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The Earth’s Atmosphere

The Earth’s Atmosphere:
Responsible Caring and Equitable Sharing
for A Global Commons


A Justice Statement regarding Climate Change from
The World Council of Churches (WCC)
delivered to the High-Level Ministerial Segment of
The 6th Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP6)
to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
The Hague, The Netherlands, November 20, 2000



The atmosphere is a global commons. It envelops the Earth, nurturing and protecting life. It is part of God’s creation. 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.

Human societies are changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere through the excessive use of fossil fuels. Humans and other members of the life community are already suffering from climatic changes and scientific projections point to an increase in the number of those affected and the severity of such suffering adversely affecting health, food security, and habitation.

The wealthier countries with high per capita emissions levels have precipitated the climate change crisis. They have the moral responsibility to substantially reduce their own emissions.

Wealthy polluting countries should not be allowed to buy their way out of the problem through paying for projects in other countries.

Over the years since the adoption of the Climate Change Convention at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, attention has shifted away from a priority on emissions reduction actions in the richer polluting countries and toward strategies for those countries to purchase low-cost reduction credits in other countries.

Emissions trading under the Kyoto Protocol would violate the criterion of ecological effectiveness because it would not ensure a reduction in actual emissions.

Trading mechanisms such as proposed under the Clean Development Mechanism would pose major issues of equity and justice. 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.

The Clean Development Mechanism risks exacerbating inequities between rich and poor. 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.

The Clean Development Mechanism could further lock the poorer countries into the carbon path. Also, poorer nations in Africa would be severely disadvantaged through the Clean Development Mechanism. Because of their poverty and low per capita emissions, they would not attract investments from industrialised countries.

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.

An alternate approach which would be more sustainable and equitable could be a Global Atmospheric Commons Model which would be based on an equitable allocation of emissions rights such as the per capita convergence (i.e., long term sustainable) level. Countries that use the global atmospheric commons in excess of the convergence level would have to pay a user penalty into a Global Atmospheric Commons Fund. 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.

All humankind is made in the image and likeness of God and all of nature bears the marks of God. This demands (requires) of us to adopt the guiding principle of equity. God’s inheritance is for the communal body, a concept that includes all of nature.

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.

Recommendations for COP6

  1. 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.
  2. If an emissions trading system is pursued, it must include:
    • Equitable emissions allocations as the basis
    • Measurable criteria to ensure trading is supplemental to domestic action
    • A limit on the amount that can be credited toward domestic target
    • A fee to meet administration costs and adaptation needs for the most vulnerable
    • An effective verification and compliance mechanism
  3. If the Clean Development Mechanism is pursued, it must:
    • Be based on principles of equitable allocations
    • Be directed toward projects focused on non-carbon renewable energy technology


Copyright © 2000 World Council of Churches.
Reprinted with permission.