Ethics for carbon managers

March 28, 2013, by Tim Stumhofer

There is a small but growing literature that considers the challenge of climate change through the ethicist’s lens. So-called “climate ethics” addresses the ethical imperative for action on climate change. (See this short interview for a good introduction to the flavor of the discourse.) This discussion is important, but while the broad issue of climate change is analyzed at a macro-level, there is a separate litany of ethical questions relevant to those working on the ground to design and implement climate programs and policies.

A new professionalization initiative

We have previously written in this blog about the importance of professionalization as a tool for improving governance by increasing oversight and developing ethical norms. In line with our mission we have taken a number of concrete steps to further professionalize the practice of GHG measurement and management, including launching a code of ethics for carbon managers in 2009 and more recently collaborating on the EP(GHG) professional certification. Now, for our latest professionalization initiative, we are aiming to advance ethical GHG professional practice through education and capacity building.

Training for integrity

Training is an area in which GHGMI is well practiced. Yet, analyzing climate policy design and implementation for ethical complexity is another challenge altogether. Fortunately, to meet this challenge we have been able to join hands with Transparency International (TI). Through their Climate Governance Integrity Program, TI is applying experience honed over two decades leading “the global coalition against corruption” to the challenges graft and corruption present to programs designed to address climate change.

Working in collaboration with TI, we are developing a new short course to help policy designers, civil society observers, and carbon management practitioners identify and manage ethical complexity in market-based GHG mitigation mechanisms. The course is organized around the following corruption-resistant principles and will be piloted as a part of TI’s in-country capacity building programming later this year.


Refers to behaviors and actions consistent with a set of moral or ethical standards that create a barrier to corruption. Principles of integrity are enshrined in codes of conduct and conflict of interest policies for staff, which can covers such issues as vulnerability to political influence or vested business or professional interests.


Openly disclosing information relating to rules, plans, processes, and actions. Government officials, public servants and the managers and boards of companies all have a duty to act transparently. This allows people outside an institution to monitor its work and to take action when something is not as it should be. It also means that duty-bearers have to answer for the actions and decisions they take.


Is the concept that individuals, agencies and organizations are held responsible for executing their powers properly. Public officials can be held to account by courts or ombudsmen, who can take action against them for improper conduct. NGOs often act as watchdogs to keep decision-makers in check. Citizens can also help hold decision-makers to account when circumstances allow them to, in situations of information disclosure and a free and fair press, for example.

As these descriptions suggest, the challenge of battling corruption extends beyond simply addressing overt abuses of power, such as bribe-taking. In turn, there are a host of opportunities to chip away at the conditions in which corruption (i.e., abuses of power) may take hold. This course aims to empower stakeholders with the knowledge to identify, document, and affect systemic change in GHG program design.

At the same time, the course will equip practitioners to understand and manage ethically challenging situations inherent to systems of GHG measurement, reporting, and verification. Perhaps you’ve found yourself in such a situation before? For instance, if you:

But what do you think?

Just as business ethics coursework is mandated at many business schools, should GHGMI require its graduates complete a course on ethics for carbon managers?

Have you ever found yourself in an ethical dilemma while conducting GHG work or witnessed ethically questionable behavior in the field?

As always, we welcome your feedback in the comments section below.

We are excited to be working with Transparency International on this timely and valuable initiative. And, we are hopeful that not only will this effort advance the professional practice in our community, but that it will help seed a dialogue on ethical challenges in policy implementation to complement the macro-level climate ethics discussion.

2 responses to “Ethics for carbon managers”

  1. Mark Miller says:

    I wonder if a broad base ethical code is the correct approach. The article prompted me to look into this more carefully than I had before. It also led me to consider wider implications and issues that are not obvious from my day to day GHG management work. I have to confess it surprised me. As a reminder of the encompassing nature of GHG issues and climate change it was both timely and worrying.
    So much of what happens within the GHG Management field is rooted in technical and accounting techniques that I had found it easy lose sight of some of the problems that the TI reports describe. I knew about them, I even factored them into projects – but they had become parts of a different solution.
    So, would a code of ethics for GHG professionals solve this? The issue for me was awareness rather than ethics and I suspect that this may be the real heart of the problem. I have no problem signing up to a code of ethics – I already follow a number associated with contracts and other professional affiliations. What would help me is a professional requirement (CPE, CPD or similar) that made the awareness and the updating of that awareness an expectation for all practitioners.

  2. Tim Stumhofer says:

    Mark: Thanks for the comment. Glad to hear the article inspired you to dig a bit deeper and reflect on the issue — it’s an area GHGMI is committed to working on, not to mention an issue I personally find very interesting.

    I’d agree with your assessment that much of what the GHG management practitioner does in their day to day is easy to write off as “technical.” This classification often overlooks the ethical questions individuals face as they exercise “professional judgment.” It’s our view that as a professional organization we have a responsibility to draw attention to the ethical questions practitioners will face in their day-to-day work. …it’s our hope that we can make some headway on creating and reinforcing positive norms of professional practice.

    Regarding your question on solutions, as I mentioned in the post we went through a multi-stakeholder process to develop a code of ethics in 2009. But, as you underscore, a code of ethics by itself only goes so far. We think that education and the resulting expanded awareness outcomes are critical to grounding the code of ethics in context and ultimately making it more meaningful. Finally, I like your suggestion to link continuing education credits with ethical coursework. Incentives are important and I could see there being a role for this as the field moves toward greater professionalization. But first, we’re keen to get this new course running and jumpstart the ethics conversation.

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