Ethics and climate change policy

Research output: Book/ReportMonographpeer-review


Ethics is about making choices, something everyone does every day. For the idealist it is about choosing between good and evil, while for the pragmatist it means choosing between lesser evils and greater evils. Politics is also about making choices, and even though politicians will attempt as far as possible to present themselves and their policies as ethical, the harsh realities of distributing limited resources, ideological differences and conflicting interests mean that difficult and often apparently unethical choices must be made on a daily basis. Into this morass of ethical aspiration and political realism in the governing of individuals and populations falls almost every activity and interest imaginable, few of which are as contentious as climate change and the policies that are intended to ameliorate its worst effects. Complicating matters further, the literature on climate ethics, like that of every other aspect of climate change, is deeply contested, voluminous, rapidly expanding, and covers an array of fields: moral philosophy, science, economics, public policy, global justice, energy, and human rights, among others.1 Some, like Henry Shue’s 1993 paper on the costs, responsibility for, and allocation and prevention of greenhousegas emissions, remain politically relevant after a series of global climate conferences have failed to resolve them; others will remain in obscurity.2 Against such a backdrop this essay, necessarily subjective, explores the complexity of ethical decision-making in relation to climate change policy. The breadth of the subject matter precludes a comprehensive engagement with the literature available at every juncture, somy selectivity is acknowledged even as the reader is directed towards further reading.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherThe Global Warming Policy Foundation
Number of pages60
EditionGWPF Essay 2
ISBN (Print)9780957388055
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014


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