The Ethical Considerations of Climate Change: What Does It Mean and Who Cares?


Empirical evidence advancing the theory of anthropogenic climate change and resultant policy action has been framed through the perspectives of scientists, economists and politicians; the ultimate objective being to minimise the risk of dangerous climate change through the reduction of GHG emissions. However, policies designed to reduce carbon pollution have utilised cost benefit analysis (e.g., Stern and Garnaut reports), largely ignoring ethical implications of such actions. This has resulted in a climate debate that sidelines the moral and social considerations of the suggested actions designed to reduce the impact of dangerous climate change. Special interest groups have focussed on subjective interpretations of objective statistics, resulting in an extreme polarisation of viewpoints, pitting climate change deniers against politico-economic rationalists, with climate scientists largely sitting on the sidelines.

There has, however, been a recent shift in the science of climate change acknowledging that, “many profound ethical questions are hidden in scientific and economic arguments about various climate change policy proposals” (Brown D, Tuana N, Averill M, et al. (2006) ‘White Paper on the Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change’, Rock Ethics Institute, Penn State University). We wish to promote an inter-disciplinary approach to the ethical considerations of climate change and situate the debate within a ‘real world’ context to enable people to link evidence and resultant policy to their own moral responsibility as ‘global citizens’. By placing reliable scientific information within a holistic framework, scientific outcomes with a high level of certainty may be conveyed within a wider perspective that includes ethical and social considerations, resulting in a stronger claim for practical outcomes with respect to climate change solutions. This can be used to support policies that are practical as well as moral.


Peer-reviewed, Ethics, Climate Change, Science, Philosophy


This conference paper is unavailable for download

The Author:

Dr Laura D'Olimpio