Climate Ethics

Halting global warming and dealing with the consequences of climate change in a responsible manner is one of today’s great tasks of humanity. In addition to enormous scientific, technological and political challenges, this also involves complex ethical issues.

Some important questions of justice arise from the particular temporal dimension of the climate crisis. As climate changes occur so gradually, many people whose decisions and actions have contributed or are still contributing substantially to the current problem are either already dead or will not live to experience the future consequences of climate change. In contrast, those people who are likely to suffer most from the impending deterioration of living conditions are still young or not even born yet. Younger people living today might consider it particularly unfair if they had to restrict their lifestyles all the more in the future because those currently in charge are doing too little to combat climate change, despite knowing better.

These considerations indicate that the appropriate effort for measures against climate change may be disputed between the generations that co-exist at a given time. Already within one society, further lines of conflict emerge between different social groups. In addition, national interests must be balanced against those of other countries or parts of the world. In this context, very different consequences arise depending on how the burdens of combating the climate crisis are distributed internationally. In a historical perspective, for example, one can calculate the total greenhouse gas emissions attributable to different countries over a longer period of time. Or one might take into account in particular the extent to which countries are currently contributing to global population growth.

On these and other ethical issues related to the climate crisis, the German Ethics Council aims to provide guidance by issuing an Opinion. In accordance with its legal mandate, the Council’s considerations primarily address the area of competence of German climate policy, but do so in awareness of global responsibilities.

Working group

  • Helmut Frister
  • Armin Grunwald (Vice-Spokesperson of the group)
  • Stephan Kruip
  • Frauke Rostalski
  • Kerstin Schlögl-Flierl (Spokesperson of the group)
  • Mark Schweda