2018 Scholars’ Conference

Over the course of two days this past month the Leverhulme doctoral scholars in climate justice along with guests and external speakers met for the annual Scholars’ Conference: “Climate Change: Dialogue Between Disciplines.” Here, we summarise the speakers’ contributions to the conference and tease out a few threads running through the many talks.

Day One: Tuesday 16 January
After a warm welcome from the director of the Leverhulme Programme in Climate Justice, Professor Catriona McKinnon, presentations began with the first keynote speech, given by Professor Neil Adger (University of Exeter). This encouraged the audience to think about the different ways climate justice is understood and acknowledged, arguing that citizens’ perceptions of fairness directly affect policy success. The implication of this insight being that policies must be attentive to fairness, perceptions of fairness more precisely, to achieve effective community realisation.

Attention then turned to the Leverhulme Scholars’ panels. Jessica Omukuti (Agriculture, Policy & Development) explored how equity is represented in policy processes, arguing that a policy influence framework can be used to assess how different actors can have an impact on equity in policy processes. Jessica’s invited speaker, Joanna Wilson (University of Manchester), then spoke about the relationship between climate justice and gender and her experience of COP23 in Bonn, arguing that it was an acutely gendered arena.

Jamie Draper (Politics) and Pierre André (Université Paris-Sorbonne) formed the second panel. Jamie presented on matters of justice in climate migration. He argued that relatively minimal global justice commitments can yield strong duties towards climate migrants and provided a sketch of how the provision of asylum might function as a remedial responsibility owed to those displaced in the context of climate change. Pierre then presented on compensatory justice, arguing that although compensation seems appropriate when applied to the case of small island states there would be serious shortcomings in its implementation. In response to this problem, Pierre’s talk noted a role for encouraging a form of radical hope.

To wrap up day one, the newest Leverhulme Climate Justice Scholars presented introductions to their research. Livia Luzzatto (Politics) started off by asking what we owe to future generations and how this intersects with climate change. What rights do future people have? What duties do these rights give rise to? What does meeting these duties mean for climate policy? Livia’s presentation focused on the special interests and capacities of persons which ground rights for persons present and future.

Up next was Africa Bauza Garcia-Aracicollar (Agriculture, Policy and Development). Africa’s presentation centred on the consequences of framing climate change induced migration as a question of “moving or drowning.” She argued against this approach as it can stir negative emotions which forecloses the future of islanders making them ‘powerless’ victims. She suggested that we encourage a more open conception of the future which places humanity at the centre by additionally theorizing responses to climate change in terms of hope.

Adam Pearce (Politics), then presented some considerations when thinking about a role for criminalisation in mitigating climate change. His starting point was to establish good reasons for thinking about stricter enforcement of limits to greenhouse gas emissions. However, the talk went on to note the difficulties associated with criminalising contributions to climate change arising from apportioning blame to specific actors and fitting these sorts of act into existing moral theories of criminalisation.

Finally, Zainab Aliyu (Geography) presented on “Climate Justice Movements in sub-Saharan Africa.” Her presentation pointed out the irony that sub-Saharan Africa is least represented in global climate debates despite being among the most at risk to the detrimental impacts of climate change. Zainab’s presentation analysed how sub-Saharan Africa can mobilise a powerful and effective climate justice movement to raise their profile and influence at international climate negotiations. This presentation, and the day, ended by highlighting that the first step to finding a practical solution to climate change is to connect with and inspire the population to climate action.

Day Two: Wednesday 17 January
Day two of the conference saw a continuation of the interdisciplinary dialogue with speakers from both the natural and the social sciences. This dialogue is comprised, first, by the recognition that in order to secure climate justice we must be sure to use, interpret, and communicate climate science carefully and effectively. Second, we must view climate change, and possible responses to it, within the current context of global poverty, environmental degradation and global security threats because both the causes and effects of climate change are deeply embedded within society. The second day’s keynote speakers can be thought of as exemplars for furthering the two prongs of this dialogue respectively.

The day began with a keynote speech by Professor Mark Maslin (University College London). His presentation emphasised the need to start with a sound climate science basis in order to devise just and effective adaptation strategies. Most strikingly, he defended a factual claim that ‘maladaptation kills, not climate change.’ This was not to say that there is nothing wrong with anthropogenic climate change; rather, whatever wrong occurs due to climate change is mediated through how human societies deal with it.

The day’s second keynote speaker, Dr Elizabeth Cripps (University of Edinburgh), assessed the compatibility of global, intergenerational, and climate justice with population growth. She argued that while trade-offs might be needed to jointly satisfy climate justice and procreative liberty, present generations must draw red lines to delineate moral no-go areas. One such no-go area must be securing basic justice – i.e. the protection of basic rights – for all present and future.

Later that afternoon, second-year Leverhulme doctoral scholars Bennet Francis (Philosophy) and Lydia Messling (Politics), as well as visiting speakers Laura Garcia-Portela (University of Graz), Erin Nash (Durham) and Jo Hamilton (Reading) presented some of their thought provoking work in two panel discussions. Bennett and Laura pointed to the difficulties of ascribing individual responsibilities for climate change. Bennet argued that attributing emission reduction duties to individuals as a matter of justice is i) disproportionate, and ii) unviable. Laura’s presentation assessed the possibility of attributing individual duties of compensation for climate losses and damages; she, too, suggested that such duties cannot be discharged, since individual wrongdoing is embedded in a wider collective injustice.

The day closed with a panel led by Lydia, who presented a framework along which to map the possible degrees of climate science communication – from silence to active policy advocacy. She argued that scientists’ inaction in the form of silence can be interpreted as a form of advocacy which problematises attempts to remain policy neutral. Erin, too, looked at how expert testimony is perceived by the public; she argued that in order to trust an expert’s opinion, the public must be able to access higher-order evidence about her – i.e. proof of their expertise in the field. When this evidence is veiled by the media and becomes difficult to access, public trust is reduced. In the final presentation of the day Jo took a closer look at public responses to climate change, mapped the range of emotions used to express them, and discussed how these can be harnessed to foster climate action. She suggested that allowing, expressing, and particularly sharing emotional responses in facilitative group settings can enable and sustain engagement with environmentalism.

As we hope is clear from our summary, the conference was insightful on multiple fronts. On reflection, at least three thematic linkages arise. 1) How morality sets constraints for policy beyond practical feasibility. This was particularly apparent in Dr Cripps’ talk which challenged empirical interest in population control solutions to climate change with a forceful defence of basic rights and their role in limiting this possibility. Yet, analysis of gender dynamics in climate negotiations; requirements to facilitate higher-order evidence; the role of cathartic emotional engagement; and facilitating equity in the voices of the vulnerable were all topics which make similar demands of climate policy.

2) How evidence shapes the moral scheme of climate justice decisions. Professor Maslin’s talk epitomised this form of interdisciplinary communication when arguing that changes in climate are not in themselves unusual or necessarily bad, but how societies cause and respond to these changes may be. This reminder that climate change is not wrong simpliciter is a reminder to climate justice theorists that their theories ought to be nuanced. Talks on the moral responsibility/blame of individuals; the remedial rights of climate migrants; and the position of hope in climate justice discourse were all excellent examples of how to ground climate justice claims in the facts of the matter.

3) How perceptions percolate into the success or failure of climate justice initiatives. Professor Adger’s talk emphasised the positive role a sense of fairness has for policy goals and many talks, at least implicitly, had this kind of consideration in mind. For instance, protecting the rights of future people engenders a sense of intergenerational fairness and assessing the prospects for stricter enforcement takes seriously the aim of preserving fairness in attempting to avoid free-riding. While understanding the wider perceptions of expert testimony, even when experts stay silent, is also critical.

Finally, it behoves us (the newest doctoral scholars) to thank especially the speakers and visitors for their sharp commentaries on our germinal projects. Any nerves were quickly dispelled by the encouragement of all and our projects are already improved immeasurably because of insightful questioning.

By Adam, Africa, Livia, and Zainab: the newest Leverhulme doctoral scholars