A Climate Deal is Not Enough

AMSTERDAM – During the COP15 climate summit in Copenhagen, world leaders have been negotiating the future of our planet. All the signs suggest that they are unlikely to sign a global climate treaty. The views of the various countries, and of the various industrial and political power blocs, differ too much.

The politicians, civil servants, and other participants at the Copenhagen summit have mainly been bombarding each other with numbers. Figures on how much various countries should reduce CO2 emissions, the amount of money they should put up in coming years, the exact nature of their responsibilities, how much temperature increase Earth will be able to endure, and how long we can continue to wait.

These are all very important issues. But the mere figures are simply not enough. A different approach to the problem of climate change is needed.

The climate issue can only be solved on the basis of shared, deeply felt ethical principles. Humanity has reached a critical moment in Earth’s history, at which peoples and nations will have to recognize their solidarity – with each other and with the Earth – and start acting upon it.

Similar to the way world leaders adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration in September 2000, and embraced the resulting Millennium Development Goals, today’s climate negotiators will have to commit themselves to creating a basis of shared fundamental ethical principles.

Such a basis is not hard to find. Its inspiration can be the Earth Charter, which, launched in 2000, was initiated by, among others, former USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev and Wangari Mathaai, who received the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in the Green Belt Movement, a pan-African tree-planting initiative.

The climate problem does not stop at borders. In the next few decades, a low-lying country like the Netherlands will need to invest billions of euros to intensify its age-old struggle against rising water.

But in many other countries, the water is already flooding over the dikes, both literally and figuratively. Climate change affects particularly those countries that lack the money needed to take adequate measures against rising sea levels, persistent droughts, or devastating storms, even though they had nothing to do with the primary cause of these problems – industrialization in the developed countries.

Apart from the necessary, often infrastructural adaptations to survive the effects of climate change, enormous efforts to prevent even worse things from happening are required. Large investments in forestation, agriculture, and energy supply are called for.

In devising solutions, the role of women should be the main focus. Women are often the first people who have to address the problem of gaining access to natural resources, and they are capable of playing a major role as pioneers in finding solutions to climate change and the way humankind should adapt to it.

In the short term, the world should become a sustainable global society of low CO2 emitters. This is a mission for all humankind, in which patriotic feelings and thinking in terms of power blocs have no place.

The pursuit of a sustainable global society of low CO2 emitters requires a tremendous effort. Precisely for this reason, it also requires a broadly shared ethical basis. This would guide the negotiating parties in such a way that they look not only for solutions to a part of the problem, but first and foremost at a comprehensive solution to the entire problem.

The climate change issue is too important to be left in the care of politicians. In Copenhagen, it is therefore imperative that not only nation states, but the business community and citizens combine their efforts to save our planet’s climate. That is not only a scientific necessity; it is an ethical imperative.