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Johannes Müller SJ

Climate Change as Ethical Challenge

Prospects for a Just and Sustainable Globalisation


From: Stimmen der Zeit, 6/2008, P. 391-405
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    The relations of climate change and fight against poverty are outlined by JOHANNES MUELLER, professor of social sciences and development policy at the Munich School of Philosophy. A wise energy policy as well as a poverty reduction oriented towards the future call for a behaviour of the entire international community that does justice to the climate.


A fundamental goal of all development policy has for a long time been the fight against poverty. Private actors such as the church aid agencies regard it even as the primary objective of all development cooperation. Internationally one tries at present to halve the global poverty up to the year 2015 above all through the so-called Millennium Development Goals - as regards ethics a very modest goal but politically it is, unfortunately, a very ambitious one. For the target of "halving poverty" implies that also in 2015 the figure of at least 500 million people in extreme poverty is regarded as inevitable - and that despite growing prosperity in the world.

But at present a very different topic determines - at least at first glance - the public attention, namely the climate change with its threatening consequences. At the latest since in 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - IPCC) {1} published its Fourth Assessment Report an anthropogenic climate change can no longer seriously be denied. But the question of how to cope with it best remains controversial. That question was therefore a dominant topic of great political conferences, ranging from the world economy summit in Heiligendamm over the UN climate summit in New York up to the 13th conference of the parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bali in early December that passed a "roadmap" for climate policy after the Kyoto Protocol.

Fight against poverty and environmental protection are, however, closely linked. This shows for instance the leading topic "Sustainable Development" of the environmental conference of the United Nations in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, which connects the goals of development policy with those of ecology. In other words, it is about an "including sustainability" in view of the sharp line separating prosperity from poverty and participation from exclusion.

The the following {2} will first outline a few fundamental connections between climate change and poverty, followed by a number of methodological and ethical considerations. At the end there are guidelines for a climate policy safeguarding the future and fighting poverty as well.



Interconnection of Climate Change and Poverty

The key data on climate change should be widely known. They may therefore only briefly be recalled here; the so-called synthesis report of the IPCC {3} serves as basis for it. In the past 100 years the global climate has warmed up by 0.74 ° C, which is not alone but to a large extent attributed to human activities. Main cause is the emission of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. About 60 percent of the increase in CO² emissions come from the use of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas), that is from energy consumption, nearly 20 percent from the use of land, above all from deforestation. With regard to history the industrialized countries are responsible for almost 80 percent of the CO² increase. Meanwhile also some emerging economies, China in the first place, show high absolute emissions, even when they are still far behind as regards the per capita amount.

Depending on whether and to what extent a further increase in emissions can be stopped or reduced, the mean value of the earth temperature will in the 21st century increase by 1.1 to 6.4° C. Medium scenarios of climate research assume 1.4 to 4.4° C. Even if you could stop all CO² emissions at once the temperature would still increase by almost 1° C, because the climate system reacts very slowly. The last comparable warming (5° C) happened 15000 years ago at the end of the Ice Age, though in a period of 5000 years {4}. Today there is a relatively broad consensus that a crossing of the 'guardrail' of 2° C beyond the pre-industrial level must in any case be prevented, if you do not want to risk a dangerous, because hardly manageable global warming. This is admittedly a demanding but nevertheless achievable target.

Climate change is thus quite considerably the result of an energy-intensive model of economy and civilization and of the prosperity growing with it, which admittedly so far only a minority of mankind is able to afford. The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) has made that clear with the help of maps about the global distribution of capital and emissions, which show a very high correlation between the amount of capital assets of the individual countries and the level of CO² emissions. You can describe that also as carbon-guilt of the rich countries. The only exception is the Soviet Union's former sphere of influence, which has a significantly lower amount of capital compared to the amount of emissions.

Globalization has considerably accelerated the spread of that model of economy and civilization all over the world. More and more countries follow this development path with increasing success, what admittedly is connected with high energy consumption and rapidly rising CO² emissions. Losers of that process are mainly the poorest 20 percent of the world's population, who up to now have remained excluded from the growing prosperity and whose situation has often even become worse {5}.



Against the background of those data and trends three scenarios arise in principle as far as the further per capita emission of carbon dioxide is concerned: Firstly, the current development is continued, linked with the promise to take also the poor into the boat - with the result of devastating climatic effects. Secondly, one tries - with reference to climate change - to keep the latecomers, which want to pull back the lead of the rich countries, as far as possible away from the prosperity after the Western model. That is probably at best partly possible and would only slightly slow down the climate change. But that alternative can above all in no way be justified ethically. Thirdly, we agree on the said 'guardrail' of a maximum of 2° C warming compared with the pre-industrial level. Until 2050 this would require a halving of the global greenhouse gases by 50 percent, referred to the base year 1990. To achieve this target the developed countries must reduce their CO² emissions by at least 80 percent, in order to let room to the poorer countries for economic growth and an adequate standard of living {6}.

The consequences of climate change {7} are known: glacier shrinkage, thawing of permafrost, the melting of the Arctic ice, increase in weather extremes, rising sea levels, a massive decline in biodiversity. Potential negative feedback effects, which could significantly increase the global warming, are particularly worrying. So for instance the melting of the Greenland ice shield would let the global sea level rise by seven metres. But sufficiently secured evidence about the speed of such, often non-linear processes does not yet exist, that's why they have not been taken into account in the IPCC projections. In addition, there are serious social consequences {8}: water shortage, spread of diseases, umpteen millions of temporary and permanent climate refugees. With regard to politics this means a "security risk climate change", as the "German Advisory Council on Global Change of the Federal Government ("Wissenschaftliche Beirat der Bundesregierung Globale Umweltveränderungen" (WBGU)) headed its annual report 2007.


Change of Climate and Vulnerability

Reports in Western media mostly revolve around the potential consequences of climate change in the temperate climate zones of the north, for example, the glacier shrinkage in the Alps. That counter-measures could jeopardize the economic growth and lead to the loss of prosperity seems to cause even greater concern. That is very short-sighted, for not only the causes but also the consequences of global climate change are most differently distributed. Main victims are already today and will also remain the poorest countries, regions and people. In that context the speech is of vulnerability which includes two important aspects:



Firstly, there are geographical circumstances which involve a high vulnerability to the effects of climate change. A large number of the world's poor live in areas which are most affected by extreme weather events, such as tropical cyclones, floods and drought disasters. Higher average temperatures in hot humid regions and the likely rise of the sea-level primarily also hit the poor, who for example live in slums on the coast or on slopes endangered by landslides.

Many of the negative effects of climate change make it difficult to meet basic needs and intensify poverty. Admittedly, up to 2050 in a global perspective a greater supply of drinking water is forecast, but that growth is largely allotted to regions that are already rich in water and to some tropical wetlands. In comparison the amount of precipitation in dry areas which are already now suffering from water scarcity could still significantly decrease. Moreover, a higher risk of droughts as well as of torrential rainfalls and floods can be expected. All this results in losses of agricultural yield and endangers the food security. Tropical and subtropical regions are mainly affected, where already now the greatest threat of hunger and malnutrition exists.

Secondly, the social vulnerability is at least equally important. It depends on the respective capacity to cope with the consequences of climate resp. the ability to adapt to them. Poor countries and the poor have - due to their material shortages alone - far less of such capacities at their disposal than wealthy countries and people. So for example, the poor have almost never an insurance protection. But poverty is often also connected with social exclusion, little access to basic social services (health, education), and a lack of legal security, political rights and cultural freedom. In times of crisis that can easily mean that they - because of low purchasing power, lack of knowledge and political powerlessness - cannot enforce their interests. They are therefore hardly in a position adequately to adapt to extremely changed external conditions.

Particularly affected are mostly women, children and ethnic minorities, who often are legally and economically disadvantaged and can only badly defend themselves. Conversely, it is mainly women who carry the main burden of shortage situations, e.g. when they fetch water over long distances or laboriously gather wood, since the kerosene for cooking is no longer affordable.

The poor often also suffer most from price increases on the world market. So for instance the sharp rise in oil prices lately means higher cost of gasoline and heating in rich countries, about which you may be annoyed, but which cause only for a small minority real losses of prosperity. But for poor countries, which must import oil, the costs become more and more prohibitive, what is especially felt by the broad population. So for instance about two years ago Indonesia raised the prices of petroleum products such as petrol by more than 100 percent, what of course made also explode the public transport cost.



That has particularly the poor hit hard, since they can only so get to their (urban) places of work or sell their (agricultural) products on the market. These prices would be far higher if they were not heavily subsidized. If oil runs even shorter and thus becomes more expensive, the poor and the poor countries 'have a poor hand', for in a free world market the purchasing power alone decides on the access to this very convenient form of energy. A similar development can currently be seen on the world market for food, what seriously endangers the "right to food" for the poor if not soon countermeasures are taken {9}.


Discussion in the Media

In the public media partly still much attention is given to the so-called climate sceptics who deny an anthropogenic climate change. The media justify that with the reference they had to be objective and let all parties get a word in. In principle this argument is right, but only when the scientific weight of the respective controversial positions is taken into account.

Some high-profile publications, however, arouse the impression that there is still a widely open scientific debate on the issue of climate change {10}. But it's a fact that the IPCC report takes into account almost all studies of climate research. The report is the result of a long discussion process in collaboration with about 2500 climate experts. The final version was again politically negotiated and partly moderated so that it tends to great caution.

Sometimes against it is objected that the opinion of the majority is not necessarily the right one. Nobody will deny that, and factual and critical comments should always be welcome. That is admittedly far more true for the minority's view, particularly since here it is not just about opinions but about scientific results, which are to be refuted scientifically. But when the media give climate sceptics the same wide room as to the consensus of most researchers, that leads to the result that many people do not take the problem seriously and believe we can for the time being do without resolute political action.


Different Interests and Perspectives

Problems are perceived very differently, it all depends from which interests and perspective you look at them. It is obvious that climate change is seen more calmly by the inhabitants of an economically strong country than by those of a poor country that is particularly affected by the consequences and disposes of very limited capacities to cope with them.



In addition, the adaptability seems to increase with the distance to the rich countries. So some people who act as "experts" regard a resettlement of millions of people (for instance in Bangladesh) as perfectly acceptable, but in local latitudes to give up a bit of prosperity as unacceptable, not to mention the resistance that major resettlements would meet. What floods, landslides or heat waves really mean the victims, i.e. the people in the poverty regions know of course best, even when they hardly know connections with the climate change.

Another example is the discussion about population growth. More people undoubtedly need more energy and cause more pollutants; they also need more land to live and to grow food. In this respect the increase in world population from today 6.6 to probably about nine billion people in the year 2100 is a major challenge. But that is only the quantitative part of the problem. The other part is the worldwide prosperity gap with its implications for climate change {11}. Currently a German causes on average about ten times as much CO² emissions as an Indian, an American even 20 times. In this respect the reference to the population growth is admittedly true, but little credible if you do not take the lifestyle into account as well.


Climate Change - a Complex Problem

Climate change is a highly complex problem that implies high systemic risks, if only because of the above-mentioned feedback effects. Add to it the partly significant regional differences in the effects, even within larger countries. Three conclusions can be deduced from it: First, the complexity and systemic nature of the problems requires a high level of interdisciplinary cooperation, because no discipline alone can explore all problems. Secondly, effective mechanisms of international cooperation must be created, for the climate change is a challenge that would overtax the ability to act even of the most powerful countries. Thirdly, notwithstanding the global extent of this problem there is also need of regional research and regio-specific solutions.

The complexity of the problem appears also in many and divers interconnections with other (global) problems, what is to be outlined by the case Indonesia {12}: Indonesia has 230 million inhabitants and thus holds the fourth place in demography. It does not belong to the poorest countries, but is not yet a threshold country. It cannot solve its problems of poverty without a strong economic development.



The climate change will have massive effects on Indonesia, ranging from an even hotter tropical humid climate to a rising sea level, which will affect millions of people and cost a lot of arable land. In addition, the rainy seasons will change, what will result in longer dry seasons as well as shorter and heavier rainy periods. But taking into account the deforestation and emission of methane gas Indonesia is in absolute figures also the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, even though the per capita emissions are still relatively low.

Currently there are major bottle-necks in the supply of energy, especially electricity, what considerably hampers the economic development. For a long time Indonesia could bank on its own oil, but meanwhile the production not even covers its domestic requirements. An alternative is coal-fired power plants, for the country has rich coal reserves, but to mine them would be highly harmful for the climate. Equally worrying is the planned construction of a nuclear power plant in a densely populated and highly seismic region. An alternative would be to use the great geothermal potential which the country has at its disposal. Such pro-climate solutions admittedly need high investments, which the country itself can hardly afford.

Apart from Brazil, Indonesia is the main offender in the deforestation especially of tropical rain forests which bind large amounts of carbon dioxide. Their preservation would mean to do without high export revenues, which the country urgently needs for its debt service. That is why the government wants an international forest protocol with compensations by the international community. That is all the more important, since there are plans to multiply in the coming years the production of renewable resources for biomass, what is very attractive in view of the demand from industrialized countries.


Climate Change - a Long-term Process

Climate change is a long-term process, the negative consequences of which will only gradually become apparent, that is why they are usually suppressed. The same widely applies also to the problems of poverty resulting from it. As far as anyone can judge there will also in future be a considerable number of poor, even if one succeeded in halving the global poverty till 2015. The burden of the fight against poverty must therefore not fall heaviest on the future poor, because that would mean that they had even less capacity and resources at their disposal than the poor of today. That underlines that poverty reduction and climate policy are no opposites but must be connected with each other.

The complexity and the long duration of climate change with its often irreversible effects let mankind face challenges which cannot simply be overcome by well-tried patterns of action.



So for instance the motto "Once bitten, twice shy!" is of little help, because those who cause the damage do often not feel it and can therefore also not learn from it. "Who today suffers from a damage is quite seldom the one who has caused it." {13} {13} The same applies to the "principle of trial and error", which would directly lead into disaster. "With it mankind is faced with the challenge to give up ways of behaviour practised in the course of evolution and to solve problems which at first can only intellectually be recognized. The new motto says: Knowledge and change of behaviour; act before it hurts!" {14}

The Question of Justice

From an ethical point of view the justice issue is of fundamental importance, which is not exclusively but also a question of distribution. The complexity of the climate change problem requires a comprehensive concept of justice, with which three temporal dimensions have to be taken into account.

At present it is primarily about the global wealth gap, which is partly the cause (for it) that many people cannot live in conditions fit for human beings. For the situation of the poorest must always be the touchstone, (that is) why the fight against flagrant poverty has highest priority. Some draw from it the conclusion that climate policy limiting the global warming was - at least temporarily - of lesser priority. The limited financial resources should better entirely be used for the reduction of poverty {15}. That at first sight quite sympathetic position is however short-sighted, for it wrongly suggests that climate protection and poverty reduction were alternatives excluding each other.

A way out of that tension offers the principle of fundamentally equal rights of all people, on which the political and social human rights are based. This includes also the access to prosperity and the means to achieve it. When these resources are limited, as in the case of fossil fuels and the CO² emissions connected with them, a fair distribution of such rights is particularly important. That is why many representatives from the South demand, "Everybody has the right to the same amount of emissions." {16} How this basic requirement, which meanwhile gets also much support in the North, is to be formulated in detail, as e.g. by traffic in emissions, is a difficult but indispensable task of international politics and must on no account be determined by the law of the jungle.

The distributive justice must also take the past into account. The prosperity of the rich countries has been paid with significant climate damages, as the data on carbon debt have shown. This fact has essentially been known for at least 30 years, without however leading to a turn-round.



But there is no ethical argument that could deny poorer countries to strive for a "catching-up-development" with the goal of a comparable prosperity, which on a long-term basis would admittedly trigger a climate catastrophe. In that respect the rich countries have a moral obligation to discharge part of their debt, what corresponds to the "polluter pays" principle. To do so they must in the first place themselves take paths of development that are tolerable for the climate. Secondly, they must help poorer countries to follow them on this path, particularly through technical and financial assistance. The needs-based justice of the poor has in any case precedence over maintaining the living standards of the rich.

We must, however, not postpone the problems till the future. The present generations have no right to ignore the foreseeable consequences of their actions and to endanger the conditions of life of future generations. This would probably above all let the future poor come into a hopeless situation, since experience shows that the promises of the rich countries, they would - should the occasion arise - effectively help have a low half-life. In other words: Intra-generational and inter-generational justice are to be connected with each other.


Dealing with Global Risks Calls for Joint Action

A crucial ethical issue is the assessment of risks, and above all the dealing with them. The IPCC classifies its statements and projections very closely to their degree of probability, ranging from "almost certain (99 percent) to "extremely improbable" (five percent). Since those assessments are very cautious, the public often hears only that information which is very likely, whereas an important part of the research, even if it is well founded, is hardly taken note of. The risk behaviour in other areas of life, such as fire safety or traffic, is far more cautious. So e.g. hardly anyone would go "into an airoplane that crashes with less than 33 per cent but more than ten per cent probability" {17}. The scientific results show that some effects are already irreversible, but there is still much room for manoeuvre to avoid damages going far beyond that.

But how can you responsibly and ethically reasonably deal with such a huge risk as climate change? A certain degree of risk-taking is inevitable and certainly necessary if we want to avoid stagnation and achieve progress. But there are also situations that require a "risk-averse behaviour", for example "situations where well-founded concern exists that a large and irreversible damage occurs" {18}. In so far the principle of precaution and the demand to limit the risk give a much greater room for manoeuvre in the case of possible climate damages which you can - according to a realistic assessment - to a large extent compensate or repair than in the case of irreversible damage.



A "Keep it up!" - in the confidence that all projections are fraught with uncertainties and that it ultimately would not turn out so bad - was in any case irresponsibly. We should therefore use the given opportunities to change our course, even if this on a short-term base means some losses; for up to 2020 long-term decisions are to be made, especially in energy policy. For a long time a similar opportunity will no longer arise. Guardrails such as the 2° C target are an important aid to limit the climate risk.

The system character of the climate problem is on the one hand a high obstacle and allows no easy solutions. But on the other hand it offers a great opportunity, for it, as it were, systemically calls upon the family of nations and all people to act together - , yes, even compels to do so, if you think rationally. Applied to that systemic form of solidarity the reference to "a well-understood ethics of one's own interests" is legitimate. But ethically based solidarity goes beyond that and extends also to those people in need, whose support lies neither in one's self-interest nor is it strictly required for reasons of justice. Solidarity in this sense (resp. altruism) can therefore be a certain counter-weight against the tendency to exclude the poorest in the process of globalization.

Both forms of solidarity are closely linked to the vision of a world-wide common good. At present it is discussed in concrete terms mainly in connection with the so-called global public goods. These are goods that benefit all, which are however never sufficiently provided by a free market primarily oriented towards profit. Maintaining a healthy global climate as well as fighting extreme poverty and income disparities are such key goods {19}.


Individual Action and Systemic Policy

An often controversial issue in the context of climate change is the question of what importance the regulatory policy is and to what extent also the behaviour of each individual as well as of social groups and movements is important. More generally, it is there about the relation of institutional and individual ethics. The global good "climate protection" as matter of priority requires international cooperation and a global governance with international treaties and regulations as well as effective institutions, because only the international community together can achieve the necessary reform. In exactly the same way only politics can provide the necessary economic incentives and financial resources.



When negotiating such an order the procedural justice is of central importance, i.e. the powerful states must not alone determine the rules, but they are to let also the small and poor countries appropriately take part in this process. A similar primacy of the institutions applies to fighting poverty, because voluntary actions and donations can never replace a fair tax and social policy.

This priority, however, must not be misinterpreted to the effect that the individual ethics was meaningless and the individual players freed from any responsibility. On the contrary, individual behaviour is in various ways of importance. On the one hand the observance of regulations always also requires a certain consensus on values, namely that they must be respected. Secondly, there are always new ideas and impulses, innovations and pilot projects needed, since each framework has gaps and limitations which are to be discovered and filled by responsible action. Thirdly, individual action can be an important model and can thus motivate. And finally, its men who create orders and right.

This relation becomes most obvious in the tensions between economic system, lifestyle and ethics of consumption. Climate change calls an economy that is merely oriented towards short-term gains and a globalization that is one-sidedly economically oriented fundamentally into question {20}. For a worldwide adoption of the Western civilization model would - at any rate in its present form and according to our current state of knowledge - result in a global climate disaster. The present form of globalization with its own dynamics is consequently either only possible for a minority of mankind or in case of its success self-destructive. That is why profound institutional reforms in many areas are needed.

Such reforms, however, can especially in democracies only be carried through when relatively large population groups support them. This particularly applies to the personal consumption, which is always also a reflection of the economic system and of patterns of consumption, and which reinforces them. From here great weight is to be attached to ethics of consumption, which admittedly has different consequences for rich and poor {21}. Above all sufficiency, i.e. a certain self-restraint and moderateness, is controversial just with high prosperity. Maybe it's better to speak of the "virtue of the right measure" which appears to have widely gone lost. It does not at all mean simply renunciation but rather the chance of a better quality of life.


Coordinates of a Climate Policy Oriented Toward the Poor

John Holdren, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), once spoke of three options with regard to climate change: "Mitigation, adaptation and suffering" - and then stated:



"It will lead to all three. The only question is the mix. The more we mitigate the change, the less adaptation is necessary and the less suffering arises." {22} Since human need cannot be a political option "mitigation" - the reduction of greenhouse gases - and "adaptation" - the adjustment to the adverse effects of climate change - remain.

Main issue in the current political controversy is the weighting of those two options, which are no real alternatives. A high degree of adaptation will be necessary in any case, in order to cope with the already now hardly avoidable temperature increase of 2° C. A minority of experts believe one could also adapt oneself to even higher temperature rises. The vast majority, however, believes that is extremely risky, especially because of devastating consequences for the poor. This position has been adopted also by the European Union and the federal government. Conclusion: Effects of climate change that cannot be overcome must be avoided, and unavoidable effects must be overcome by adaptation.

There is broad consensus that this is not possible at short notice and that it needs a lengthy transition process, which certainly must immediately be started and by 2020 get under way. The main argument against guardrails such as the 2° C target has up to now been the economic costs. Recent studies however, such as the Stern Report, come to the result that a climate change which is not slowed down will lead to a loss of "at least 5 percent of the global gross domestic product each year, now and forever", whereas measures taken in order not to exceed the 2° C guardrail were admittedly also expensive but would only amount to one percent {23}. These results have invalidated many concerns and have given the political debate a new impetus.


Strengthen the Potential of the Poor

A prospective fight against poverty, which also contributes to better cope with the effects of climate change, must first strengthen the potential of the poor, i.e. of the poorer countries and regions, but above all of the people on the spot. That is the most effective approach in the fight against poverty, and at the same time the best means to reduce the vulnerability caused by climate change and to increase the capacity to cope with its inevitable consequences in a way fit for human beings. In addition, less poverty crucially contributes to a lower population growth. The key prerequisite for strengthening the capabilities of the poor is a better access to institutions which take the specific needs of the poor into account, ranging from medical care and educational institutions up to opportunities of political participation and the participation in production and market processes.



The poor can admittedly strengthen their potential only partly by their own power. They have rather to rely on supporting institutions and aid. In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity it is there mainly about political, legal and economic conditions, which promote and strengthen the potential and initiative "from below", beginning with the local people and the municipalities over the respective states up to the global level. As much as it depends on the people themselves, without a supportive environment they will strive in vain.

With it a key role comes up to a fair world economic order, which does not weaken the forces and the income of the poor under the pretext of an inevitable globalization. There is currently a danger that a competition for areas used for the production of vital food on the one hand and biomass sources (such as sugar cane, oil palms) for supposedly non-polluting energy on the other hand comes about {24}. If that means that the poor have less access to food, whether because they have less land for home-grown food or because they cannot afford imported food, then this is ethically unacceptable. Furthermore, it often causes an increased deforestation of tropical forests, in order to win land for the cultivation of agricultural products earning foreign exchange, what in turn would increase the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Besides new studies warn against more water shortages, if the production of biomass should continue to rise.


Successful Climate Policy - Wise Energy Policy

Core and crux of a successful climate policy is a wise energy policy, which must lead to a sharp reduction of CO² emissions. The "World Energy Outlook 2007" of the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows how urgent that is; with the present trend it expects up to 2030 an increase in global energy consumption by 50 percent and in CO² emissions resulting from it by 57 percent {25}. The critics of such a policy, however, rightly point to the fact that this must not fall heaviest on the poor. Energy shortages and unsecured access to energy, by which still 1.6 billion people are affected, are as the facts are a huge obstacle to overcoming poverty. A renunciation of higher energy consumption in developing countries or even of the poor is not acceptable.

An ethically justifiable climate strategy has to dissolve the hitherto very close link between energy consumption and CO² emissions. Only then climate policy and poverty reduction can support each other. New calculations of the "Energy Science Center" in Zurich show that that is quite realistic.



They plead for a global target of one ton of CO² emissions per capita and per year until the year 2100 (compared to currently about 4.5 tons on average) and they think that was possible in fact at a global level of prosperity equivalent to the one of today's Switzerland {26}.

There are now many possibilities for a respective alternative energy policy, ranging from far higher energy efficiency and technological innovations to renewable energies. Nuclear energy remains controversial, because it on the one hand causes no greenhouse gases, on the other hand, however, a development path is taken that holds many risks and remains for a long time irreversible. Moreover, even a large number of nuclear power plants can cover only a relatively small part of the future energy needs. According to many experts also the global market trade in emission rights is a very efficient tool. It could for the industrialised countries make the difficult transition process easier, since they could buy additional rights and poor countries would so get financial resources for the fight against poverty {27}. Africa alone would in that way get a sum which exceeded several times the current global development assistance.

As little as respect for the environment, can cooperation and solidarity across national and similar borders be achieved by appeals to the intellect alone. People live in cultural and mostly also in religious traditions with their respective world views and values. If you really want to win them for a process of rethinking and a behaviour which is equally social and eco-friendly, then you must refer to those traditions and pick up people there. That undoubtedly requires also a critical examination of this heritage. But especially religions include also helpful ideas about man's relationship to his fellow men and environment, and the responsibility based on it. Corresponding models such as solidarity or "right measure" can have a high motivation for a socially and eco-friendly behaviour of members of religions. Conversely, the systemic nature of the climate problem can help that people become better aware of how closely they are intertwined with their natural environment and how they depend on it. Against that background it is important to keep general ethical arguments and the diverse cultural and religious traditions mutually connectable.

A sustainable link between poverty and climate policy will consequently only succeed if the people's socio-cultural environment is taken seriously. That requires, particularly in developing countries, that they are not regarded as objects of policy but that we speak with them and let them actively participate in the development of political strategies. Above all, they must be able to experience that it is not just about an abstract climate policy, but that at the same time their own often more than precarious situation improves. That is a political necessity and an ethical imperative as well.




{1} See O. Edenhofer and Ch. Flachsland, Friedensnobelpreis für den Weltklimarat, in this periodical 226 (2008) 7586.

{2} Revised version of a leture given on occasion of the Academical Festivity of the Munich School of Philosophy on 16 November 2007.

{3} Zwischenstaatlicher Ausschuß für Klimaänderungen (IPCC), Vierter Sachstandsbericht. Klimawandel 2007: Synthesebericht, see; a survey of the reports of work groups I-III of the IPCC is found in: Der UN-Weltklimareport. Bericht über eine aufhaltsame Katastrophe, edited by M. Müller and others (Köln 2007).

{4} St. Rahmstorf and H.-J. Schellnhuber, Der Klimawandel (München 2006) 53.

{5} See B. Milanovic, Eine Frage der Rechenmethode? Kein eindeutiger Trend bei der globalen Ungleichheit, in: Welt-Sichten No. 1 (2008) 1318.

{6} See WBGU (Wissenschaftlicher Beirat der Bundesregierung Globale Umweltveränderungen), Neue Impulse für die Klimapolitik (Berlin 2007), see

{7} See Rahmstorf u. Schellnhuber (note 4) 5481.

{8} See WBGU, Welt im Wandel: Armutsbekämpfung durch Umweltpolitik (Berlin 2004) especially 29121.

{9} See J. v. Braun, The World Food Situation. New Driving Forces and Required Actions (New York 2007), see

{10} See Müller (note 3) 8089.

{11} See J. Müller, Wirtschaftsweise u. Lebensstil im Norden als Bevölkerungsproblem, in: Die Verantwortung der Industrieländer angesichts des Bevölkerungsproblems, edited by v. L. Bertsch and H. Messner (Frankfurt 1995) 4357.

{12} See D. A. Narjoko u. F. Jotzo, Survey of the Recent Developments, in: Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies 43 (2007) 2, 143169, especially 161169.

{13} Christine von Weizsäcker über Vernunft, in: SZ am Wochenende, 11./12.5.2002.

{14} O. Hohmeyer, Wissenschaft u. Klimawandel: handeln, bevor es wehtut warum eigentlich?, in: Müller (note 3) 138142, 139.

{15} Bekanntester Vertreter dieser Position ist Bjørn Lomborg: see the same, Cool it! Warum wir trotz Klimawandels einen kühlen Kopf bewahren sollten (München 2008).

{16} Klimawandel u. der Süden. Gespräch mit Sunita Narain, in: Der Überblick 43 (2007) issue 3, 142f.

{17} See Müller (note 3) 86, with reference to the climate researcher Wolfgang Cramer of the Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung (PIK).

{18} K. P. Rippe, Ein Vorrang der schlechten Prognose? Zu den ethischen Grundlagen des Vorsorgeprinzips, in: NZZ, 30.12.2006, see

{19} See Global Public Goods: International Cooperation in the 21st Century, edited by I. Kaul and others (Oxford 1999).

{20} See B. R. Barber, Consumed! Wie der Markt Kinder verführt, Erwachsene infantilisiert u. die Demokratie untergräbt (München 2007).

{21} See for instance: Ethik des Konsums, edited by P. Koslowski and B. P. Priddat (München 2006).

{22} K. Raworth, Über die übliche Hilfe hinaus, in: Entwicklung und Zusammenarbeit 48 (2007) 408.

{23} Stern Review, Der wirtschaftliche Aspekt des Klimawandels. Zusammenfassung der Schlußfolgerungen, see

{24} Misereor, "Bioenergie" im Spannungsfeld von Klimawandel u. Armutsbekämpfung (Aachen 2007).

{25} IEA, World Energy 2007 (Paris 2007), Zusammenfassung:

{26} NZZ, 26.2.2008, see also:

{27} See O. Edenhofer and Ch. Flachsland, Ein Global Deal für den Klimaschutz. Herausforderungen an die Energie- u. Klimapolitik, in: Amosinternational 2 (2008) issue 1, 2433.


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