Climate Change and Rights Enforcement

Hosted by Department of Government and The University of Konstanz

Zoom Workshop

The workshop explores to what extent, and how, our climate change-related rights and duties are enforceable. The workshop aims to enable a friendly dialogue between thinkers who work on issues related to climate change, and others who work on problems related to rights enforcement and defensive harm.

This workshop is organised by Susanne Burri (University of Konstanz) and Francisco Garcia-Gibson (LSE). 

For questions please contact Francisco Garcia-Gibson at

Schedule (GMT)

(see abstracts below)

9.50-10.00 Welcome 

10.00-11.15 Ivo Wallimann-Helmer (Fribourg)
Justice and responsibility in times of emergency

11.15-11.30 Break

11.30-12.45 Susanne Burri (Konstanz) and Siba Harb (KCL) 
Two Puzzles About Enforceability

12.55-13.30 Break

13.30-14.45 Francisco Garcia-Gibson (LSE)
Climate Direct Action as Other-Defence

14.45-15.00 Break

15.00-16.15 Lisa Hecht (LSE and Stockholm)
Polluters turned Victims: Assessing Compensation Claims of High Emitters

16.15-16.25 Final remarks


Ivo Wallimann-Helmer (Fribourg)
Justice and responsibility in times of emergency

Abstract: In case of environmental challenges like biodiversity loss, climate change or oil spills but also in case of public health emergencies, justice demands assigning responsibilities for the fair distribution of the burdens of action differently. Usually, we want to assign heavier responsibilities to those who caused the problem or are profiting from others causing it. Solutions to these challenges, by contrast, are often said to be found by involving those most directly affected. Depending on perspective, the first claim concerns distributive or compensatory justice, the latter is a demand of procedural justice. In this paper I argue first, that in case of emergency we must disentangle causing a threat from assigning responsibility to repair and assign responsibilities according to capacity instead. Second, I argue that as a last resort emergency may also justify suspending procedures of collective decision-making in favor of experts. However, both these claims remain only valid as long as an emergency lasts and the situation has not normalized, i.e. the necessary measures are taken and institutions are in place.

Susanne Burri (Konstanz) and Siba Harb (KCL) 
Two Puzzles About Enforceability

Abstract: Vicious Killer is about to shoot you. To avoid being killed, you may pepper spray Vicious Killer. This holds true because your right against being killed is enforceable: by threatening to kill you without justification, Vicious Killer forfeits some of his own rights against being killed to enable you (or others acting on your behalf) to defend yourself against his threatened rights violation. In this talk, we investigate whether rights beyond our rights against being harmed are enforceable in this same way. We focus, in particular, on two questions. First, is it generally permissible to physically harm a would be rights violator if this helps ensure that they will not violate a particular right? Is it, for example, permissible to slap someone across the face to ensure that they will not break some promise? Second, is it generally permissible to proceed in a tit-for-tat manner, imposing on the would-be rights violator the same kind of damage that they are threatening to impose? Is it, for example, permissible to break a promise to someone if this prevents them from breaking a promise? We argue that even though our rights against being harmed are enforceable in both of these ways, this enforceability does not straightforwardly translate to rights other than our rights against being harmed. We end by considering some implications of our discussion for the problem of climate change.

Francisco Garcia-Gibson (LSE)
Climate Direct Action as Other-Defence

A common form of climate direct action are occupations of fossil-fuel power stations. I argue that an other-defence justification may be available for these occupations. Burning fossil fuels emits carbon dioxide, causing climate change, which kills people. Occupations sometimes manage to stop fuel burning for several days, defending other people from the deadly threat posed by power stations. And station owners are liable to defensive harm—i.e. they have forfeited their (or simply lack) property rights against occupations and the resulting harm—because: (1) they pose a deadly threat for which they are responsible or culpable; and defensive occupations inflict (2) necessary and (3) proportionate harm on owners (and others).

Lisa Hecht (LSE and Stockholm)
Polluters turned Victims: Assessing Compensation Claims of High Emitters

Recent extreme weather events such as the floods in the German Ahr Valley in summer 2021 or the wildfires in Western North America show that affluent people who emit high amounts of greenhouse gases are no longer spared from the harmful consequences of climate change. In this paper, I ask whether affluent high emitters have a right to compensation for the damage caused by climate change-related weather events. I argue that familiar ways of assessing compensation claims of those who bear some responsibility for the harm that befalls themselves and others do not adequately distinguish between innocent and guilty victims of climate change. Although all emissions cause harm, only those who emit more than they are entitled to emit are contributing to a wrongful harm. I argue that this distinction matters in the assessment of compensation claims. I propose that compensation claims are subject to a Justification Condition. According to the Justification Condition only those who had a justification for the action that caused the harm for which they claim compensation gain a right to compensation. The Justification Condition can explain the intuitive difference between innocent and guilty victims. But more importantly, it takes seriously the core liberal commitment which does not allow a person to arbitrarily limit another person’s realm of freedom and shape the moral world to their own advantage. As I argue in this paper, guilty victims would be doing just that if they were able to claim compensation for harm that they brought about themselves. I then defend the Justification Condition against a couple of objections.

The workshop has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 101024225 (title: "Climate activism and harm to innocents"), based at the Department of Government, The London School of Economics and Political Science.


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