Book on climate ethics and economics

The Ethical Underpinnings of Climate Economics, published as part of the Routledge Advances in Climate Change Research series, brings together scholars from ethical theory and economics to explore the interrelation between the disciplines with regards to climate change. Examining a wide range of topics including conceptions of value, sustainability, risk management and the monetization of harm, the book explores the ethical limitations of economic analysis, but does not assume that economic theory cannot accommodate the concerns raised. The aim in part is to identify ethical shortcomings of economic analysis and to propose solutions. Given the on-going role of economics in government thinking on mitigation, a constructive approach is vital if we are to deal adequately with climate change.

The edited volume was born out of two interdisciplinary workshops attended by both philosophers and economists, one of them held in Helsinki in November 2014 as part of the Climate Ethics and Economics project.

The writers explore the ethical underpinnings of climate economics as part of a larger and more long-term project of ensuring that economic theory is capable of meeting the challenges associated with climate change. More modestly, this book begins to outline the conditions under which the discipline of economics is capable of playing a positive and significant role in the response to climate change.

There are good reasons for doing so. The first of these is simply a matter of realpolitik. The political reality is that economic theory and economic analysis will continue to be highly influential in political decision-making for the foreseeable future. Given that fact we need to ensure that the economic analysis, as employed by policymakers, is able both to recognize and to accommodate the moral demands that an adequate response to climate change must address.

Second, as a number of authors in the volume note, economics has much to offer in terms of our understanding of the nature of the problems that face us and in terms of how best to respond. Questions of economic efficiency for instance are vital in determining the correct course of action when faced with a range of possible paths in the use of social resources. Equally, economic solutions to coordination problems have often been highly successful when employed in a range of social situations. As John Broome notes economic theory “provides essential tools” for thinking about how to respond to climate change.

There are important and daunting ethical challenges that climate change raises for economic theory in general. In order to deal with those, economists need to think more carefully about the ethical underpinnings of their discipline. This volume is thus partly a call for greater dialogue between philosophers and economists to ensure that the climate economics we use is “fit for purpose”.

The book is out now.

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

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.