Setting National GHG Emissions Targets.

 All nations, when they set national ghg emissions reductions targets, are implicitly taking a position on the following two civilization challenging ethical issues. The international community should require that all nations explicitly explain their positions on these two issues.

Bathtub revised 1pptx

Every national ghg emissions reduction target is implicitly a position on the two above civilization challenging ethical issues, although nations almost never identify the positions they have taken on these issues nor acknowledge that these are ethical matters. These issues are: (1) a ghg atmospheric concentration stabilization goal, and (2) the nation’s fair share of global ghg emissions that will achieve the atmospheric goal.  This picture seeks to help citizens understand these issues. Both of these issues are essentially ethical and moral issues.  This is so because in taking a position on an ghg atmospheric stabilization goal, a nation is determining how much harm it is willing to inflict on hundreds of millions of poor vulnerable people around the world and the ecological systems on which life depends. Also, in specifying a ghg emissions reduction amount, the nation is also taking a position on what distributive justice requires of it to reduce global ghg emissions to safe levels.

Governments should be required to explain their positions on these issues because every national ghg emissions reduction target is implicitly a position on these ethical questions.


Donald A. Brown

Scholar In Residence and Professor,

Widener University School of Law