Ethics are 'missing dimension' in climate debate, says IPCC head

September 23, 2009

NEW YORK, United States — The inequities and injustices that are likely to occur on a global level because of climate change mean that world leaders must carefully examine the moral and ethical dimensions of global warming, said Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"The impacts of climate change are going to be inequitable, unequal, and severe in many parts of the world," said Dr. Pachauri, who spoke today at a breakfast meeting at the Baha'i International Community offices.

"We have to think at a much higher level. And I think this is where ethics comes in so critically as the missing dimension in this debate," he said.

Dr. Pachauri's comments came at the official launch of an appeal, directed at world leaders gathered at this week's UN Summit on Climate Change, to emphasize the importance of the moral and ethical dimensions of global warming and its impact in their deliberations.

The appeal was drafted by the Baha'i International Community and has been signed by 25 nongovernmental organizations, religious groups, and policy institutes. The document calls on world leaders to "consider deeply the ethical and moral questions at the root of the climate change crisis."

"The quest for climate justice is not a competition for limited resources but part of an unfolding process towards greater degrees of unity among nations as they endeavor to build a sustainable, just and peaceful civilization," the appeal states.

Tahirih Naylor, a Baha'i representative to the United Nations, said the purpose of the document is to call attention to the fact that climate change is more than a political, economic and scientific problem.

"There is a moral and ethical dimension to climate change that must be addressed," said Ms. Naylor. "For example, we know that wealthy nations have contributed more to climate problems than the poor nations, and so there is an element of justice that must be considered in any long-term solution."

Dr. Pachauri said that while science can provide the building blocks for understanding the impact and likelihood of climate change, it will be important for citizens groups and individuals to provide the motivation for action.

"I feel you really cannot rely on the leaders, you really cannot rely on the nation states," he said. "You really need a groundswell of grassroots action and grassroots consciousness on what needs to be done. If that is happening, then leaders will follow."

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Dr. Pachauri called for a "groundswell of grassroots action" on what needs to be done to address the challenge of global warming. He spoke in New York as world leaders were gathering at the United Nations.

He encouraged the representatives of civil society gathered for the breakfast meeting to continue to work to keep the moral and ethical issues front and center in the climate debate.

"You have to persevere and persist," he said. "If you do, you certainly will be able to change the nature of the debate."

He said, especially, that the long term impact of climate change on future generations must be taken into account. "Ethics demands that action has to be taken early," he said.

Dr. Pachauri also said he expects that whatever its outcome, the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December is unlikely to be the final word on the subject.

"When the IPCC's fifth assessment comes out in 2013 or 2014, there will be a major revival of interest in action that has to be taken," said Dr. Pachauri, speaking of the periodic assessments rendered by the group of more than 400 scientists around the world that he leads. "People are going to say, 'My God, we are going to have to take action much faster than we had planned.'"

As chairman of the IPCC, Dr. Pachauri accepted the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded jointly to the IPCC and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore for their work in warning of the potential impact of global warming.

Among the organizations that have signed the appeal are the International Peace Research Association, Oxfam International, Society of Catholic Medical Missionaries, Solar Cookers International, Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural (WOCAN), and the Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO).

The document presented today is titled "Moral and Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change: Appeal to World Leaders." The text follows:

We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, leaders of the world's religions, and other members of civil society, urge the governments of the world to participate in the UN High Level Event on Climate Change through representatives at the highest level and unequivocally call on them to:

– Consider deeply the ethical and moral questions at the root of the climate change crisis-questions of justice and equity that will determine the survival of cultures, ecosystems, and present as well as future generations;

– Recognize that the quest for climate justice is not a competition for limited resources but part of an unfolding process towards greater degrees of unity among nations as they endeavor to build a sustainable, just and peaceful civilization;

– Distinguish their contributions to this High-Level Event by demonstrating trust, justice, solidarity, and a vision of prosperity for the most vulnerable populations;

– Demonstrate courage and moral leadership as they articulate the vision and secure the foundations for a comprehensive and legally binding agreement during the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCC and the 5th Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in December 2009; and

– Ensure that commitments in all arenas of the climate change challenge are guided by ethical and moral considerations so as to inspire the trust and confidence of individuals, communities and institutions to effect the changes needed to build a sustainable civilization.

We call on the gathered leaders to summon the same spirit and sense of urgency that led to the creation of the United Nations, to forge a climate change agreement worthy of the trust of humankind.

Baha'i International Community,

Company of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul,

Congregation of Notre Dame,

The Congregations of St. Joseph,

The Fellowship of Reconciliation,

Franciscans International,

GRATIS Foundation,

Initiatives of Change International,

International Peace Research Association,

International Presentation Association of the Sisters of the Presentation,

International Public Policy Institute,

International Women's Anthropology Conference,

Loretto Community,

Oxfam International,

Passionists International,

School Sisters of Notre Dame,

Sisters of Charity Federation,

Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur,

Society of Catholic Medical Missionaries,

Solar Cookers International,


UNANIMA International,