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The atmosphere as global commons responsible caring and equitable sharing

A Justice Statement regarding Climate Change from The World Council of Churches (WCC) Prepared in anticipation of the 6th Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP6) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held in The Hague, Netherlands, November 2000

01 November 2000

Prepared in anticipation of the 6th Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP6) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held in The Hague, Netherlands, November 2000

The atmosphere as a global commons: The atmosphere envelops the Earth, nurturing and protecting life. In response to God's love for creation, we have a responsibility to care for the well-being of Earth and its ecological processes. Plants, animals and every member of the human family are dependent on this gift and have a right to its sustaining vitality. The atmosphere belongs to no one. It is to be shared by everyone, today and in the future. Economic and political powers can not be allowed to impair the health of the atmosphere nor claim possession of it.

1.1 "Global commons" refers to something shared in common by a community. We understand the atmosphere as part of God's creation and hence belonging to God. It is to be cared for responsibly and shared by all nations. In order to cope with the consequences of human domination over nature, we need to recognise and affirm the atmosphere as a global commons. Commons presupposes a community - its members can claim equal rights to the common ground. A global commons presupposes a global community. We affirm the need for a just, participatory and sustainable international community.

1.2 The urgency of the threat of climate change: Human societies are changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere through the excessive use of fossil fuels. Polluting gases are accumulating in the atmosphere and trapping more of the sun's heat - leading to a gradual global warming. Of the various greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide (CO2) is having the biggest impact. CO2 is produced by the burning of fossil fuels to produce energy for electricity, industry and transportation. Concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere have risen from about 270 ppmv (parts per million by volume) at the time of the industrial revolution to 365 ppmv today.

1.3 Over the past hundred years, global mean surface temperature has increased 0.5 to 1.1°F (0.3 - 0.6°C). The 1980s and the 1990s have been the warmest decades on record. Increasing temperatures affect many aspects of weather, such as wind patterns, the amount and type of precipitation, and the types and frequency of severe weather events. Sea level has risen during the past century between 3.9 and 10 in. (10 - 25 cm) because of thermal expansion of the oceans and scientists estimate that with current trends, they could rise by an average of 5 cm per decade over the next 100 years. Some estimates suggest that sea levels could rise by almost a full metre by the year 2100.

1.4 Humans and other members of the life community are already suffering from climatic changes and scientific projections point to an increase in the breadth and severity of such suffering adversely affecting health (e.g. heat stress, spread of tropical diseases, etc.), food security and habitation. Particularly vulnerable are people living in low-lying island states and on river deltas and the poor in countries affected by debilitating droughts and floods. Impoverished countries will likely suffer disproportionately from climate change in part because of their geography and in part because they lack the resources to be able to adapt to the changes.

1.5 The unequal responsibility for causing climate change: Not all societies have been contributing equally to the problem. Over 80% of the CO2 emissions which have accumulated in the atmosphere over the past 150 years have come from the richer northern countries. Currently, annual global CO2 emissions total the equivalent of about 4 tonnes for every person on Earth. The inequity of use of the atmospheric global commons is glaring when one compares the actual rates of various countries:


CO2 Emissions per tonne per person per year

United States


1.6 Inter-governmental negotiations on climate change: Governments started discussions in 1990 about addressing climate change after the 2nd World Climate Conference, a major international gathering of scientists, affirmed the seriousness of the issue and the need for action. At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted and later ratified by enough countries to bring it into force at the First Session of the Conference of Parties (COP1) in Berlin in 1995. By that time, it had already been recognised that the general commitments for the richer industrialised countries to limit emissions as contained in the UNFCCC were inadequate to meet the scale and urgency of the problem. Further negotiations began and in 1997 at COP3 the Kyoto Protocol was adopted. The Kyoto Protocol requires most of the wealthier northern countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by about 5% (country commitments vary but cumulatively total 5.2%).

1.7 The goal of nurturing sustainable communities in a non-carbon energy future: The pattern of industrial development followed over the past two hundred years in western societies, and increasingly replicated globally, has been heavily dependent on the use of fossil fuels. The threat of climate change forces us to seek alternate paths in order to stabilise the concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. A non-carbon energy future is both a necessity and a realisable possibility. We can make changes in the ways that we live which will help create healthy and sustainable communities. Richer western societies, rapidly industrialising countries, nations with economies in transition and impoverished peoples can all benefit from a transition to renewable energy sources.

1.8 Strategies of responsibility and equity: To address the threat of climate change, the countries with high per capita emissions of greenhouse gases must reduce those emissions dramatically. Their challenge is to recognize their responsibility for precipitating the problem of climate change and reduce their high consumption levels over time until they reach sustainable levels in terms of both ecology and equity. This has been referred to as a trajectory of contraction. Impoverished countries on the other hand start from relatively low levels of fossil energy use. Their emissions will increase somewhat over time as they pursue strategies to meet basic human needs and improve standards of living. The challenge for the poorer consists of raising levels of resource consumption at a much slower gradient than industrial countries did historically. This has been called the trajectory of convergence. The goal of a non-carbon energy future which is sustainable and equitable can be reached through contraction and convergence.

1.9 Criteria for assessing proposals to address climate change: Because of reluctance to accept their responsibility to reduce their own emissions, some of the richer nations have based their response primarily on the concept of economic efficiency, searching for the lowest cost opportunities to gain credit for reducing emissions usually in less prosperous countries. Economic efficiency is neither the only nor the most important criterion that should be used for evaluating proposals to address climate change. Any strategies need to be assessed as well in terms of environmental effectiveness (i.e. will they actually accomplish significant reductions?), equity (i.e. do they distribute costs and benefits fairly?), and responsibility (i.e. do those who are most at fault and with the greatest means to make reductions do so?).

2.1 Inadequacy of current reduction targets relative to the urgency of the problem: The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that annual global emissions of carbon dioxide will have to be reduced by a massive 60-80% from current levels if concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are to be stablised at 450ppmv by the end of the 21st century in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Even that level represents a huge increase over concentration levels 150 years ago (270 ppmv) and will inevitably entail significant global warming and consequent climatic changes. A 60-80% global emissions reduction contrasts sharply with the 5% reduction by the high emitting industrialised countries alone contained in the Kyoto Protocol. This is a very small step and yet even at that, powerful economic and political interests in some of the richer countries are mounting campaigns to try and persuade the public that the science is faulty and that ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and implementing this commitment will lead to economic disaster.

2.2 Polluter pays principle insufficient without polluter change: With one quarter of the global population, the rich industrialised countries currently generate three-quarters of the global CO2 emissions. They have the moral responsibility to substantially reduce their own emissions. The principle of polluter pays is relevant but insufficient if it means that countries can continue with their high levels of emissions if they have the resources to buy credits to meet their reduction targets. The polluter must change behaviour in order to reduce the pollution at source.

2.3 Reductions should be made primarily within the rich polluting countries and not displaced onto other countries: Wealthy polluting countries should not be allowed to buy their way out of the problem through paying for projects in other countries. Not only is it morally imperative to make emissions reductions primarily within their own countries but setting such targets can also have a major beneficial impact on stimulating technological innovation toward greater energy efficiency and the development of renewable energy options which in turn could bring down the costs through economies of scale. This would undermine the argument made by rich polluting countries that they need the option to buy emissions credits from other countries because domestic reduction would be too expensive. Such technologies could also then be of use in other parts of the world to assist in the global conversion toward a non-carbon energy future.

2.4 Powerful industries and transnational corportations: It is not just governments that bear the responsibility for reducing the emissions contributing to climate change. Some large corporations produce more emissions than the collective totals of many states. Oil produced by Shell alone emists more carbon dioxide than most countries in the world including Canada, Brazil, France, Australia and Spain. BP Amoco's production account for emissions that surpass those of its home country, Britain, while those of Exxon Mobil equal some 80% of those from all of Africa. 2.5 Potential for emissions reductions: Substantial reductions in CO2 emissions are realisable through improved energy efficiency, conservation and the development of renewable alternative energy sources. There have been considerable developments around the world which provide specific examples of ways in which energy efficiency and conservation can result in dramatic reductions in the amount of energy needed per unit of production and transportation:

  • Super-efficient homes in Frankfurt Germany which use 90% less heat and 75% less electricity than normal German homes;
  • Super-efficient and ultra-light ‘hypercars' using hybrid engines giving 100 mpg in local driving and 200 mpg-plus for long distance travel;
  • An integrated transportation system in Curitiba, Brazil, has bucked the ‘norm' of extensive car use. With a cheap and effective bus network, 70% of the inhabitants use the system, leading to 30% lower petrol use when compared to other Brazilian cities;
  • Clever appliance design and minimum standards-setting in Denmark which can cut electricity use by 74% compared to 1988 levels.

Renewable energy sources can reduce CO2 emissions further. Wind energy and solar power are two of the most promising renewable technologies. Though they still meet only a small fraction of the world's energy needs, wind and solar power are growing faster than any other energy source. In 1998, use of wind energy increased 30% worldwide and solar increased 16% worldwide.

2.6 While technological innovation can help human societies make significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions levels, this efficiency revolution also needs to be supplemented by a sufficiency revolution among the high consumption classes in the world. Current high consumption patterns not only produce high emissions levels and hence climate change which adversely affects the most vulnerable but are also undermining the quality of life for those wealthy consumers. They become fixated on materialistic acquisition and the resources needed to feed those desires and lose sight of the importance of values such as relationship, community and solidarity. Discerning what is sufficient for a good quality of life can lead people to choose to reorient their lives toward moderation and voluntary simplicity, concepts and practices which have long histories in many faith traditions.

2.7 Opponents of action to address climate change often argue that taking significant steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be disastrous for national and global economies. The analyses on which they base their claims invariably exaggerate the costs of moving away from a carbon-based economy and underestimate the significant economic benefits to be gained from such a reorientation.

2.8 In a speech in February 2000 to an IPCC Regional Experts Meeting on "Development, Equity and Sustainability", Ambassador Raul Estrada-Oyuela of Argentina put those economic costs in a global equity perspective. He noted that if the United States were to meet its entire reduction target under the Kyoto Protocol through completely domestic action, conservative estimates would put the cost about $185 C/ton. This would represent a yearly burden to the USA economy of $96 X 109 or 0.94% of the Gross Domestic Product. At the same time, according to World Bank statistics, external debt services impact on the GDP of developing countries, in 1997 values, was Argentina (6.3%), Brazil (4.7%), Indonesia (9.5%), Malaysia (7.6%) and Mexico (10.9%).

.1 Flexibility mechanisms and sinks divert focus from emissions reductions within polluting countries: Countries have set themselves the deadline of COP6 in The Hague in November 2000 for agreeing on an implementation plan for the Kyoto Protocol. Over the years since the adoption of the Climate Change Convention at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, attention has increasingly shifted away from a priority on emissions reduction actions in the richer polluting countries. Instead, negotiations have focused on strategies that would technically allow the polluters to meet their reduction targets. These strategies, the so-called flexibility mechanisms in the Kyoto Protocol, would have limited long-term impact on actual emissions levels. There is reason to be particularly concerned about two of those flexibility mechanisms - emissions trading and the Clean Development Mechanism.

3.2 Further, some of the richer countries are pressing vigorously for a priority to be placed on the enhancement of carbon sinks such as forests and particular agricultural practices related to the capturing of carbon in soils. While the enhancement of sinks serves useful ecological purposes, it is a poor strategy for dealing with the climate change challenge because of many scientific uncertainties about the processes of sinks and the temporary nature of the withdrawal of carbon into sinks (e.g. trees die or are burned which releases the carbon). The use of sinks can not be a substitute for addressing the climate change challenge at its source - the reduction of the emissions in the first place.

3.3 Emissions trading in the Kyoto Protocol is environmentally flawed: The basic mechanism of emissions trading as laid out in the Kyoto Protocol allows any country that stays below the limit of the binding limitation and reduction obligations established in the Protocol to transfer the difference to another country. The "assigned amount" of emissions that is transferred is then subtracted from the allowed emissions of the seller-country and added to that of the buyer-country. Such trading under the Kyoto Protocol is restricted to countries listed in Annex B in the treaty which comprises most of the northern industrialised nations. Developing countries are not included at this point in the emissions trading scheme as outlined in the Kyoto Protocol.

3.4 The principal reason that some of the wealthier industrialised nations pressured so hard for emissions trading to be included in the Kyoto Protocol was that they were convinced that they needed a cheaper means of meeting their reduction target through purchasing credits from other countries than making the emissions reductions at home. Finding the cheapest way to meet their targets met in their minds the criterion of economic efficiency. However, emissions trading under the Kyoto Protocol would violate the criterion of ecological effectiveness. For emissions trading to meet the criterion of ecological effectiveness, it would have to result in a real reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. If a trading system is initiated under the Kyoto Protocol, the major source of the emissions credits would be the Eastern European countries with economies in transition. Their emissions levels have dropped substantially from the 1990 base year (about 30%), not as a result of actions that they have taken to become more energy efficient but because of the collapse of much of their industrial economy. Thus rich industrialised countries would be able to meet their reduction targets in part through purchasing these fictitious emissions reductions. The net impact to the global atmospheric commons would not be a real reduction in emissions rendering the system environmentally flawed. Knowingly violating the criterion of ecological effectiveness would be tantamount to environmental fraud.

3.5 Trading mechanisms such as proposed under the Clean Development Mechanism would pose major issues of equity and justice: The emissions trading provisions contained in the Kyoto Protocol enshrine a system of allocation of rights to the atmosphere for rich nations which would be exceedingly inequitable if the system is extended in the future to include the poorer countries. Using 1990 as the base year, the Kyoto Protocol gives the rich nations which are already the highest emitters, full property rights over the "assigned amounts", that is entitlements based on their high historical emissions levels. These countries have been given the right to use these assigned amounts as property rights - to use the full assigned amounts, to trade unused emissions, and to bank unused emissions for use against future reduction targets. If poorer countries are brought into the system at some future time, they would be very disadvantaged because of their much lower level of emissions. Establishing the system based on historical emissions patterns reinforces a history of inequity between rich and poor in terms of resource exploitation and use of ecological space in the global atmospheric commons.

3.6 Clean Development Mechanism risks exacerbating inequities between rich and poor: Currently, the cheapest emissions reduction options lie with the inefficient fossil fuel economies of the poorer nations of the South. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) in the Kyoto Protocol is a trading system in which richer industrialised countries could invest in poorer developing countries through projects in cleaner technologies and would earn credits for the carbon dioxide emissions savings. The United States was anxious to include the CDM in the Kyoto Protocol as a means to argue that the treaty met the criterion of economic efficiency and facilitated the "meaningful participation" of the nations of the South (particularly ones with large economies such as China, India and Brazil). The US Senate had demanded that the treaty must have the involvement of such countries in taking on commitments to reduce emissions. The CDM may meet the criterion of economic efficiency but, as currently proposed, it would not meet the criteria of equity or ecological effectiveness.

3.7 If the Clean Development Mechanism does not follow the principles of equity and is not tied to renewable energy technology, it would amount to developing countries selling the rights of their future generations at cheap prices, and discounting their future. The richer countries, in order to meet their reduction targets, would be able to mop up the cheap reduction options from developing countries. This would leave only more expensive reduction strategies for the poorer countries when it is time for them to take on commitments in the future. Furthermore, the banking of CDM credits encourages industrialised countries to buy as many credits as possible, and to use them for future commitments periods. This could result in a situation where, having sold all their cheap options, developing countries are left with only expensive methods to meet future commitments, while industrialised countries still have cheap credits banked.

3.8 The CDM could further lock the poorer countries into the carbon path: Under the Clean Development Mechanism, the richer industrialised countries could invest in the fossil fuel sector in countries of the South through projects which would produce fewer emissions than the fossil fuel energy plants that they were replacing. However, this could result in further increasing the competitive advantage of fossil fuels over non-carbon based energy systems such as solar and wind thus promoting unclean energy and locking out clean energy sources. The World Bank has launched a Carbon Prototype Fund which will develop a portfolio of emissions reduction projects based on fossil fuels to be sold to the cheapest bidder on the world carbon exchange. This represents a very real threat to the criterion of ecological effectiveness over the long-term.

3.9 Poorer nations in Africa would be severely disadvantaged through the CDM: The Clean Development Mechanism would channel investments to Southern countries which have high enough emissions levels in their energy inefficient economies that they could produce substantial credits through projects to reduce emissions. Many African countries, largely because of their poverty, still have very low emissions levels both in absolute terms and in per capita terms. The rich countries of the North would thus see little potential for gaining emissions credits through investments in much of Africa. The economic inequity which already exists in global trade and investment would be further exacerbated under the CDM with many African countries receiving proportionately less and less.

4.1 Equitable rights to the atmosphere as a global commons must be the foundation of proposals to address climate change: The costs and benefits of use of the atmospheric global commons should be shared equitably among all human beings. An equitable approach to defining the ecological space for all nations in which they would have to live is through the use of per capita allocations or rights to the atmosphere.

4.2 Contraction and convergence: There are various approaches that could be used to calculate a per capita allocation taking into account population density, level of development and per capita emissions of individual countries. A sustainable and equitable approach would be for the global community to agree on a upper limit of atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide that would be considered acceptable and by which year this concentration can be reached. These parameters would then decide the global budget for carbon dioxide, or the total amount of carbon dioxide that can be emitted by all nations on earth. This budget would then be distributed equally to all people on Earth, and provide each country with its national budget, to be distributed over the entire period during which the agreed atmospheric concentration is expected to be reached. Developing countries will have a space to increase emissions, while industrialised countries will have to come down. This is the method of contraction and convergence advocated by the Global Commons Institute in London U.K.

4.3 The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated the total amount of carbon dioxide emissions that can be emitted in a 110-year period from 1991-2100 to reach specified atmospheric concentrations. If we aim for a maximum atmospheric concentration of 450 ppm of carbon dioxide, then the world can emit an average of 5.73 to 5.91 billion tonnes of carbon every year which would have provided in 1990 a per capita entitlement of 1.08-1.12 tonnes of carbon.

The purpose of allocation rights is not to force every nation to come down to the same level of per capita carbon dioxide emissions, which the wealthy high emitting countries will probably find impossible to reach as long as they are locked into a fossil fuel energy economy. Instead, it is to create an equitable framework in which all nations can work together with the assurance that each person is entitled to equity in economic activities, and to create an incentive for countries to find it worthwhile to shift to carbon-free technologies, such as solar energy, wind power, biomass or hydroelectricity.

4.4 An alternate approach - The Global Atmospheric Commons Model: We propose an alternate model than the one represented by the property rights approach of the flexibility mechanisms in the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol provides for geographical "flexibility" in fulfilling reduction commitments allowing high emitting countries to acquire emissions credits beyond their borders. These provisions are based primarily on the rationale of economic efficiency. On the other hand, criteria of ecological effectiveness, equity and responsibility point to the need for the wealthy polluting countries to reduce their emissions at home. The following proposal which we call the Global Atmospheric Commons Model, meets these criteria more adequately.

4.5 The Global Atmospheric Commons Model would be based on an equitable allocation of emissions rights such as the per capita convergence level described above. This obviously contrasts with allocations based on historical emissions patterns. Under this alternate model, countries which use the global atmospheric commons in excess of the convergence level would have to pay a user penalty into a Global Atmospheric Commons Fund. Clearly, a user penalty differs significantly, ethically and legally, from a property right. The fund would assist impoverished countries and those with economies in transition to move towards a non-carbon economy focusing on renewable energy sources such as solar, biomass, wind and small scale hydroelectric. For the wealthy polluting countries, having to pay the penalty for their excess emissions would act as a strong economic incentive for them to initiate structural changes towards long-term technological and societal innovations in their economies. In contrast to the Kyoto Protocol flexibility mechanisms, the industrialised countries would not be able to off-load their responsibilities by buying credits from other countries. Some nations, such as the larger developing ones and countries with economies in transition, currently have emissions rates higher than the convergence level and would thus be assessed a user penalty but would also be eligible for support from the fund for sustainable development and renewable energy technologies.

4.6 We offer the Global Atmospheric Commons Model in humility as an illustration that there are alternate approaches which could more adequately meet the criteria of ecological effectiveness, equity, responsibility and economic efficiency. We recognise that there are many questions left unanswered in our model. For instance, the system would have to entail a user penalty set at a high enough level that it acts as a true incentive for structural and technological change in the high emitting countries. How would the level of that user penalty be determined? Secondly, criteria for elibility to the fund and the administration of the fund would have to be designed carefully. Poorer nations have experienced repeated injustice at the hands of multilaterally administered funds such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund where the decision-making power rests primarily with the donors. One alternate approach for the Global Atmospheric Commons Fund might be for it to be administered by representatives of those peoples most vulnerable to climate change, for instance, the Alliance of Small Island States.

4.7 Another alternate model - The United Air Fund :A number of groups in The Netherlands including Ecooperation and OIKOS have collaborated to develop another model which also reflects the criteria of ecological effectiveness, equity, responsibility and economic efficiency. The United Air Fund estimates that the long term sustainable level for CO2 emissions will be about 2 tonnes per person per year. A country's actual emissions above or below this level would determine whether they have a clean air deficit or surplus and thus whether they would have to pay or receive credits. The United Air Fund has a voluntary character and applies the following principles:

  • The clean air surplus of the developing countries is translated into value (‘credit notes'). These are called shaires. (This is a contraction of three words, namely air, a share and to share.)
  • The credit notes are covered financially by the parties in countries that have a clean air deficit. These can be companies, institutions and households. They are the shaireholders of the United Air Fund.
  • The recipients of the shaires are public-private organisation in developing countries. They can exchange the credit notes at the United Air Fund to purchase clean air technology.
  • These public-private organisations ensure these energy technologies benefit the poorest sections of the population in the relevant developing country. After all, these are the groups that create a clean air surplus. 

A variety of implementation questions remain to be resolved related to the United Air Fund. Nevertheless, OIKOS and members of Dutch churches are convinced of the significant educational impact inherent in the Unitd Air Fund approach.

5.1 Fundamental rights and duties: Equity - In the use of the global atmospheric commons all human beings have equal rights. In practice, some of us have taken an unfair share of this commons. Any system of global atmospheric management must acknowledge this fundamental right. Any system of global atmospheric management which appears to establish an individual or corporate property right in the atmosphere must be recognized as fundamentally wrong. Property rights allow for the possibility of exclusion. Exclusion from access to the atmosphere equals death. The human community agrees that human lives may not be mortgaged and human rights may not be sold or exchanged. We need to recognize that the global atmospheric commons may not be traded.

Responsibility - The definition of morality is to recognize and take responsibility for the consequences of our actions. In the first instance, it is the responsibility of those who have harmed the global atmospheric commons to pay the cost of restoring the atmosphere to a level of healthy sustainability. Any system of global atmospheric management must take this principle into account.

5.2 Character, virtue and motivation: Our motivation must fundamentally be fed by a desire to be responsible to the Image and likeness of God in all people and the rest of creation. The driving motivation for emissions trading and the Clean Development Mechanism is to keep costs low, not to reduce emissions. This approach gives priority to economic efficiency over environmental effectiveness, rather than the reverse.

5.3 Reciprocity, mutuality, harmony and right relationship: Because of the relational nexus in which all meaning is generated, our public policies are accountable by how well they sustain networks of relationship. The purpose of any atmospheric management must be to promote the health of persons and rest of nature within their respective habitats.

5.4 Theology: All humankind is made in the Image and likeness of God & all of nature bears the marks of God. This demands (requires) of us to adopt the guiding principle of equity. In Psalm 104 we read that in Wisdom God made all things. In God's spirit are all creatures created. Orthodox theologian John Chryssavgis says, "The Spirit of God reveals the Image of God in Creation, beyond the brokenness and shatteredness of this world. The earth is thus not merely a reflection, but a perfection of heaven."

The land, speaking biblically as including all natural phenomena and thus including the atmospheric envelope, has been bestowed to us as an inheritance by God. (Sometimes inheritance is translated "Kingdom.") Jesus assured the poor that the land and all resources necessary for common livelihood and independence belong to them. And further, in the Mark 4: 30-32 parable of the mustard seed, Jesus claims the inheritance of - to fulfill our communal necessities, but there is no promise of luxury. In fact the rich young man (Mark 10:17-22) appears to turn down God's inheritance because he had the luxury of many properties and did not want to sell them and give to the destitute. Clearly the guiding principle of equity is central to the Biblical tradition. God's inheritance is for the communal body, a concept that includes all of nature.

5.5. Forgiveness, Repentance and Reconciliation: The destruction of the global atmosphere is a sin against God. True forgiveness is available from God but only after true repentance by the sinner. True repentance requires a conversion of the heart and a transformation of behaviour. Only then can true forgiveness be experienced. Countries with high emissions need a conversion of the heart and demonstrably new behaviour before they seek forgiveness.

5.6 Purity and Deb: Jesus preached against those rich sinners who sought purification by paying a tax to the Temple without actually changing their behaviour. We need to recognize that some versions of global atmospheric management risk re-establishing a system of purification without changed behaviour. In contrast, the historical pattern of emissions has resulted in an ecological debt owed by the high emitting countries to the low emitting countries. Any system of global atmospheric management which ignores this debt risks entrenching a pattern of environmental exploitation.

Refocus climate change negotiations on to options that meet the criteria of environmental effectiveness, equity, responsibility and economic efficiency with the priority being emissions reduction strategies in the high per capita polluting countries.

6.2 If an emssions trading system is pursued, it must meet the following conditions:

  • The egalitarian rule of equal per-capita emissions should serve as a guiding principle of an emissions trading system in the medium and long term. Other factors like climatic conditions, geography and even the current emissions structure may also need to be taken into account. ("adjusted egalitarianism").
  • The Kyoto Protocol demands that emissions trading be only "supplemental" to domestic actions. This should not be interpreted as a mere rhetorical exercise, but instead must be taken seriously. This is commended not only because of the historical responsibility of industrialised countries but also because supplementarity furthermore requires structural changes towards long-term technological and societal innovation. Without considerable pressure on producer and consumers alike, such changes are not likely to occur. Therefore a careful balance must be found between the demands for flexibility and the need to achieve climate induced technological and societal changes.
  • Limiting the part of the commitment that may be fulfilled by way of trading might be one possible solution in order to provide for effective domestic actions. As recommended by AOSIS (Alliance of Small Island States) and other developing countries, a specified percentage of the units transferred under each transaction should be contributed to meet administrative expenses and the adaptation needs of developing countries. This percentage must not be lower than 20 percent of the unit tended.
  • As experience on the national level has clearly shown, the establishment of an emissions trading system requires an effective enforcement mechanism. This mechanism should include multiple forms of assistance and support. It must, however, also comprise means for the strict enforcement of its rules, including binding consequences of a financial or other character.
  • In order to ensure the integrity of the emissions trading system under the conditions of international politics and law, both the seller and the buyer of such units must be liable in case of violation of the rules. Such a "buyer beware" approach will ensure that a potential buyer has an interest in the observance of the rules by the seller.

6.3 If the Clean Development Mechanism is pursued, it must:

  • Be based on principles of equitable allocations
  • Be directed to projects focused on non-carbon renewable energy technologyIf CDM is based on the principles of equitable allocations and non-carbon renewable technology,
  • It will transform carbon-based economies to renewable technology
  • Provide developing countries with the right incentives to promote sustainable development, and keep emissions low to sell as many credits as possible
  • Provide industrialised countries with a strong incentive to get out of carbon technology as soon as possible (which the Kyoto Protocol does not do)
  • Be a form of ‘meaningful participation' on part of the developing countries, who will agree to take on caps under the allocation process.

Amory and Hunter Lovins, and Ernst Ulrich von Weizsaecker,Factor Four
Carley and Spapens, Sharing the World - Sustainable Living and Global Equity in the 21st Century, London: Earthscan, 1998.
Centre for Science and Environment (India)
John Chryssavgis, "The World of the Icon and Creation: An Orthodox Perspective on Ecology and Pneumatology", in Dieter T. Hessel and Rosemary Radford Ruether, eds. Christianity and Ecology, Seeking the Well-Being of Earth and Humans, Cambridge, Ma: Harvard University Press, 2000.
Estrada-Oyuela, R., IPCC speech, Global Commons Institute, London U.K.
Government of Canada, Climate Change - Science, Impacts and Adaptation, 1999. Hallman, David G., Spiritual Values for Earth Community, Geneva: World Council of Churches, 2000
Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC Second Assessment Report
Sebastian Oberthuer & Hermann E. Ott, The Kyoto Protocol - International Climate Policy for the 21st Century, Berlin: Springer Verlag, 1999
Union of Concerned Scientists, Washington, D.C., USA
UN Climate Change Secretariat
World Council of Churches, Climate Change and the Quest for Sustainable Societies, 1998
World Council of Churches, The Global Atmospheric Commons - Ethical and Theological Dimensions of Emissions Trading

The World Council of Churches statement, The Atmosphere as Global Commons - Responsible Caring and Equitable Sharing, was prepared on the basis of deliberations at a "WCC Consultation on Equity and Emissions Trading - Ethical and Theological Dimensions" hosted by St. Andrew's College in Saskatoon Canada May 9-14, 2000

Elias C. ABRAMIDES, Ecumenical Patriarchate, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Socorro DELGADO A, Russian Orthodox University, Moscow, Russia
Nafisa Goga D'SOUZA, Laya, Visakhapatnam, India
Sam FERRER, Green Forum Philippines, Quezon City, Philippines
David G. HALLMAN, World Council of Churches/United Church of Canada, Toronto, Canada
Diana HARUTYUNYAN, Yerevan, Armenia
Christopher LIND, St. Andrew's College, Saskatoon, Canada
Jesse MUGAMBI, University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya
Vickie OBEDKOFF, United Church of Canada, Toronto, Canada
Herman OTT, Wuppertal Institute, Germany
QIU Zhonghui, Amity Foundation, Nanjing, China
David RENKAMA, Oikos, Utrecht, Netherlands
Carol ROBB, San Francisco Theolgical Seminary, San Anselmo, CA, USA Martin ROBRA, World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland Wolfgang SACHS, Wuppertal Institute, Germany Charles SAMPFORD, Griffith University, Australia Jaap VAN DER SAR, Kerk en Wereld, Driebergen, Netherlands Anju SHARMA, Centre for Science & Environment, New Delhi, India Bill SOMPLATSKY-JARMAN Presbyterian Church USA, Louisville, KY, USA Carlos TAMEZ L., Consejo de Igelsias Latinoamericano CLAI, Mexico D.F. Herman VERHAGEN, Ecooperation, Amsterdam, Netherlands Carol WERNER, Environmental & Energy Study Institute, Washington, D.C., USA Nettie WIEBE, St. Andrew's College, Saskatoon, SK, Canada Bonnie WRIGHT, Harare, Zimbabwe Jean GOLDIE, St. Andrew's College, Saskatoon, SK, Canada

For more information:
Dr. David G. Hallman, World Council of Churches Climate Change Programme Coordinator, c/o The United Church of Canada, 3250 Bloor St.W., Toronto, Canada, M8X 2Y4
tel. +1-416-231-5931 fax. +1-416-232-6005 e-mail