The moral and ethical dimensions of climate change elevating the debate

Therese Skåtun


On September 23rd, the Baha'i International Community launched an appeal to leaders about the Moral and Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change.  As today is Blog Action Day, and as this year's topic is climate change, I though I'd ask a few questions of Ms. Tahirih Naylor, the BIC representative to the UN focusing on global prosperity and the environment.

I asked Ms. Naylor to explain a bit about what motivated the BIC to initiate this appeal.  She replied that one of the major reasons was the urgency of time, as there are only so many days left to the Copenhagen Conference.  "We really wanted to support the Secretary General's efforts to draw together the leaders of the world for a Summit that focused on coming up with a solution, and to mobilize them to reach a fair, ambitious, and binding agreement in Copenhagen."

Another reason, she said, was that an appeal from civil society to the leaders of the world would underline the partnership between the people of the world and their leaders.  "While we all have responsibility to do what we can in our own lives," she explained, "leaders are in a special position to take action on climate change.  Therefore, we wanted to encourage them to do so."

When I first heard about the appeal, I thought it was an important aspect to examine, because the tremendous consequences of climate change creates a strong moral imperative to act.  However, I sometimes worry that such 'high-minded' approaches risk becoming nothing more than wishes for a better world.  So I asked how focusing on the moral and ethical dimensions of climate change can change the way in which people and their governments take action on climate change.

"It is so easy to get lost in the economic and political elements of the negotiation process," said Ms. Naylor.  "A focus on the moral and ethical dimensions of climate change helps us get beyond the technical wrangling.  It elevates the debate and provides a greater type of motivation.  It helps people and leaders connect with a long-term vision of human prosperity."

She also pointed out that morals and ethics are a good yardstick of our actions.  This is crucially needed at a time when people are weighing their steps on how to move forward.  Rather than compare ourselves to what other countries are doing, we ought to use a moral and ethical framework to measure our actions.  Even though the policies and negotiation processes will be unique for every country, the ethical imperative of the situation is the same for everyone.  Just like climate change transcends our borders, so do moral and ethical values.

To me, this explained a bit about how focusing on the moral and ethical dimensions of climate change can, indeed, have very concrete implications for how we take action on climate change.  I was therefore very pleased to hear that the response to the appeal has been very good, and many organizations have been interested in joining.  The plan now is to transform the appeal, with the permission of the other signatories, into something that can be used at the Copenhagen Conference.  The BIC will be there along with many other organizations, and I sincerely hope that they will succeed in infusing the negotiation process with a profound sense of the moral and ethical dimension of the challenge facing humanity and the planet.