A PERSPECTIVE ON CLIMATE CHANGE

Leaders take responsibility. We know the futility of blaming others, however much we indulge in doing so.

We can’t change the past. We can, however, act in the present.

A leadership and business perspective can help a lot in climate change, and I don’t mean by promoting technical innovation.

Responsibility is a hot topic in climate change debates. Who is to blame for climate change? Who has the duty to do something about it? These questions are particularly relevant in discussions about climate change mitigation that is, about who should reduce their carbon emissions and by how much.

Because these arguments are entwined with the attribution of praise or blame for action or lack thereof, they can be framed as a question about moral responsibility. Climate change poses a deep moral challenge because it concerns a problem caused by those who consume most but whose consequences will be mostly felt by those who are most deprived. The question here is whether responsibility should be adjudicated on the merits of an action or on its consequences.

The attribution of moral responsibility to an action has most often been discussed in relation to individuals because it requires not only finding an agent, but also establishing the agent’s intention, capacity, freedom and knowledge to do such action. Indeed, much research on climate change has approached the problem of responsibility for emissions abatement from the point of view of individual responsibility. This can be seen, for example, in studies that examine the basis for establishing personal carbon budgets or in those that seek to explain why individuals do not perceive climate change as a moral imperative to change their actions. However, a strictly analytical take based upon individual responsibility ideas may lead to the conclusion that, since climate change is “a problem of many hands” (many people share in the actions leading to it), “nobody is (in some sense) responsible for climate change”.

Overall, we can attribute varying degrees of responsibility to different parties but the sense of collective responsibility remains. The problem of collective responsibility for climate change is not confined to the sphere of government, as it pertains to both the material economy and the broader society whose values underpin existing production and consumption patterns. However, this collective responsibility cannot simply be distributed among all individuals because there are great differences in terms of access and use of carbon sinks and capacity to act (not only between countries, but also within countries).