UNESCO is asserting that at its core, climate change is an ethical issue. In a broad consensus, the organization’s 195 Member States adopted a global Declaration of ethical principles in relation to climate change during the 39th Session of its General Conference (Paris, 30 October to 14 November).
UNESCO’s Declaration aims to help governments, businesses, and civil society mobilize people around shared values on climate change. lt sounds the alarm that, unless ethical principles become the basis of climate action, both climate change and responses to it could create unacceptable damage and injustice.
Among other ethical principles, a science-based approach to decision-making about climate is crucial. "Decision-making based on science is critically important for meeting the mitigation and adaptation challenges of a rapidly changing climate. Decisions should be based on the best available knowledge from the natural and social sciences," the text says.
At every level, climate action requires a responsible approach. This could improve decision-making, by framing interests in terms of shared values. In addition, UNESCO’s Declaration advocates for sustainability, solidarity and the prevention of harm.
Assisted by leading experts, including negotiators of multilateral climate treaties, scientists from the lntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and ethicists, UNESCO has for the past ten years facilitated discussion on ethics of climate change, examining how to promote fairness and address climate change at the same time.
The process was initiated in 2008, when the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology ("COMEST"), a global advisory body of experts, started framing the issues and urging policy responses.
In 2015, the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, followed by the Paris Climate Agreement, marked a turning point in the history of international cooperation on climate change.
Taken together, these embody a new global agenda for poverty reduction, human rights and dignity, social inclusion and dialogue, and more sustainable paths to development. This agenda fully includes – in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 – the idea that everyone should address the challenge of climate change urgently.
The Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Patricia Espinosa, has been crystal clear: "Implementing the Paris Agreement requires action on the ground and for that we need to mobilize everybody! We need to mobilize governments - not only national governments - governments at all levels. We need to mobilize civil society, scientists, private sector - everybody needs to be mobilized."
In a show of support for this UNESCO Declaration, government representatives have asked UNESCO to disseminate and promote the Declaration. UNESCO will continue to be fully engaged in this endeavour.
- Read the background report
also available in Arabic | Chinese | French | Russian | Spanish
- Brochure on the declaration
also available in French
- Questions and Answers
- More background information
- See also:
International panel on “Ethics and climate change: UNESCO’s (draft) declaration of ethical principles in relation to climate change” at COP23
UNESCO Pavilion (E09), Bonn, Germany, 15 November 2017