Environmental Justice in an Interdisciplinary Context

In empirical research on environmental justice, unequal environmental burdens are usually automatically considered as injustices. However, from a normative perspective, this is not necessarily the case. This research field investigates both the appropriate distribution of environmental risks and burdens, as well as the fair differentiation of responsibilities with a view to the implementation of corresponding measures. One particular focus is on measures for climate adaptation, issues concerning climate loss and damage, and implementing geoengineering technologies.

  • FR

    Justice environnementale dans un contexte interdisciplinaire

    Dans la recherche empirique sur la justice environnementale, les inégalités environnementales sont systématiquement considérées comme des injustices. Or, d'une perspective normative, ces injustices ne se confirment pas nécessairement. Ce domaine de recherche s'intéresse à une juste répartition des charges et des risques liés à l'environnement, ainsi qu'à une différenciation équitable des responsabilités dans la mise en œuvre des mesures correspondantes. Il accorde une attention particulière aux mesures d'adaptation au changement climatique, à l'approche relative aux dommages et pertes écologiques et à l'adoption de technologies de géo-ingénierie.

  • DE

    Umweltgerechtigkeit im interdisziplinären Kontext

    In der empirischen Forschung zur Umweltgerechtigkeit gelten ungleiche Umweltbelastungen meist automatisch als Ungerechtigkeiten. Doch dies ist aus normativer Perspektive nicht notwendigerweise der Fall. Dieser Forschungsbereich untersucht sowohl die angemessene Verteilung von Umweltrisiken und -belastungen als auch die faire Differenzierung von Verantwortlichkeiten zur Umsetzung entsprechender Massnahmen. Ein besonderer Schwerpunkt liegt auf Anpassungsmassnahmen an den Klimawandel, dem Umgang mit Klimaschäden und -verlusten sowie der Umsetzung von Geoengineering-Technologien


Ivo Wallimann-Helmer

Prof. Dr. phil. in Environmental Humanities, Director of the UniFR_ESH institute

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Hanna Schübel

PhD Student, Research Assistant

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Ilias Voiron

PhD student


Ongoing Projects

  • Ethics in Governing Carbon Dioxide Removal

    To reach the goal of the Paris Agreement to not overshoot 1.5°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, various countries have committed themselves to net zero emissions, for example the UK and Switzerland by 2050. Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) – more broadly referred to as negative emission technologies – will to be necessary to meet these objectives. As the high concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is driving global warming, CDR is a countermeasure: it produces “negative emissions” in the sense that carbon is removed from the atmosphere to an amount higher than the emissions produced. CDR includes efforts to increase the amount of carbon stored on land or in water in biomass by changes in land-use management for coastal areas (“blue carbon”) and land areas (i.e. afforestation), carbon mineralization (accelerated “weathering”) and ocean fertilization. In addition, there are more technologically advanced measures such as Direct Air Capture and Carbon Storage (DACCS), where CO2 is filtered from air and stored underground, and Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), where biomass is burned and the collected carbon stored away.

    As governance principles for CDR are much needed, the aim of this project is to identify the moral criteria for deciding the permissibility and obligation of states, corporations, and individuals to develop and employ CDR. The three driving questions are: Under which conditions, if ever, is the use of CDR permissible? If weighted by moral criteria, is CDR preferable to other climate policies? And if CDR are permissible and preferable – do agents have an obligation to employ CDR and to go net negative in their emissions? In order to identify moral criteria to answer these questions this research relies on the ethical debate about climate justice. The criteria will serve as the basis for defining principles for governing CDR.

    Collaborators: Hanna Schübel, Prof. Ivo Wallimann-Helmer

    Contact: hanna.schuebel[at]unifr.ch

    Duration: 2019 - 2024

  • Individual Climate Duties and Moral Conflicts

    This project revolves around hypothetical individual duties of climate justice in a context of weak climate action at national and international level, and the moral conflicts that might arise out of them for individual agents. How strong and demanding are they in comparison with other moral obligations and the personal interest of living a fulfilling life?

    First, we investigate whether there exist individual duties of justice in general, and individual duties of climate justice in particular, and what they are. Second, we ask whether these duties prima facie are likely to generate conflicts with other moral duties, with other duties of climate justice, and with agent-centered prerogatives. Important questions are whether some of these conflicts are dilemmatic, and whether all are specifically moral conflicts. Third, we examine, on a metaethical level, the very possibility of moral dilemmas, and, on an applied level, the existence of moral dilemmas involving individual duties of climate justice. Fourth, we analyse what it means for individual moral agency and responsibility to be trapped in permanent (potentially dilemmatic) climate moral conflicts.

    Collaborators: Ilias Voiron, Prof. Ivo Wallimann-Helmer


    Duration: 2021 - 2024

  • Social Equality in Complex Networks of Climate Adaptation Responsibilities

    In recent years, the policy option of adaptation gained in importance as anthropogenic climate change accelerates. The assignment of responsibilities to finance, implement and maintain adaptation lies at the heart of climate policy and justice. A substantial number of agents at different policy levels is involved in global climate policy and in adaptation in particular so that adaptation is embedded in complex networks of responsibility. Whereas it is commonly assumed in politics and academia that relevant agents are capable of assuming their responsibilities, actually not all agents are capable to assume their assigned responsibilities.

    In our project, we therefore claim that capabilities of agents in adaptation policy should be structurally supported. To reach this goal we propose that relations between agents in complex networks of responsibility in adaptation should be governed by principles of social equality. This implies that the process of adaptation should be free from unjustified power asymmetries, structural injustices and oppression. Social equality in global adaptation not only requires relations between the agents that acknowledge the equal moral status of all, but also require a distribution of resources that also support capabilities to adaptation. In our research, we will spell out the requirements of global social equality for adaptation and its practical consequences to support the capabilities of agents.

    Collaborators: Alexander Schulan, Prof. Ivo Wallimann-Helmer

    Contact: schulan[at]philsem.uni-kiel.de

  • Understanding (justice for) loss and damage

    For a long while, the negative effects of climate change were projected to materialize far off. Talking about climate justice meant talking about justice towards future generations. Policymakers, political theorists, and philosophers were focused on mitigation and adaptation policies to prevent the negative effects of climate change. However, the already-occurring effects of climate change raise the question of what it is owed to people who have already suffered from significant climate change impacts and the kind of claims of justice that they have. These already-occurring effects of climate change have been called ‘loss and damage’. Since the topic of loss and damage has only emerged recently in the literature on climate justice, there are still many open questions concerning how to understand loss and damage as a distinctive problem. In this project, we assess the temporal orientation of loss and damage policies (whether ex-post or ex-ante), as well as the different dimensions of economic and non-economic losses and damages. Furthermore, we develop a line of research connecting loss and damage we current developments in attribution science. 

    Collaborators: Simon Kräuchi, Prof. Ivo Wallimann-Helmer

    Contact: simon.kraeuchi[at]unifr.ch


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Past Collaborators

Laurène Seca

visiting PhD student


Past Projects

  • Indigenous rights, climate change and adaptation: A challenge for climate justice

    Climate change leads to more frequent extreme weather events, which in turn strongly increase the pressure on agricultural systems. This disproportionately threatens the rights of indigenous communities, as they often depend on subsistence farming for their livelihoods and maintain deep cultural relationships with their natural environment. Paradoxically, indigenous communities are rarely represented within the institutional structures of climate adaptation processes. This project adopts a normative ethical perspective to consider issues of procedural justice and analyzes how to protect the rights of indigenous communities, particularly their right to food sovereignty, in response to climate change through their integration into climate adaptation processes. In doing so, it responds to the urgent need for climate justice scholarship to focus more closely on processes and agency in adaptation.

    This project divides into three objectives: 1) Explain and justify the indigenous right to food sovereignty within the climate justice debate and explore the potential of procedural justice to secure this right, 2) analyze the role of procedural involvement in an empirical case study, and 3) develop a normative theory of procedural involvement that determines the reasons and conditions for the integration of indigenous communities in climate adaptation processes.

    The approach will involve a combination of methods. First, qualitative primary data will be collected during the case study through semi-structured interviews and content analysis. Second, climate justice principles and concepts from a substantial volume of secondary sources from several disciplines, but mainly climate ethics, will provide the foundation of an ethical analysis.

    The outputs expected from this research are of great scientific and practical value: The proposed normative theory will contribute to scholarship on climate ethics and advance understanding of the role of procedural justice in climate adaptation. The practical contribution of this project will be to provide high-quality scientific guidance for the involvement of indigenous communities into adaptation processes.

    Keywords: Climate Change, Climate Adaptation, Indigenous Communities, Human Rights, Climate Ethics, Procedural Justice

    Collaborators: Tanja Carrillo Sanchez, Prof. Ivo Wallimann-Helmer

    Contact: tanja.enserothl[at]unifr.ch

  • Justice and Food Security in a Changing Climate - EurSafe2021 Conference

    With the Sustainable Development Goals the global community has agreed to end hunger and malnutrition in all of its forms by 2030. However, the number of chronically undernourished people has increased continuously each year from 775 million in 2014 to 821 million in 2017. Ongoing climate change and the necessary action to be taken are very likely to aggravate this situation even more.

    The EurSafe Conference 2021 in Fribourg focuses on the key concerns of ethics and justice as a consequence of these climate change challenges, encouraging papers exploring the following areas:

    1. Climate mitigation and food security
    2. Geoengineering, agriculture and land
    3. Adapting agriculture to sustain food security
    4. Animal ethics and food security

    The topics of the congress range from the four key themes across fundamental ethical issues and areas that relate to veterinary medicine, transparency in the food chain, professional food ethics, etc. Besides more conceptual and theoretical contributions, we also welcome papers that use case studies and studies that examine and propose guidelines on how to deal with key challenges of food security.

    Dates: 24.-26. June 2021

    Organizers: Hanna Schübel, Prof. Ivo Wallimann-Helmer


    Conference websitehttps://events.unifr.ch/eursafe2021/en/

  • Otherwise than Anthropocentrism: Levinas Face-to-Face with the Animal

    This project searches for a non-anthropocentric animal ethics based upon the thought of Emmanuel Levinas. Levinas’ critique of onto-theology evades substance and reasonsponsored
    animal ethics that marginalises other avenues of seeing truth in value such as relationship and emotions. The problem, however, is that Levinas does not grant the animal the status of Face. He explained that animals belong to the Darwinistic struggle for life which is preoccupied with a life of appropriating for the self.
    This thesis takes the challenge of:
    1. demonstrating that Lévinas’ central concepts affirm that the animal does have a Face;
    2. showing that Levinasian ethics could sponsor a relational and care approach to animals that is an alternative to the rights, interest, and egalitarian species discourse;
    3. criticising that the notion of ‘humane’ is not feasible without regard for the nonhuman Other.

    Collaborators: Mira Reyes (visiting PhD student)

    Contact: mira.reyes[at]upce.cz