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Ethical questions add new twist to climate-change debate

Report seeks stronger focus on ethical issues in negotiations on greenhouse gases.

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Recent news on global warming is not encouraging:

•Concentrations of human-caused carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached the highest levels ever recorded last year, says a World Meteorological Organization report issued Nov. 3.

•Another greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide, also posted a record in 2005.

•Not only summer but also winter sea ice in the Arctic has retreated in a pronounced way, says a recent NASA study.

•A global recession is a probable outcome if rapid action on climate change is not pursued, says a major report released last week by the British government.

As delegates meet in Africa this week for a United Nations conference on climate change, they aim to set targets for dramatic cuts in fossil-fuel emissions beyond those set by the Kyoto protocol for 2012, and grapple with how to allocate those cuts. Yet the big economies of the United States, China, and India are not part of the Kyoto treaty.

These efforts call not only for the best scientific data and economic analyses, but also for explicit consideration of the ethical issues involved, says a multinational group of climate change, development, and ethical research organizations. To make its case to delegates and policymakers, the group released a white paper on the ethical issues in Nairobi on Nov 8.

"Climate change not only raises ethical questions, but the most profound ones – literally matters of life and death, who's going to survive, the fate of nation states, obligations of one nation to another, of the rich and the poor," and who is to be involved in the decisions, says Donald Brown, coordinator of the Collaborative Program on the Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change (EDCC).


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