1st Annual JCT-Workshop: Grounding climate change – land, environment, and the green future – January, 13th/14th, 2022, 4-7 PM (GMT+1)

The workshop will discuss conceptualizations of and theories about land, nature, and the environment and how they inform and possibly transform our current approaches to climate change and the needed transitions to move towards a greener future. On the one hand, the workshop asks how our current understanding of land, nature, and environment is connected to climate change and climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies. For example, how does the framework of a market economy dictate how we approach what land is (a carbon sink, real estate, agricultural space…), how it should be used, and how rights to it are distributed? In how far do current mitigation strategies reflect a certain picture of how humans can and should interact with nature?

On the other hand, the workshop wants to explore what alternative concepts of land, nature, and environment there are and how these would transform our understanding of and approach to the challenges of climate change. For example, relational approaches have recently gained more attention both in philosophy and environmental sciences and are transforming our understanding of humans’ place in nature as well as strategies of ecosystem management and concepts of the foundations of territoriality. Similarly, non-Western theories of nature, its value, and the resulting environmental ethics are proving to provide valuable alternative models for conceptualizing our rights and duties towards non-human beings and bringing human and non-human interest together in coherent frameworks.



15:00 – 15:10 Welcome (Fabian Schuppert)

15:10 – 16:00 Laura Garcia Portela: Climate change, compensation and the continuity of moral reasons’

Compensation for climate change is at the centre of UNFCCC negotiations and climate litigation. However, grounding compensatory claims is challenging because it is difficult to attribute moral responsibility and liability for polluting activities. First, until 1990, scientists long failed to reach a firm consensus about the negative effects of climate change and, thus, polluters might have been for a long time excusably ignorant about the negative effects of their emissions-generating activities (excusable ignorance objection). Second, it is unclear how fast societies could shift to low-carbon societies and, thus, to what extent they could act differently than they did (path dependencies objection). Those two objections seriously challenge or heavily limit, a fault-based account to compensatory duties. However, a zero-liability account (i.e., one that releases polluters from compensatory duties related to their emissions at large) clashes with important intuitions concerning historical responsibility for climate change.

Some philosophers have offered various middle-ground accounts in support of the so-called Polluter Pays Principle. Those accounts explain why polluters should compensate for the negative effects of their emissions regardless of fault. They are based on alternative notions of responsibility and liability: strict liability, counterfactual liability, and outcome responsibility. In this paper, I present those accounts, identify their flaws and propose three conditions for a more robust middle-ground account. The main problems are that these accounts do not elaborate on the intuitions they put forward, do not justify the retroactive imposition of liability and/or end up introducing unjustified attributions of culpability by the back door. These problems lead to at least three conditions for a more robust middle-ground account: the elaboration on intuitions condition, the retroactive application condition and the no culpability condition.

As an alternative, I offer a new account based on the notion of human rights. I call this the continuity account. The continuity account starts with the widely shared idea that climate change negatively affects people’s human rights. It argues that due respect for people’s human rights constitutes a moral reason to avoid engaging in emission-generating activities (primary duty); and that the engagement in such activities leaves those moral reasons unsatisfied. The duty to compensate for the negative effects of climate change on people’s human rights (secondary duty) arises from the continuity of those previously unsatisfied moral reasons, which keep exerting their pull after having been left unsatisfied. While this account does not justify any compensatory claims related to the negative effects of climate change, it does justify the most important ones, i.e., those related to human rights infringements; and it also excludes potentially overdemanding compensatory duties. Moreover, I explain how my account complies with the conditions for a more a most robust middle-ground account. Furthermore, I also explain how this account can be extended to justify compensatory duties beyond those related to historical emissions. In this way, my continuity account provides a more robust moral justification for the Polluter Pays Principle and thus also for compensatory claims arising from the negative effects of climate change.

16:10 – 17:00 Alejandra Mancilla: Effective Disoccupation

In international law, the doctrine of effective occupation was developed by imperial and colonial powers to justify their sovereignty over newly annexed territories. Effective occupation was measured by two criteria. First, the state must show animus occupandi, that is, the right will or intention to be sovereign over the territory. To this must be added the corpus occupandi: the concrete, actual exercise of sovereignty to mark presence in the territory, an exercise that must be continuous and appropriate to the circumstances. But what counted as the proper animus and the proper corpus?

At the basis of the doctrine of effective occupation lay, as many decolonial and postcolonial theorists have pointed out, an assumption about what sovereignty meant and required. Just like in the Lockean theory of property it is land labored in the British, agricultural way that counts as the paradigmatic case of land rightfully owned, here it was only territory governed by institutions and legal systems akin to the European that counted as effectively occupied. This narrow definition of sovereignty allowed for the dispossession and loss of control of the native inhabitants over the lands that the European colonized. For the defender of the British empire, John Westlake, this made all the sense in the world: “Because the native does not possess the concept of sovereignty, he cannot transfer it: a stream cannot rise higher than its source” (Westlake 1910, 123–24). As Martti Koskenniemi has critically commented on Westlake’s claim: “Seldom has the adage about the connections between knowledge and power been more graphically illustrated: possession of land was a function of possessing a concept” (Koskenniemi 2001, 14:138–39).

The morally outrageous implications of this narrow concept of sovereignty for the subjected peoples were denounced with increasing force especially since the second half of the twentieth century, giving way to a process of global decolonization that raised the number of states from around 50 in the 1950s to 195 today, and counting. Yet, even though imperialism and colonialism justified upon the concept of effective occupation are no longer acceptable when it comes to the government of peoples, they remain the default when it comes to the governance of natural resources. In fact, when it comes to the governance of natural resources there is no disagreement between ex imperial and colonial powers and newly independent states: they all take for granted that whoever effectively controls the territory effectively controls its resources. The nonhuman, natural world is thus considered ours to appropriate and use (and overuse and abuse).

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Doctrine of Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources was thought to be the main recipe to move states from poverty to wealth. Increasingly, however, the troubling effects of states’ effective occupation of the nonhuman, natural world are staring us in the face. Climate change and the biodiversity crisis are the two and most obvious examples. In this article, I propose a transition from effective occupation to effective disoccupation when it comes to the nonhuman, natural world. Effective disoccupation may be measured by two criteria. First, states must show animus disoccupandi, that is, the right will or intention to give up Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources and to replace it with Permanent Guardianship over the Nonhuman Natural World. To this must be added the corpus occupandi: the concrete, actual exercise of guardianship over the territory.

17:10 – 18:00 Cara Nine: Self-Determination as Functional Autonomy

Self-determination has been one of the most powerful political concepts of the past century. Critical for decolonization movements after World War II and the Cold War, the right of self-determination asserts that people should be free to determine their own political destiny. The message of self-determination is not only that individuals should be justly governed but also that they should be justly governed by their own government. Spurring both democratic and cultural movements for reform and independence, “self-determination” has changed the global political landscape. The traditional idea of self-determination demands that a group has control over one’s political destiny, being governed by one’s own government. But the goal of being in control of their political destiny seems illusive if groups with rights of self-determination overlap. Throughout this book, I have stressed the overlapping nature of rights over things, including territorial rights. I believe that the fact of overlap requires that we rethink political self-determination. In Chapter 8, I distinguished between three clusters of self-determination rights. This analysis focused on the concept of self-determination rights, yet what it means to achieve self-determination is a different topic. One group can have the right to develop land within their domain for agriculture. But if a second group with overlapping territorial rights has poisoned the land with toxic waste, then the first group may not be able to achieve self-determination in relevant ways. This chapter defends an account of what it means to achieve self-determination as achieving functional autonomy.

Sections 9.1 and 9.2 discuss two theories of what it means to achieve self-determination that have been defended by other theorists: self-determination as non-domination and a modified version of self-determination as non-intervention. These accounts fail in instructive ways. The non-domination account assumes that external decisions that have the potential to affect a group can undermine that group’s collective self-determination. It consequently calls for group members to participate in those external decisions. As a result, this account potentially threatens to erode groups that we think should be self-determining. The modified version of self-determination as non-intervention fails to coherently capture what it means for a group to have reasonably effective control over significant aspects of its collective life.

Sections 9.3 through 9.6 develop my own theory of self-determination as functional autonomy. As an account of political self-determination, functional autonomy provides a semi-quantitative assessment framework for measuring a group’s capacity to complete its functions autonomously. The framework entails two assessments. The first looks at the group’s capacity to complete functions, and the second looks at the available external relations and resources that help or hinder the group in the autonomous completion of those functions. Group functions are defined relative to their jurisdictional remit and competencies. When external resources, intervention, or relations are needed, these circumstances do not diminish the group’s self-determination, but rather informs the normative framework around those connections. Often, external dependency can constitute essential supports for exercising self-determination, rather than undermining this achievement. Foundational territories find additional support in this chapter because they help bolster, and are sometimes necessary for, the functional autonomy of overlapping units. The creation of shared and overlapping territorial domains enables coordinated problem solving and may be necessary for the interpretation of rights and the coherent enforcement of political powers.


15:00 – 15:50 Anna Wienhues: Species Extinctions and the State: Interspecies Justice and the Responsibility to Repair

Anthropogenic species extinctions are one of the most serious predicaments of our time, closely connected with an existential threat to continued life on Earth. In this paper we look at this problem via a justice lens and consider the role of the state in addressing it. More specifically, we conceptualize species extinctions as events that are indicators of past distributive injustices against members of the extinct species and propose that the state should be held remedially responsible for those injustices. Once this claim is substantiated, we explain how the state could meet those responsibilities through what we call a responsibility to repair principle. An account such as this must face a series of difficulties, the most salient of which is, perhaps, how to make right past injustices against victims that do not exist any longer. For that purpose, we offer an argument to sustain the claim that the state has responsibilities owed to members of extinct species and explain how they can be met with a symbolic form of reparation. The upshot is that anthropogenic extinctions can (and should) be theoretically situated in non-anthropocentric frameworks of justice by being accounted for by distributive and reparative principles of justice owe by the state.

16:00 – 16:50 Marion Hourdequin: Climate Ethics and The Right to be Cold

This paper explores climate ethics through the lens of the 2015 book, The Right to be Cold. The book traces Sheila Watt-Cloutier’s journey from childhood through adulthood and describes her international advocacy on behalf of Canada’s Inuit communities, as well as Arctic peoples throughout the world. I argue that Watt-Cloutier’s account offers important lessons for understanding climate ethics and climate justice, by highlighting the deeply contextual and relational dimensions of climate impacts; implicitly challenging highly abstract and ideal conceptions of justice; and at the same time, strategically deploying the notion of human rights to convey what is at stake for Arctic peoples in a changing climate. The “right to be cold” connects specific experiences and histories of Canadian Inuit peoples – particularly in relation to settler colonialism – to global discourses, environmental policies, and responses to climate change. Though not with its own complexities and challenges, articulation of a right to be cold provides one way of “grounding climate change” that seeks to navigate multiple spatial and temporal horizons, and it calls attention to the need to explore further strategies of this kind.

17:00 – 18:00 Kerstin Reibold: Settler colonialism, decolonization, and climate change

The paper proposes that climate change makes enduring colonial injustices and structures visible. It focuses on the imposition and dominance of colonial concepts of land and self-determination on indigenous peoples in settler states. It argues that if the dominance of these colonial frameworks remains unaddressed, the progressing climate change will worsen other colonial injustices, too. Specifically, Indigenous self-determination capabilities will be increasingly undermined and Indigenous peoples will experience the loss of what they understand as relevant land from within their own ontologies of land. The paper holds that even if settler states strive to repair colonial injustices, these efforts will be unsuccessful if climate change occurs and decolonization is pursued within the framework of a settler colonial ontology of land. Therefore, the paper suggests, decolonization of the ontologies of land and concepts of self-determination is a precondition for a just response to climate change.

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