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Ethical Issues Raised by Carbon Cap-and-Trade Regimes

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This chapter examines ethical issues raised by the cap-and-trade regimes that have emerged to solve the climate change crisis in the last decade. These regimes have emerged:

1. at the international level under the Kyoto Protocol;

2. at the regional international level, including in the European Union and between US states and the Canadian provinces; and

3. at the subnational level including among Northeastern U.S states.

There is also a large voluntary carbon trading market that has emerged around the world that is not the focus of this chapter although these regimes raise many ethical issues considered here.

At the international level, under the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change there are three different trading regimes. They are:

(a) Emissions Trading (ET): A mechanism that allows a nation with a Kyoto target to buy d allowances from a country with a Kyoto target that does need all of its allowances.

(b) Joint Implementation (JI): A mechanism that allows project financing by nation with a Kyoto target in another country with a Kyoto target.

(c) Clean Development Mechanism (CDM): A mechanism that allows nations with Kyoto targets to finance projects in developing countries that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The goal of this chapter is to spot the major ethical issues raised by carbon cap-and-trade regimes that have emerged around world, not necessarily to resolve these issues.

Spotting ethical issues raised by cap-and-trade regimes will not necessarily lead to a consensus about what should be done about these issues because there are competing ethical theories that might reach different conclusions about these trading regimes including utilitarian, rights, virtue, relationship, and ecological based theories among others. However, for some issues there may be an overlapping consensus among ethical theories about what ethics requires (Brown et al., 2006). For other issues there may be agreement among ethical theories that some positions on cap-and-trade issues are ethically problematic no matter what ethical theory is applied to analyze the issue under consideration. Therefore, spotting ethical issues raised by carbon cap-and-trade regimes may be practically valuable despite the inability for some issues to state unambiguously what ethics demands if spotting the ethical questions leads to eliminating from consideration some positions on these issues that fail to pass minimum ethical scrutiny (Brown et al., 2006).

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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  • Democracy, Ecological Integrity and International Law
    Democracy, Ecological Integrity and International Law is the latest product of research by the Global Ecological Integrity Group (www.globalecointegrity.net), an organisation that has been meeting annually since 1992 to discuss scientific, philosophical, political and legal aspects of ecological integrity. This collection examines various aspects of governance from the standpoint of integrity: from democracy, to forms of Native governance, from globalization and neocolonialism to specific human rights to food, water and climate.
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