Projects

  • Principles for Ethical Decision-Making in Environmental Practice

    The aim of this project is to develop a general ethical framework for analyzing, systematizing, and deciding upon the ethical issues emerging in environmental politics, management, and administration. Our investigation starts from the basis that it is possible to define a core set of ethical principles forming common morality in many diverse contexts of environmental governance and practice. This core set of principles determines how to decide ethical conflicts when implementing sustainability goals in various governance contexts. We argue that depending on context, the core set of principles must be specified and weighted differently, leading to different moral duties. In order to verify whether this methodology can be a general tool for ethical decision-making in environmental governance and exactly what principles it stipulates, we will investigate three case studies. Taken together, their analysis contributes to the final formulation of the framework for ethical decision-making.

    • Details

      Humanity is facing as many environmental challenges as ever before in its history. These urgent challenges range from anthropogenic climate change to resource depletion and demand immediate action. Such action raises major ethical concerns and conflicts involving diverse parties with often conflicting sustainability goals and interests. However, environmental ethics to date has mainly been preoccupied with general concerns such as understanding our relation to nonhuman nature and has approached specific environmental challenges, if at all, in a piecemeal and unsystematic fashion. The aim of this project is to develop a general ethical framework for analyzing, systematizing, and deciding upon the ethical issues emerging in environmental politics, management, and administration.

      Building upon the methodology of principlism well known from medical ethics the ultimate outcome of this project will be a textbook that integrates applied exercises, forms, and checklists ready for practical use to make the framework widely available and usable in environmental science practice and education. Our investigation starts from the basis that it is possible to define a core set of ethical principles forming common morality in many diverse contexts of environmental governance and practice. This core set of principles determines how to decide ethical conflicts when implementing sustainability goals in various governance contexts. Principlism holds that, depending on the context, the core set of principles must be specified and weighted differently, leading to different moral duties. In order to verify whether principlism as a methodology can be a general tool for ethical decision-making in environmental governance and exactly what principles it stipulates, we will investigate three case studies. Taken together, their analysis contributes to the final formulation of the framework for ethical decision-making.

      We start our investigation from the hypothesis that four principles extensively discussed in environmental ethical literature and highly relevant in international politics form the core set of ethical principles in environmental practice: A) the polluter-pays principle, B) the ability-to-pay principle, C) the equal-per-capita principle, and D) the procedural-involvement principle, meaning the fair democratic involvement of those affected.

      We will apply and reformulate these four principles in three case studies from within different fields of environmental ethics and policy

      1. Climate Adaptation / Loss and Damage: The first case study concerns adaptation and loss and damage policy in reaction to increased environmental risks due to climate change.

      2. Biodiversity and Alien Species: The second case study investigates the challenge of alien species management and the preservation of biodiversity in Europe and globally.

      3. Wildlife protection and conservation: The third case study deals with wildlife protection and conservation with a special focus on cases in Namibia, where several competing wildlife conservation practices potentially cause varying ethical conflicts.

    • Case Studies

      1. Climate Adaptation / Loss and Damage: The first case study concerns climate adaptation and loss and damage measures in reaction to increased environmental risks and impacts due to climate change in mountain regions. Sample cases will be from India and Switzerland. The Indian Himalayan region is amongst the most complex ecosystems of the world and also has about 72 million inhabitants. Due to climate-induced glacier retreat and expanding infrastructure, the risks of loss and damage to valued assets have greatly increased and demand appropriate adaptation measures in close collaboration with local people. In this case study, the ethical evaluation of risk and risk perception of glacier lake outburst floods form the core of the analysis. This is why it connects nicely with another investigation at the University of Fribourg dealing with what are termed wild-card risks due to climate change in several regions of Switzerland. The probability of their occurrence is very small, but their potential impacts are very high and occur through complex cascades of events. In this case study, we will collaborate with Dr. Nadine Salzmann (Physical Geography, University of Fribourg), who together with Prof. Christian Huggel (Physical Geography, University of Zurich) assesses the most effective ways for mountain regions to adapt to changing risk profiles given their socio-economic stratification

      2. Biodiversity and alien species: The second case study investigates the challenge of alien species and preservation of biodiversity in Europe and globally. Alien species are animals and plants that move due to changing climatic conditions or are moved by human activities into geographic regions in which they do not naturally flourish. They have negative impacts on ecological systems, biodiversity, and the social and economic circumstances of various human communities. Standardized assessment of these impacts is necessary for their appropriate administration and management, and these impacts also demand ethical evaluation. What constitutes harm and when it is relevant to triggering environmental action are ethical questions. The same holds for potential ethical conflicts in managing alien species, such as those that often occur between economic interests that are friendly towards alien species and interests in nature conservation. Together with a wide network of established researchers in the field, Prof. Sven Bacher (applied ecology) from the University of Fribourg has developed two distinct schemes for comprehensive assessment and management of the impact of alien species on ecosystems and on socio-economic conditions.

      3. Wildlife protection and conservation: The third case study deals with wildlife protection and conservation with a special focus on cases in Namibia. Like many African states, Namibia has rich wildlife that requires protection from hunting and tourism. The presence of several competing conservation practices may cause a range of ethical conflicts and challenges in burden sharing. In national parks, it is the government that decides the territories and the practices of wildlife conservation. In communal conservancies, participation by locals is given more weight. On private farmland, wildlife conservation is privately managed, often for economic purposes such as tourism. These diverse conceptions of wildlife conservation lead not only to differing manifestations of protection practices but also to distinctive manifestations of ethical conflicts. Together with Prof. Antje Schlottmann (Geography, Goethe University Frankfurt a. M.), Prof. Olivier Graefe (Political Ecology) from the University of Fribourg investigates nature and conservation practices in specific regions in Namibia. We will use the framework for ethical decision-making to analyse their various ethical implications

    Collaborators: Prof. Ivo Wallimann-Helmer, Laura García-Portela, Shea McBride, Tristan Katz.

    Collaborators for case studies: Dr. Nadine Salzmann (Physical Geography, University of Fribourg), Prof. Christian Huggel (Physical geography, University of Zurich), Prof. Sven Bacher (Applied Ecology, University of Fribourg), Prof. Antje Slottmann (Geography, Goethe University Frankfurt a. M.), Prof. Olivier Graefe (Political Ecology, University of Fribourg)

    Contact: ivo.wallimann-helmer[at]unifr.ch

  • L’éthique aux frontières de l’adaptation aux changements climatiques : le cas de Guttannen

    Cette étude consiste en un examen des défis éthiques de l’adaptation aux changements climatiques et des pertes et des dommages climatiques soulevés par les contextes de vulnérabilités climatiques d’une communauté locale, soit la municipalité de Guttannen située dans les Alpes suisses. En effet, le dérèglement climatique se traduit concrètement dans la vie des communautés et s’avère maintenant une réalité incontournable. Bien plus qu’un problème physique unidimensionnel qui correspond au seul réchauffement du climat, les changements climatiques sont pluridimensionnels. Dans l’ensemble, on observe une augmentation et une intensification de la variété des événements qui sont distincts selon les territoires et les saisons (vagues de chaleur et de froid plus fréquentes; inondations; sécheresses; progression géographique de zoonoses, accroissement de l’activité des cyclones tropicaux intenses; augmentation des feux de forêt; déclin des écosystèmes et des espèces animales et végétales, etc.).

    En complément aux interventions d’atténuation des émissions de gaz à effet de serre, les communautés locales doivent planifier des actions d’adaptation aux changements climatiques afin de limiter le plus possible les coûts humains, environnementaux et socio-économiques associés aux différents évènements climatiques enclenchés et à venir. Dans le cas spécifique de la Suisse, les risques et les impacts environnementaux liés aux changements climatiques sont clairement identifiés. Par exemple, dans les régions montagneuses suisses, une hausse de la fréquence et de l’intensité des laves torrentielles, des inondations, des glissements de terrain et des éboulements est à craindre, comme c’est le cas à Guttannen, une municipalité sévèrement vulnérabilisée par les impacts des perturbations climatiques qui y ont déjà cours. Il reste toutefois à déterminer les mesures d'adaptation aux changements climatiques à prioriser pour cette municipalité et les options de compensation des pertes et des dommages climatiques manifestes ou à venir. Plusieurs questions éthiques et de justice climatique émergent de ce contexte d’action : il s'agit notamment de savoir qui bénéficiera des stratégies d'adaptation aux changements climatiques et qui seront tenus responsables de leur mise en œuvre, d'évaluer les compromis jugés raisonnables entre la coordination des efforts d’adaptation et la planification des compensations en cas de pertes et dommages climatiques, et d’examiner la légitimité des réponses collectives et de gouvernance.

    Les outils d’analyse éthique mobilisés dans le cadre de cette étude de cas permettront d’éclairer les enjeux de valeurs et de justice climatique soulevés par les conditions réelles de ce terrain. L’objectif est ainsi d’offrir un appui lors des interventions et des prises de décision responsables en matière d’adaptation aux changements climatiques et de compensation des pertes et dommages climatiques. La conception et le déploiement de cet éclairage en éthique climatique demeurent à faire au sein de cette communauté locale, comme dans bien d’autres. Les communautés concernées par les défis du dérèglement climatique pourront s’appuyer sur les résultats de cette recherche afin de favoriser les conditions de réussite de l’adaptation aux changements climatiques et la résilience de leurs milieux.

    Collaborators: Ivo Wallimann-Helmer, Anthony Voisard

    Contact: Anthony.Voisard[at]USherbrooke.ca

Publications

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