Säde Hormio: Individual emissions, equality and the state

Datum: 7 december 2022
Tid: 10:00-11:45

Seminar with Säde Hormio, researcher in Practical Philosophy and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at the University of Helsinki.



The amount of greenhouse gases that can still be emitted to the atmosphere is very limited if global total emissions are to stay below dangerous levels. But how the world’s carbon budget between states should be divided in a fair manner is a question that remains unresolved in both theoretical and practical debates. Another unanswered question is what emissions should count in the budget of a state: emissions that take place within its borders, or also emissions that happen in other countries, but have been enabled by that country, for example through extraction of raw material that have then been exported 

In any case, allocating emission permits to states is morally problematic, as doing so treats them as homogeneous units, even though there are large differences between citizens on how much they emit (Caney, 2009). This situation is more pronounced in some countries than others. In the UK, the top 1% of earners by income generate roughly the same carbon emissions in a year than the bottom 10% have done in 26 years (Garcia & Stronge 2022). However, vastly unequal carbon footprints within a country are not restricted to just wealthy countries that have high per capita emissions, and low per capita emissions do not automatically translate to only few super-polluters among the state’s citizens. Instead, it seems that you are more likely to find potential super-polluters in countries with high economic inequality, regardless of the per capita emissions of that state. 

For these and related reasons, it is problematic to assume that states are unitary collective actors. Instead, Baer et al. (2010) suggest that climate rights and responsibilities should be explored from the viewpoint of their impacts on individuals or classes of individuals. After all, even though emissions rights and responsibilities are applied to the state, the effects on the state’s citizens will vary according to their economic class and how equal the state is. The talk discusses what implications this has for climate justice debates: when it is fair to divide emissions of a state between its citizens? 

Säde Hormio is a postdoctoral researcher in Practical Philosophy at the University of Helsinki. Her research focuses on shared and collective responsibility, and social epistemology, including questions such as what is the role of individuals in changing institutional practises, or what we mean by the responsibility of collective agents. Hormio wrote her thesis on collective responsibility for climate change. The next year, she was awarded the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Fellowship for her research project Complicity: Individual Responsibility in Collective Contexts. Hormio is the author of a number of articles and the co-editor of The Ethical Underpinnings of Climate Economics (Routledge). She is currently writing her first book-length monograph “Taking Responsibility for Climate Change”, which is under contract with Palgrave Macmillan. For other recent work, please see:

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