Climate ethics is talking point at Copenhagen conference

December 17, 2009
In India, in a gesture of hope for progress at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, environmental activists released 2,000 eco-friendly lanterns into the evening sky above the Baha’i House of Worship in New Delhi. Representatives of different faith communities participated in the ceremony, which was organized by Greenpeace. The event in New Delhi was held on 10 December.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Acceptance of the ethical dimension of climate change has risen to a new level of importance in discussions at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, say members of the Baha'i delegation.

"It is no longer just a small group that is talking about the moral and ethical dimensions of the issue – these ideas are becoming part of the discourse at Copenhagen," said Duncan Hanks, executive director of the Canadian Baha'i International Development Agency.

"We hear it from people at the podium, in discussions in the hallways, and we see it on banners saying things like 'Climate justice now,'" he said.

Peter Adriance, another member of the Baha'i delegation, said the focus on ethics and justice has also helped bring about a realization on the part of many at Copenhagen that climate change must be considered beyond the bounds of domestic politics.

"The local and national and the international are very much linked on the climate issue," he said. "If a representative of a country says 'I am not going to take measures to reduce carbon emissions because it is going to hurt the economy,' more and more people are asking the logical question: 'Then, does that mean you don't have obligations outside your border?' So the whole discourse on climate ethics is calling attention to the international obligations that nations have towards each other."

The UN conference aims to strike a new international agreement to reduce global emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Such a pact would succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

In addition to government leaders and negotiators from 192 countries, the conference has drawn participants from international agencies, the news media, and a diverse sampling of other organizations, ranging from environmental groups to corporations.

At a press conference on the Interfaith Declaration on Climate Change, Baha’i representative Tahirih Naylor, left, said that climate change is “challenging humanity to rise to the next level of our collective maturity.” Slideshow
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At a press conference on the Interfaith Declaration on Climate Change, Baha’i representative Tahirih Naylor, left, said that climate change is “challenging humanity to rise to the next level of our collective maturity.”

The delegation of the Baha'i International Community, registered with the United Nations as an international nongovernmental organization, comprises some 20 people.

Tahirih Naylor, a Baha'i representative to the UN, said many of the difficulties encountered during the conference have served to highlight the need for international cooperation to protect the environment.

"Tackling climate change requires concern for the welfare of all humanity over self-interested nationalism," she said. "The findings of science should not be distorted to serve political ends. Whatever disagreements there may be on the causes of climate change, it is clear that protecting our environment should be viewed not only in technical and economic terms, but also as a moral and ethical challenge for the whole world."

She agreed that statements by government leaders, civil society representatives, and others have begun increasingly to make reference to the importance of justice and morality in dealing with the issues of environmental protection.

At a press conference last week on the Interfaith Declaration on Climate Change, held as part of the Copenhagen event, Ms. Naylor said that it is "critical for the religions to come together around this issue, to call for action from the leaders of the world, and also to take action within our own communities."

"We feel that climate change is challenging humanity to rise to the next level of our collective maturity, a maturity which calls us to accept our fundamental unity, the fact that we are all one people living on one finite planet, that we are all brothers and sisters," she said.

"We recognize that the quest for climate justice is not a competition for limited resources," she said, "but part of an unfolding process toward greater degrees of unity among nations. ..."

At the Copenhagen summit, scheduled to end Friday, the Baha'i International Community sponsored or participated in a number of events that focused on the subject of climate ethics.

These events included:

-- A panel discussion on "The Role of Religion in Combating Climate Change," held at the Copenhagen Baha'i Center on 8 December and featuring Bent Melchior, former chief rabbi of the Jewish Community in Denmark; Ole Birch, vicar and chairman of the Climate Group of the National Council of Churches in Denmark; and Mr. Adriance of the Baha'i International Community.

-- A press conference on the Interfaith Declaration on Climate Change, held 9 December in the main conference media area, which expressed the united views of diverse faith communities on the importance of taking action on climate change. Ms. Naylor was among the participants.

-- A press conference on "Climate Ethics" held by the Collaborative Program on the Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change, moderated by Mr. Adriance. Baha'i delegates contributed to the drafting of the statement issued by the group.

-- A panel discussion on "The Moral and Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change," held at the Klimaforum09 on 12 December and featuring Don Brown, associate professor of environmental ethics, science, and law at Pennsylvania State University; Philo Morris, representative of the Medical Mission Sisters from India; and Dr. Arthur Dahl, a Baha'i who is a former official with the UN Environment Programme.

-- A preconference event, the Climate Sustainability Platform, held 3-6 December at the Climate Expo in Copenhagen, organized by Uchita de Zoysa of Sri Lanka. Four members of the Baha'i-inspired International Environment Forum participated: Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen, Victoria Thoresen, Onno Vinkhuyzen, and Dr. Dahl.