Widener Law plays key role in ethics and justice review of climate change policies worldwide
Public Relations - Published: July 17, 2014

Donald Brown, scholar in residence for sustainability and ethics

The Widener University School of Law campus in Harrisburg, Pa. is teaming up with the University of Auckland in New Zealand on an environmental research project designed to promote equity and justice in climate change policy around the world.

The Research Project on Ethics and Justice in Formulating National Climate Change Policies will have faculty from both schools working together to manage data generated by environmental lawyers and researchers. Donald Brown, scholar in residence for sustainability ethics and law, based on Widener Law’s Harrisburg campus, will oversee the project for Widener, which is home to the Environmental Law Center.

“This is a really high-level project,” Brown said. “We are trying to raise global awareness about the ethical and justice dimensions of climate change policies around the world.”

Brown and his New Zealand counterpart, Prue Taylor, are seeking environmental researchers from across the globe to volunteer their research skills and time, and analyze their countries’ policies on greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Researchers will be asked to investigate whether – and to what extent – their countries took into account the impact their emissions have on small or poor vulnerable nations, some of whose futures are dubious as climate change progresses. Researchers also will report on whether their countries have explained how and why their greenhouse gas emissions reduction commitments represent their ethical fair share.

When ratifying the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, nations agreed to adopt policies and measures for reducing emissions based on equity. Brown said, however, most high-emitting nations are basing their climate policies on economic self-interest, rather than on their global responsibilities to those most vulnerable to climate change.

“There is something unique about the climate change problem,” Brown said. “Some countries with heavy emissions are putting others at greatest risk. The harms caused by the bigger nations aren’t just inconveniences; they are catastrophic to smaller, vulnerable countries. It’s clearly a justice issue in ways other environmental problems are not.”

Brown said he will be researching the United States’ commitments on emissions reductions for the project. In addition, the project already has research volunteers from Great Britain, Australia, Brazil and Spain, as well as New Zealand. The University of Auckland will publish initial papers from the project and work with Widener University School of Law in creating a website to update the reports in the future. Brown said the goal is to have reports from the initial researchers in hand by September.

Those interested in the project should contact Brown at dabrown57@gmail.com. A more detailed description of the project is available at EthicsAndClimate.org.