Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned from Analyses of 23 Countries’ Consideration of Ethics and Justice in Formulating Climate Policies Derived  from the First and Second Round Reports which are Available on this Website

The countries are: Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Canada, China, Fiji, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mauritius, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand, Uganda, the United States of America, and Zimbabwe

Lessons Learned So Far

This section summarizes some of the lessons learned from the above national reports which can be found on this website or in the book which can be downloaded here.

  1. Some high-emitting nations have expressly stated that they will not adopt climate change policies that harm their economy – thus ignoring their obligations to others as a matter of ethics, justice, and international law. These nations include Australia, Canada, and New Zealand
  2. Any national ghg emissions reduction commitment is implicitly a position on two ethical questions, namely, first, what safe atmospheric ghg concentration level the commitment aims to achieve and, second, what equity framework or principles of distributive justice the percent reduction is based on. Despite this, no nation has explained quantitatively how its commitment is related to an atmospheric carbon budget or an equity framework
  3. Although some nations acknowledge that their climate policies should be guided by ethical principles (for instance, South Africa and Japan), even these nations have not expressly explained quantitatively how their commitments were guided by ethical principles and appear to have based their commitments on economic self-interest at least in part.
  4. A few nations have acknowledged that their ghg emissions commitments need to limit warming to 2°C and be derived from a fair and equitable framework, yet even these nations have not explained how their specific emissions reduction commitments can be understood to be consistent with an emissions reduction pathway that will limit warming to 2°C. In fact, despite the almost universal acceptance by nations of the 2°C warming limit, the actual ghg emission targets and timetables chosen by almost all nations do not meet the levels of emissions reductions specified by IPCC as necessary to keep atmospheric concentrations below 450 ppm and thereby achieve the 2°C warming limit. As a result the world is currently on target to hit warming of 3.7°C by 2100.
  5. Those developed nations that have acknowledged that they should act to limit warming to 2°C have not adopted emissions reduction targets at levels the IPCC recently concluded would be necessary to limit warming to 2°C – namely, of 25% to 40% by 2020.
  6. All nations, including those nations that acknowledge that their policies must be based upon a fair share of a safe global emissions, appear to have actually based their emissions reduction commitment at least in part on national economic self-interest rather than global responsibility.
  7. In some nations it is not possible to determine the actual normative basis for the government’s commitment simply by examining what the national government claims is its normative justification. Instead, one must understand the arguments made against stronger national climate change policies made by those who have successfully opposed stronger climate action. For instance, the United States commitment is based upon what is currently achievable under existing law. In Russia references to international obligations are mere lip service as the national INDC has been based almost exclusively on national economic interest. In the United States, because stronger laws have been successfully blocked by opponents of strong climate change policies on the basis that stronger laws will harm the US economy, destroy specific industries, and destroy jobs, the actual US climate change policies are based upon US economic interests, a fact not clear from examining the statements of the US federal government alone.
  8. Some non-Annex 1 countries including China and Mauritius claim that their non-Annex 1 status is justification for making no binding commitments to reduce their ghg emissions even though a substantial percentage of their population has very high income and high per capita emissions. For instance, China per capita emissions are 7.1 tons while the US is 16.4 tons per capita. However, 10% of Chinese have ghg per capita are well above 10 % of US citizens ghg per capita. China has more than 1.123 millionaires and more people with wealth over 50 million than any country except USA. By 2018 China is expected to have 2.1 millionaires. There is a huge consuming class in China on which the government is creating no expectations. One of the ethical issues raised by these facts is is whether nations which may have much smaller national emissions reductions commitment obligations for the nation derived from an acceptable equity framework should nevertheless be expected to limit activities of individuals causing high levels of ghg emissions.
  9. Some nations including Australia and New Zealand have expressly made their commitments to reduce climate change policies contingent on the willingness of other nations to make commensurate commitments thus implicitly claiming they have no obligation to reduce their emissions to their fair share of safe global emissions unless other nations do so. The justification for this approach is not stated in the national commitments and is ethically dubious.
  10. NGOs who support stronger climate change policies in many nations (including those in Australia, Canada, and the United States) are failing to frame climate change issues on the basis of ethics, justice, and equity.
  11. Several developing nations (including Bolivia) have asserted that they have no obligation to make commitments to reduce ghg emissions unless the costs of reductions are funded by developed nations without identifying an equity framework which justifies this conclusion. South Africa and other developing nations have made commitments while also claiming that some of their commitments are contingent on funding from developed nations without explaining why some of the commitments should be funded according to an equity framework to justify which part of their climate change policies must be funded by developed nations. For this reason developing nations need to take a position on an equity framework that would apply to all developing countries.
  12. Bolivia claims that funding for mitigation and adaptation in developing nations should be understood as the climate “debt” of developed countries in response to their historical, high-level per capita, and failure to fund adaptation but has not offered an equity framework to operationalize this claim. Bolivia draws strongly and explicitly upon ethical justifications for requiring deep cuts in national ghg emissions by other nations, together with financial contributions and holistic mitigation and adaptation measures, capable of both reducing poverty and vulnerability to climate change – yet has not identified an equity framework that could be applied at the global scale.
  13. Several countries including Bolivia, Fiji, South Africa, Kenya, and Uganda have asserted that domestic justice issues need to be considered to reduce domestic poverty in setting national climate policies although they have not offered an equity framework to operationalize this idea at the global scale. Their positions appear to argue that domestic justice obligations can trump global responsibilities.
  14. Several developing countries have primarily considered ethics and justice issues in regard to how climate policies affect domestic justice considerations rather than global justice issues.
  15. Bolivia has claimed that 6% of GDP of developed nations should be devoted to funding climate change needs in developing nations but has not explained the equity framework that supports this conclusion.
  16. Most developing countries including Bolivia strongly support a “loss and damages” mechanism while some developed nations oppose this mechanism. The United States denies any responsibility for losses and damages in other countries.
  17. Several countries including Canada have made commitments to reduce ghg emissions but not adopted the regulatory programs needed to achieve their commitments.
  18. Several governments including Canada have domestic legal obligations to protect vulnerable minorities from climate change which they are not fulfilling.
  19. Although meaningful local and regional climate change programs and strategies can be found in many nations, many national governments have done little or nothing to encourage local or regional governments to adopt policies that will limit ghg emissions even though for some activities that cause ghg emissions in the nation only regional and local governments have legal authority to require lower emissions. For instance in the United States, local and state governments regulate aspects of transportation and land use not regulated by the federal government. Some national governments including Australia that have made weak INDCs for the nation, nevertheless contain local governments that have made aggressive ghg emissions reductions commitments.
  20. Most nations have not created programs to encourage individuals to greatly reduce their carbon footprint.
  21. Some non-Annex 1 countries have set meaningful ghg emissions targets including Mauritius and South Africa but depend on funding from developed nations to achieve some of the climate goals. South Africa, despite being a non-Annex 1 country, has acknowledged its status as the highest ghg emitter on the African continent and announced a voluntary emissions reduction target, the objective of which is to make a ‘fair contribution’ to keep global concentrations within the range required to keep within the 2°C warming limit. South Africa openly acknowledges the need to voluntarily respond to climate change despite being a poor developing country. Yet the actual emissions reduction target identified by South Africa does not explain how it is quantitatively linked to an atmospheric concentration goal that will achieve a warming limit or why its emissions reduction target represents South Africa’s fair share of safe global emissions. In fact, the South African target, because it is a commitment below business as usual expansion, allows for large increases in South African ghg emissions by 2020 and 2025 without explaining how these increases are consistent with a specific understanding of what equity requires.
  22. No developed country has explained how their contributions to the major climate funds relate in any quantitative way to their obligations under the UNFCCC for adaptation, mitigation, or losses and damages.
  23. Almost all nations need to increase awareness among citizens and the press of the policy significance of the ethical and justice dimensions of climate change.
  24. In some high-emitting developed nations including the United States the media is utterly failing to cover the ethics and justice dimensions of national climate change commitments.
  25. In the case of EU member states, the collective decision making process of the EU does not seem to have led to any greater ethical analysis at the national level for individual EU nations including the Netherlands and Italy when these nations set their emissions reduction targets.
  26. A few developing nations (including South Africa and Uganda) recognize the need to take positive action on climate change because they recognize the need and the responsibility toward their own nationals.
  27. Two national reports revealed some reference to the concept of contraction and convergence, but no nation is implementing this approach.
  28. No national reports deny responsibility for contributions to adaptation and loses and damages, but no nations have made an express link between their ethical responsibility for supporting adaption and compensation for losses and damages in vulnerable countries and what they have committed to. Adaptation contributions seem to be left to the largess or interests of individual nations, leaving them free to withdraw (e.g., Australia) or determine the scale and nature of contributions. Even when a nation is a major contributor to adaptation (e.g., Japan), its activity is not explicitly linked to its own emissions targets.
  29. There was a noticeable absence of explicit use of the concept of climate justice by developed nations. In contrast, Bolivia is using the concept of climate debt to mean liability for historic and continuing emissions and failure to take mitigation and adaptation actions. As the Bolivian report details, Bolivia is the champion on climate justice with a highly developed and multi-faceted concept that includes demands for a compensation mechanism beyond provision for adaptation of developing states.
  30. Some developing nations, for instance, Brazil have committed to increase resilience and adaptation responses
  31. Some developing nations including Brazil have encouraged local and regional climate change plans and strategies.
  32. Some developing countries including Bolivia, for instance, have made significant commitments to increase non-fossil energy
  33. Bolivia has advocated the ‘Climate Justice Index’ which calculates each country’s ‘fair share’ of atmospheric space according to their; 1) historical responsibility since 1750; 2) ecological footprint; 3) development capacity; and 4) technological capacity. According to this methodology, Bolivia asserts that non-Annex I (developing) countries should have 89% of the remaining atmospheric budget, leaving Annex I (developed) countries with just 11%. However, Bolivia does not go into details about how the 89% of atmospheric space reserved for non-Annex I countries should be divided, nor what types of commitments each country would be responsible for given their positioning on the index.
  34. Some national level NGOs (including several in India) have expressly examined national INDCs on the basis of ethics and justice but most have not.
  35. In some countries (e.g., Australia), even when media coverage of INDCs considers justice, this coverage misleads citizens by comparing commitments to other nations without any analyses of how equity and justice considerations would allow differences between national commitments.
  36. Some countries (including Australia) argue for the need to take economic considerations into account by arguing about the future demand for coal without fully explaining why larger investments in non-fossil fuel sources are impossible.
  37. Some nations’ (e.g., Australia’s) commitment to the Green Fund have been taken from existing foreign aid budgets – thus providing no new funds that would represent the nation’s satisfaction of it is obligations to fund adaptation and resilience in vulnerable developing countries.


Recommendations on how to improve consideration of ethics and justice in policy formation in light of these lessons learned include:

  1. All nations should be required to explain quantitatively how their emissions reductions commitments will achieve an acceptable warming limit and on what equity framework or principles of distributive justice their percent emissions reductions is based. For this reason, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) should identify: (1) tonnes of CO2eq emissions reduced rather than a percent reduction from a baseline year, (b) the temperature limit and associated carbon budget that the INDC is seeking to achieve, (c) the equity principles that the nation relied on to assure the justice of its INDC, and (d) For Annex 1 countries, ghg emissions in 1990, the common baseline yearThere is an urgent need in most nations to raise public awareness of the ethical and justice issues entailed by climate change policymaking in general and ghg emissions commitments in particular. Along this line there are several issues in particular about which greater awareness is needed including greater public understanding of the ethical implications of any nation’s ghg emissions reduction commitment in regard to an atmospheric stabilization goal the commitment is seeking to achieve and the coherence or lack there of the national commitment to an acceptable equity framework.
  2. An international mechanism under the UNFCCC is urgently needed that helps other nations and civil society to understand the lack of conformity of national ghg emissions targets with principles of ethics and justice. This mechanism should provide that any government’s positions on their climate change commitments can be questioned by other governments and NGOs in regard to the adequacy of the commitment to achieve a warming limit and the fairness of the reductions. This mechanism must also require governments to respond to these questions.
  3. The media, NGOs, education institutions, academia, businesses and other social actors must all become involved in lifting both public awareness of the ethical and justice implications of national climate policy. In this regard media coverage that compares national commitments with other nations’commitments without acknowledging that equity and justice considerations could lead to morally different emissions reductions should be avoided because these comparisons are potentially misleading
  4. NGOs should justify their policy and action recommendations on ethical grounds.
  5. Nations should be required to explain how their commitments to fund adaptation and losses and damages in poor vulnerable nations link to their ethical obligations to provide funding. A mechanism to fund losses and damages in vulnerable countries is necessary.
  6. Training for policy-makers, national politicians, and NGOs on the ethical issues inherent in climate change policy is urgently needed. Training is particularly needed to help all engaged in climate change policy formation to understand the links between INDCs, a warming limit, and an equity framework
  7. Developing nations should adopt programs that will create ghg emissions limitations for high-emitting individuals and organizations even if equity and justice considerations don’t require that nations significantly reduce national ghg emissions.
  8. National media need to significantly increase their coverage of how ethics, justice, and equity considerations should affect national climate change policies.
  9. Developing nations that make commitments based upon funding from developed nations should be required to explain the equity framework that led to the claim for the contribution. In this regard claims of ecological debt should include explanation of the equity framework on which the equitable debt claim is based.
  10. Nations who claim that duties for domestic justice trump global responsibilities should explain quantitatively how they reached this conclusion.
  11. Nations who make ghg emissions reduction commitments should identify (to the extent practical) the regulatory programs or policies that will achieve the reductions.
  12. Nations should develop a program encouraging local and regional governments to adopt climate change emissions reductions programs.
  13. All governments should adopt programs that encourage individuals to reduce their carbon footprints to fair levels.
  14. Where national commitments have been deduced from collective decision making – such as the case in the EU – nations should be required to explain the equity and justice basis for its national commitment.
  15. Nations should explain domestic programs they have adopted on adaptation and resilience.
  16. Developing countries that claim certain amounts of atmospheric space should be allocated to developing countries should explain their reasoning.
  17. All nations should provide transparent processes to consult with citizens on national climate policies
  18. Nations should be required to explain the fairness of their current and projected per capita emissions levels.
  19. Nations who justify lower INDCs on the inevitability of the need for continuing fossil fuel use (including coal) should be required to explain what economic or technical consideration were assumed in implicit claims that greater uses of non-fossil fuel is impossible.
  20. If a developed nation’s contribution to climate funds such as the Green fund are simply a shift of money from existing foreign aid funds, they should expressly admit to this while explaining why they have no ethical obligations to increase funding for adaptation and response in vulnerable nations.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s