20.09.2016 - Social and Human Sciences Sector

UNESCO aims to make moral case for combating climate change in global declaration

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UNESCO today announced it will write a global declaration of ethical principles on climate change in the hope it will inspire governments, businesses and individuals to cut their carbon footprint. A group of experts, hosted by the Moroccan National Commission for Education, Sciences and Culture, is meeting for the first time at the Academy of the Kingdom of Morocco in Rabat from 20 to 24 September 2016 to produce the draft of a declaration. UNESCO hopes a final declaration in 2017 will underpin commitments by some 195 countries in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement to combat the threat of climate change. The Paris Agreement united the world in a global consensus on tackling climate change for the first time.

UNESCO has asked 24 environmental experts from around the world to write the first draft of a preliminary text of a declaration, which will serve as a technical basis for consultations with Member States prior to their adoption of the final text in November 2017. Secular and religious organizations, including from the Jewish, Christian, Muslims, Buddhist and other faiths, have issued declarations making the moral, ethical, environmental, economic and social case for tackling climate change. But this would be the first purely ethical declaration issued by the United Nations on this topic.

The UNESCO declaration could include ethical principles such as the need to safeguard the interests of present and future generations, the principle that polluters should pay the price of the damage they cause, a recognition of the interdependence of life on earth and the duty to share scientific knowledge, among others.

The experts, appointed by the UNESCO Director General, coming from Africa, the Arab world, Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and North America are meeting in the Moroccan capital Rabat upon the invitation of the Kingdom of Morocco, from 20 to 24 September to draft the preliminary text. Members of this Ad Hoc Expert Group (AHEG) include specialists in climate science, biology, environmental sciences, environmental law, oceanography, meteorology, economics, philosophy and ethics. Among these experts are some that have contributed to the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

“What we do about climate change is not just one of the biggest economic and environmental decisions of our age. It is one of the biggest ethical decisions of our time,” said UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova. “A Declaration on the Ethical Principles in relation to Climate Change is particularly relevant in light of the universal breakthrough of the Paris agreement.”

Some 195 countries reached a landmark agreement in Paris in December 2015 to take action against climate change. The agreement sets a collective goal of keeping global warming below 2C° compared to pre-industrial times and endeavoured to limit the temperature rise to 1.5C°. It required all countries to submit plans for climate action and to update them every five years, though such plans are not legally binding. All countries in Paris committed to action on climate change by developing their own voluntary commitments, referred to as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). In this context, agreeing on shared ethical principles and clarifying them can support and advance coordinated joint action.

UNESCO has a leading role globally in promoting ethical science: science which shares the benefits of progress for all, protects the planet from ecological collapse and creates a solid basis for peaceful cooperation. Plans for a UNESCO declaration on the ethics of climate change mitigation and adaptation are the result of a decade of work by the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST), a scientific advisory body at UNESCO, on climate change.

The first draft of a preliminary text of a non-binding declaration is to be finalized on 24 September 2016. UNESCO hopes to adopt the final declaration in November 2017.


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