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Ethical consensus could break political gridlock on climate change

MING HAIYING | 2018-08-10 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Global warming results in glaciers melting, which has severely affected the living environment of polar bears. Photo: XINHUA

Despite the prevalence of global climate problems, international negotiation on climate issues has had very limited success. There is little consensus, and many controversies indicate the absence of ethical principles. Reaching ethical consensus on climate issues is the first step in finding a way out of the problem.

Political games surrounding climate change focus on the distribution of rights to emit carbon. It is essentially a fight for national interests which results in ethical conflicts. Chen Jun, vice-president of the Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies at Hubei University, suggested that mankind should conduct an ethical reflection on the social causes of climate change  and climate change policy in terms of fairness, justice, rights, responsibilities and obligations.

“Ethical principles can provide a moral framework for evaluating global climate change governance and stipulate the rights and obligations of different countries and communities,” said Shi Jun, vice president of the School of Law and Public Affairs at the Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology. They include the “no-harm principle,” which safeguards the emission rights required for basic living and development; the “common but differentiated responsibilities principle,” which safeguards intra-generational climate justice; the “risk-preventing principle,” which pursues intergenerational justice; and the “respective capabilities principle,” which aims for global climate justice, Shi suggested.

In international climate negotiations, developed countries stress “common responsibilities” but ignore “differentiated responsibilities,” said Hua Qihe, vice president of the School of Marxist Studies at the East China University of Science and Technology. Some developed countries demand that developing countries should bear as many responsibilities of reducing carbon emission as developed countries do, especially the BASIC countries Brazil, South Africa, India and China, all of which would be required to bear a lot of responsibility, Hua said.

The common responsibilities principle has become an excuse for developed countries to evade their differentiated responsibilities, Hua said. All countries across the world realize the need to bear responsibility for climate change, but disputes arise when discussing how these responsibilities should be distributed, he said. Hua suggested that the fulfillment of differentiated responsibilities should be given priority over that of the common responsibilities.

Hua said that climate ethics focuses on ethical factors that cause climate change, and it reveals the ethical dilemmas of climate negotiation and solutions to these problems, he said. We must reach an ethical consensus acceptable to all countries and reduce frictions when negotiating by means of dialogue and consultation, he continued. By establishing an orderly ethical environment for global governance on climate change, the “prisoner dilemma” of climate negotiation can be broken, he said.

In a situation where the global volume of greenhouse gas emissions must be limited and various parties have different demands, Chen suggested the core issue of climate ethics is to find a set of moral principles to define relevant responsibilities and obligations and determine the share of emissions rights that every group or country should have and the costs they should bear. Fundamental problems relating to the foundations of climate change governance, such as deciding on principles and forms of justice, all require reflection, he added.

Interdisciplinary research has become a new trend in climate ethics studies as studies of this comprehensive and global issue have advanced. Hua said an ethical consensus among the international community will lay the foundation for breaking the dilemma of climate negotiation. However, the kind of consensus it may be, its possibility and necessity, and the practical ways of reaching it require more studies from academia. Hua added that Chinese scholars should deepen their studies of climate ethical strategies.

“We should establish a Chinese discourse system for climate ethics, and avoid the ‘moral trap’ of Western climate ethics,” Shi said. He suggested the climate ethics studies in China should be localized by upholding the principles of Marxism and referring to the ecological wisdom of Chinese traditional philosophies that are valuable in today’s situation. Thus, we can form a solution with Chinese characteristics to the ethical issues of global climate change problems, he said.


(edited by JIANG HONG)