Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: June 2014

7 - Urgency and Policy


“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. We are faced now with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late…We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: Too late.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

The warming limit of 2°C has been widely endorsed. The European Union and several prominent international NGOs, including Oxfam and Christian Aid, had advocated the limit for several years before the sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP 16) to the UNFCCC formally adopted it in Cancun in 2010. The temperature goal is, however, to a large extent arbitrary. Because of cascading uncertainties associated with various feedbacks in the climate system, we are unable to predict if dire consequences owing to warming might befall us well before an equilibrium warming of 2°C. Moreover, whether it is reasonable for least-developed and developing countries to accept a mitigation plan designed to keep warming within that temperature target depends on whether the plan lays costs on them that are likely to prolong or deepen poverty by raising their energy costs. But because it seems possible to limit the warming to 2°C in a manner that would prevent heaping costs on the least-developed and developing countries, and because of the projected economic costs of trying to limit warming at a lower temperature, the 2°C limit has broad credibility. Despite this credibility, international negotiations have so far failed to produce an agreement that would limit emissions of greenhouse gases sufficiently to have a good chance of achieving the warming limit.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
UNFCCC, Report of the Conference of the Parties on Its Sixteenth Session, Held in Cancun from 29 November to 10 December 2010. (accessed November 22, 2012)
UNFCCC, Report of the Conference of the Parties on Its Fifteenth Session, Held in Copenhagen from 7 to 19 December 2009. (accessed November 22, 2012)
Schneider, Stephen H., “Geoengineering: Could – or Should – We Do It?Climatic Change 33 (1996): 296
Stern, Nicholas, The Global Deal: Climate Change and the Creation of a New Era of Progress and Prosperity (New York: Public Affairs, 2009), p. 70
New, Mark, et al., “Four Degrees and Beyond: The Potential for Global Temperature Increase of Four Degrees and Its Implications,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 369 (2011): 11
Shue, Henry seminal article, “Subsistence Emissions and Luxury Emissions,” Law & Policy 15 (1993): 39–60
Baer, Paul “Adaptation: Who Pays Whom?” in Adger, W., et al., eds., Fairness in Adaptation to Climate Change (Cambridge, MA: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2006), pp. 131–156
Dessai, Surajae, et al., “Climate Prediction: A Limit to Adaptation,” in Neil Adger, W., et al., Adapting to Climate Change: Thresholds, Values, and Governance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 68–69
Scherrer, Donald, ed., Upstream/downstream: Issue in Environmental Ethics (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1990), p. 85
Stafford Smith, Mark, et al., “Rethinking Adaptation for a 4°C World,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 369 (2011): 206–208
Warren, Rachel, “The Role of Interactions in a World Implementing Adaptation and Mitigation Solutions to Climate Change,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 369 (2001): 234
Chen, I-Ching, Hill, Jane K., Ohlemüller, Ralf, Roy, David B., and Thomas, Chris D., “Rapid Range Shifts of Species Associated with High Levels of Climate Warming,” Science 333 (2011): 1024–1026
Sandler, Ronald, “The Value of Species and the Ethical Foundation of Assisted Colonization,” Conservation Biology 24 (2010): 424–431
Goodin, Robert E., Green Political Theory (London: Polity Press, 1992), p. 41
Schawrtz, Mark W., et al., “Managed Relocation: Integrating the Scientific, Regulatory, and Ethical Challenges,” BioScience 62 (2012): 737
McLachlan, Jason S., et al., “A Framework for Debate of Assisted Migration in an Era of Climate Change,” Conservation Biology 21 (2007): 297–302
Minteer, Ben A. and Collins, James P., “Move It or Lose It? The Ecological Ethics of Relocating Species under Climate Change,” Ecological Applications 20 (2010): 1801–1804
Camacho, Alejandro E., “Assisted Migration: Redefining Nature and Natural Resource Law under Climate Change,” Yale Journal on Regulation 27 (2010): 171–255
Lodge, David M. and Shrader-Frechette, Kristin, “Nonindigenous Species: Ecological Explanation, Environmental Ethics, and Public PolicyConservation Biology 17 (2003): 31–37
Shoo, Luke P., et al., “Making Decisions to Conserve Species under Climate Change,” Climatic Change 119 (2013): 239–246
Geoengineering the Climate: Science, Government, and Uncertainty (London: The Royal Society, 2009)
Crutzen, Paul, “Albedo Enhancement by Stratospheric Sulfur Injections: A Contribution to Resolve a Policy Dilemma,” Climatic Change 77 (2006): 211–219
Latham, John, et al., “Marine Cloud Brightening,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 370 (2012): 4217–4262
Cicerone, Ralph J., “Geoengineering: Encouraging Research and Overseeing Implementation,” Climatic Change 77 (2006): 221–226
Jamieson, Dale, “Ethics and Intentional Climate Change,” Climatic Change 33 (1996): 333
Some Whats, Whys, and Worries of Geoengineering,” Climatic Change 121 (2013): 527–537
Gardiner, Stephen M., A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011)
Gardiner, Stephen M., “Is ‘Arming the Future’ with Geoengineering Really the Lesser Evil? Some Doubts about the Ethics of Intentionally Manipulating the Climate System,” in Gardiner, Stephen M., et al., eds., Climate Ethics: Essential Readings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 287
Augustine, , The City of God, bk. XIX, chp. 7. In Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 2. Translated by Dods, Marcus. Edited by Schaff, Philip. Revised and edited by Knight, Kevin (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887)
Bodansky, Daniel, “The Who What, and Wherefore of Geoengineering Governance,” Climatic Change 121 (2013): 539–551
Rayner, Steve, et al. “The Oxford Principles,” Climatic Change 121 (2013): 499–512
Ridgwell, Andy, et al., “Preface: Geoengineering: Taking Control of Our Planet's Climate?Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 370 (2012): 4164
Shue, Henry, “Avoidable Necessity: Global Warming, International Fairness and Alternative Energy,” in Shapiro, Ian and Wagner DeCew, Judith, eds., NOMOS XXXVII: Theory and Practice (New York: NYU Press, 1995), pp. 247–249
Parry, M. L., et al., eds., Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 11–18
Athanasiou, Tom and Baer, Paul, Dead Heat: Global Justice and Global Warming (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002)
Gardiner, Stephen M. in his A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 143–184
Anderson, Elizabeth, Value in Ethics and Economics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), p. 111
Victor, David G., Global Warming Gridlock: Creating More Effective Strategies for Protecting the Planet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 252
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Report of the Conference of the Parties on Its Seventeenth Session, Held in Durban from 28 November to 11 December 2011. (accessed November 22, 2012)