Ethical underpinnings of climate economics workshop

The workshop Ethical underpinnings of climate economics was held at University of Helsinki in November 2014. The three-day workshop was very successful both in terms of quality of presentations and discussions, as well as audience and media interest.


Professor John Broome opened up the event on Tuesday 11 November with a keynote talk about the role of value theory in climate ethics and economics. One of his main arguments was that when making decisions, we should not only concentrate on the likelihood of something happening, but also on the value of the consequences. These two should together form the basis for our decision in the form of expected value theory.


Professor John O’Neill gave the second keynote lecture on Thursday 13 November. He described the stages of a mapping exercise done in the UK to assess climate disadvantage due to various flooding effects. Professor O’Neill was involved in the exercise from the beginning and explained what kind of ethical considerations surfaced while doing it, and also what kind of a role moral philosophy and justice arguments should have in policy work.


The workshop included presentations about borrowing from the future, the role of discounting and its inherent assumptions, uncertainty, modelling and many others. The full programme can be found here. Individual presentations were complimented by the interdisciplinary debate held as part of the AID debate series organised by the Centre of Excellence in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences, where the two keynote speakers were joined by Professor Matti Liski from Aalto University for a lively discussion on integrating ethics and economics in climate policy assessment.


The workshop gained a lot of interest in the Finnish media, below is a selection of news items on the topic (in Finnish and Swedish):

Helsingin Sanomat 16.11.2014: Miten paha on, jos ilmastonmuutos vie ihmisiltä elämän?

Aamulehti 11.11.2014: Onko väliä, jos ilmastonmuutos tappaa kaukana?

Keskipohjanmaa 12.11.2014: Onko väliä, jos ilmastonmuutos tappaa kaukana?

Yle Uutiset 12.11.2014

YLE Radio Vega Kvanthopp 13.11.2014: John Broome, klimatet och moralen

Helsingin yliopisto 13.11.2014: Ilmastonmuutos ei pysähdy saarnaamalla


Photos: Pekka Tolvanen

Workshop schedule: Ethical underpinnings of climate economics

To register for the workshop, please send your name and institutional affiliation to ethicalunderpinnings(at) by 31 October at the latest, specifying which dates you are planning to join us. The workshop is free, but preregistration is requested. Please note that no preregistration is required for the keynote lectures by John Broome and John O’Neill, or the AID-debate with both. Details about the rooms for these can be found in the programme.

Ethical underpinnings of climate economics, University of Helsinki, 11-13 November 2014

Tuesday 11 November

9.00-11.00 John Broome (University of Oxford)
“Climate change: life and death”
Keynote + Q&A at Unioninkatu 40 room 1

– Tea/coffee

11.30-12.30 Aaron Maltais (Stockholm University)
“Making Our Children Finance Mitigation One Way or Another”

– Lunch

13.30-14.30 Blake Francis (Stanford University)
“Moral asymmetries in economic evaluations of climate change”

14.30-15.30 Simo Kyllönen and Alessandra Basso (University of Helsinki)
“Integrating ethics and economics of climate change? Intergenerational sufficientarianism informing the choice of the social discount rate”

– Tea/coffee

16.15-17.45 AID – Agora for Interdisciplinary Debate
“Integrating ethics and economics in climate policy assessment”
with John Broome, John O’Neill and Matti Liski at Unioninkatu 40 room 6

Wednesday 12 November

9.00-10.00 Duncan Purves (University of Wyoming)
“Intergenerational Justice and Discounting the Future”

10.00-11.00 Säde Hormio (University of Helsinki)
“Non-substitutability and dual-rate discounting”

– Tea/coffee

11.30-12.30 Adrian Walsh (University of New England)
“Climate Change Policy, Economic Analysis and Price-Independent Conceptions of Ultimate Value”

– Lunch

13.30-14.30 Eugen Pissarskoi (Institute for Ecological Economy Research, Berlin)
“Justification of a climate policy goal under uncertainty”

14.30-15.30 Matthew Rendall (University of Nottingham)
“Moral Supervenience and the Value of Possible People”

– Tea/coffee

16.00-17.00 Marisa Beck (University of Waterloo)
“Deciphering Pieces of Ethics: Integrated Assessment Models of Global Climate Change”

Thursday 13 November

9.00-11.00 John O’Neill (University of Manchester)
“Mapping climate disadvantage”
Keynote + Q&A at Siltavuorenpenger 3A, room 302

– Tea/coffee

11.30-12.30 Tony Gregg (American University)
“Trans-generational Justice: A Capabilities Approach That Spans Both Time and Space”

– Lunch

13.30-14.30 Kian Mintz-Woo (University of Graz)
“Prospect Theory and Determination of η”

14.30-15.30 Closing remarks – next steps

Call for papers: Ethical underpinnings of climate economics

Workshop: Ethical underpinnings of climate economics

Helsinki 11-13 November 2014

Confirmed speakers:

John Broome (University of Oxford)

John O’Neill (University of Manchester)

The debates around climate change have renewed the interest in the relation between ethics and economics. The most recent indication of this is the Working Group III report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which takes the ethical foundations of climate mitigation policies explicitly into consideration. For the first time, influential climate ethicists were invited to be among the authors of the report. The aim was to connect the economic evaluation of climate policies to the discussion of the ethical issues.

While recognising the role of economics in climate policy choices, the IPCC report stresses the limits of economics in addressing some ethical values and considerations of justice that cannot be easily monetized. The report also emphasises how economic methods – even when monetizing is possible – implicitly involve significant ethical assumptions.

This workshop will bring together scholars from both disciplines to discuss the interrelation between climate ethics and economics. Proposals for papers dealing with any aspect of this relation are welcome.

In particular, the workshop aims to focus on (1) ethical assumptions underpinning the methodological choices of economics and (2) the ways that economics might accommodate those ethical considerations that seem to challenge the standard way of doing economics.


To have a paper considered for presentation, please submit a 500-1000 word abstract, along with your name, institutional affiliation and email address to ethicalunderpinnings(at)

Deadline 24 August 2014.

The authors selected for presentation will be notified by 5 September.

Topics could include, among others:

Issues of justice

The IPCC report distinguishes between two main ethical considerations: value and justice. Although economics is acknowledged not to be well suited to account for many aspects of justice (e.g. historical responsibility, compensatory justice), the IPCC report argues that at least distributive justice may be understood as a value of equality and be measured in terms of people’s wellbeing (e.g., through the Gini coefficient). Also when aggregating people’s wellbeing across time, economists standardly use specific parameters that should reflect people’s collective aversion to inequality (e.g., the parameter eta in the Ramsey formula employed in the choice of the social discount rate). We welcome papers that address the extent to which these methods are able to accommodate issues of justice (both intra- and intergenerational) within economics. One particular area of examination could also be the incorporation of rights-based or threshold-based theories of (intergenerational) justice into economics.

Non-substitutability in cost-benefit analyses

In the economic evaluation of climate policies, people’s wellbeing is calculated in terms of consumption equivalents, so as to make them comparable to each other. The calculation of consumption equivalents enables the comparison of different kinds of costs and benefits, and it thus constitutes the very basis for the cost-benefit analysis. However, this assumption also implies that all kinds of costs and benefits are substitutable (natural resources can be substituted with other goods and/or services that have a comparable consumption-equivalent value). Some have even argued that perfect substitutability is implicitly assumed also in the choice of the discount rate for climate mitigation policies. Papers are invited to address whether and to what extent the assumption of perfect substitutability limits the incorporation of many theories of justice as well as accounts of strong sustainability that regard some values, fundamental interests or forms of natural capital as non-substitutable.

Questions concerning cultural/ecological values

Economics is claimed to be particularly suitable when we concentrate on promoting values related directly to people’s wellbeing. However, difficulties arise when the attempt is made to accommodate other relevant cultural, social and non-human values within economics. Papers could therefore examine how far these other values can or cannot be incorporated into wellbeing calculations

Workshop organisers:

Joanna Burch-Brown (University of Bristol)

Säde Hormio (‘Climate Ethics and Economics’, University of Helsinki)

Simo Kyllönen (‘Climate Ethics and Economics’, University of Helsinki)

Aaron Maltais (Stockholm University)

Matthew Rendall (University of Nottingham)

The workshop will be hosted by the Centre of Excellence in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences at the University of Helsinki (

About the project

“Climate Ethics and Economics” is a three-year project (2014-2016) based at the Social and Moral Philosophy discipline in the Department of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki.

The project focuses on the relationship between climate economics and ethics by providing a conceptual analysis of specific economic parameters and an explicit discussion of the ethical underpinnings of modelling choices. First, the project aims to study the methodological problems of economic analyses and natural-scientific climate change predictions so as to be able to identify the relevant ethical considerations for climate change. Second, the project evaluates how considerations of equity and justice could be incorporated in an economic analysis of climate change, and, finally, how existing philosophical theories of justice could be amended in order to respond to the new normative challenges that climate change raises.

These general aims translate into the following three more specific areas of research:
1. Uncertainty and evidence in confirming climate models
2. Uncertainty, time discounting and intergenerational justice
3. Collective action problems, responsibility, and real world requirements of ethics.

The project leader is Aki Lehtinen and project researchers are Alessandra Basso, Säde Hormio and Simo Kyllönen.