At the Paris climate summit in 2015, 196 parties agreed to take action on climate change. Who has reduced greenhouses gases and by how much is currently being investigated in numerous studies worldwide. But what ethical criteria are used to measure the success of climate action? An analysis of assessment criteria has now been put forward by a group of international philosophers, social scientists and political scientists, among them Professor Darrel Moellendorf, political scientist at Goethe University.

Ten out of sixteen studies reviewed on the evaluation of the worldwide effort to combat climate change judge according to criteria that are „biased and oversimplified“. In doing so, they favour above all the wealthy countries of the world. This is the conclusion of 18 international scientists in their study „Ethical choices behind quantifications of fair contributions under the Paris Agreement“, in which the political scientist Professor Darrel Moellendorf was also involved. In the run-up to the World Climate Summit planned for November in Glasgow, they therefore call for these criteria to be made transparent and put up for political discussion.

“Many of these equity assessments of climate action are considered to be neutral and objective, but they are not, and perhaps they can’t be,” says Darrel Moellendorf, political scientist with a focus on environmental ethics at Goethe University. “We need to reflect on these criteria before new decisions are made based on these studies. Otherwise, there will still be no climate justice. And climate justice means that countries that have a greater capacity to tackle climate change must also make greater efforts.“

The scientists attest that even the recognised and independent scientific analysis „Climate Action Tracker“ (CAT), which is used by the media, governments and civil society to assess steps towards climate justice, uses criteria that favour wealthier countries. For example, CAT analyses are also based on the grandfathering principle practised in the European Union – albeit „hidden deep inside its engine room“, according to the scientists: According to the grandfathering principle, countries are assigned emissions reductions as percentage of their previous emissions. This principle disadvantages countries that previously contributed less to climate change through emissions. The assessment of climate justice is also skewed by the fact that the „hardship“ of some countries, i.e. their weaker economic situation, is not taken into account when assessing the their fair share of climate action.

“The studies should reveal the countries’ different starting points,“ says Moellendorf. „The greater responsibility of the industrialised nations should also be included in the evaluation of climate justice. And we should be clear that there is no such thing as a completely neutral assessment of climate justice. However, the criteria we use to assess it should be made transparent and should also be discussed politically.”

In addition to the political scientist Professor Darrel Moellendorf from Goethe University, the following scientists were involved in the study:

Kate Dooley,University of Melbourne; Christian Holz,Carleton University,Ottawa; Sivan Kartha, Stockholm Environment Institute, Boston; Sonja Klinsky, Arizona State University; Timmons Roberts,, Brown University, Rhode Island; Henry Shue, University of Oxford; Harald Winkler,University of Cape Town; Tom Athanasiou, Climate Equity Reference Project, Berkeley; Simon Caney, University of Warwick; Elizabeth Cripps, University of Edinburgh; Navroz K. Dubash, Centre for Policy Research, New-Delhi; Galen Hall, Brown University; Paul G. Harris, Education University of Hong Kong; Bård Lahn, CICERO Center for International Climate Research, Oslo; Benito Müller, University of Oxford; Ambuj Sagar, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi; Peter Singer, Princeton University.

The publication in „Nature Climate Change“ can be found here: https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41558-021-01015-8