The U.N. Kyoto Protocol was established in 1997 as a global response to climate change. As of 2007, more than 170 countries have signed the treaty, committing themselves to significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions – but the treaty expires in 2012.
Although the United States withdrew as a signatory of the Kyoto treaty, many individual states have taken the initiative to address climate change. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, for instance, has signed into law a sweeping global warming initiative imposing the nation's first statewide cap on greenhouse gas emissions.
Even here at Penn State, policy measures are being taken to address climate change. As part of the University's energy master plan, President Spanier committed Penn State to "double-digit" reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2012.
Throughout the world, at all levels of government, decision makers are facing unprecedented challenges in developing appropriate climate strategies for their constituents. Their decisions raise profound economic and ethical concerns. Should developing countries be required to "balance" development with climate-change mitigation, given that rapid economic and social development offer the only hope of adapting to the effects of climate change? What constitutes a reasonable and ethically responsible climate/development "balance" for poorer countries? What about for industrialized nations? Now and in future generations, who is responsible for responding to the unavoidable consequences of climate change?
The Rock Ethics Institute is working to identify the significant ethical issues that need to be addressed at all levels of climate governance. We are working with Penn State climate scientists to develop cutting-edge policy-relevant research and have initiated the Collaborative Program on the Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change (CPEDCC) to partner with an international group of scholars and institutes in order to insure that local, national, and global climate policies are well rooted in the principles of justice.