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Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholars

Current Third Year Scholars

Dr Alex McLaughlin


My research interests are in applied political philosophy, and my PhD will explore how insights gleaned from this field might be put to use in the pursuit of climate justice. I first became interested in climate justice toward the end my undergraduate degree in Modern History and Politics at the University of Southampton. Over the course of my MSc in Global Politics, also at Southampton, I have been able to specialise in political theory and develop my interest in this area.

My project will examine the competing principles that have been suggested to guide our distribution of the costs of adapting to climate change. More specifically, I will consider the theoretical and practical problems posed by the emissions of early industrialisation. Establishing who should pick up the tab for the damages stemming from these distant emissions is a complicated task. The costs must be met, yet it might appear unfair to attribute responsibility for them to the descendants of early polluters. The beneficiary pays principle represents one novel attempt to address this challenge and will be the central focus of my project. There are three related lines of enquiry that I would like to pursue: 1) What is the general scope of the beneficiary pays principle and where does it stand in relation to other, more conventional alternatives? 2) Is it theoretically coherent within the specific structure of the adaptation problem? 3) Given the current state of scientific knowledge, what is the potential scope of the beneficiary pays principle in real world policy debates?

Note: Alex submitted his thesis and successfully completed his Viva in September 2019.

Supervised by Catriona McKinnon (Politics), Patrick Tomlin (Politics), and Brad Hooker (Philosophy).

Callum Nolan


My academic background consists of studying Business and Management at Greenwich University, followed by an MSc in Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management at York. The Masters degree covered a wide range of subjects; modules included The International Political Economy and Business, Carbon Management and Climate Change Adaption and Tools for Environmental Assessment. Throughout this time I became increasingly interested in the role of the private sector in climate change, particularly in the developing world where corporations are increasingly expected to assist in the provision of public goods.

My research aims to explore the responsibility of Multinational Oil Companies in implementing climate change mitigation and adaptation in Nigeria. Some of the key questions I hope to address throughout the PhD will be:

  • To what extent are private companies responsible for delivering public goods in the developing world?
  • How can corporate responsibility be socially constructed through framing?
  • How is corporate responsibility for climate change framed within public discourse in the country?
  • To what extent do these frames resonate with citizens of Nigeria?
  • Should these oil companies be doing more to combat climate change, and on what basis?

In order to answer the above, I will analyse discursive materials relating to climate change responsibility from the Nigerian government, NGO's, multinational oil companies and the media. I will also visit Nigeria in order to develop my understanding of the issues facing the country and to carry out empirical research, primarily in the form of interviews and questionnaires.

Supervised by Mike Goodman (Geography) and Uma Kambhampati (Economics).

Danny Waite


I was raised in Oxford. I read for a BA in Geography at Jesus College, Oxford, and at the end of my second year, I was selected as the University of Oxford's representative to participate on the IARU Global Summer Programme on International Environmental Policy at the Australian National University. I then undertook an MA in International Law & International Relations at Oxford Brookes University, followed by an MSc in Public Policy at UCL.

My particular area of interest is international climate policymaking in the UNFCCC. My doctoral thesis at the University of Reading will investigate the mechanics, dynamics, positions, roles, and influence of two negotiating blocs of countries: the African Group of Nations (AGN), and the Association of Independent Latin American Countries (AILAC). These blocs have garnered very little attention from scholars, despite the fact that they represent some of the poorest and most vulnerable countries to climate change in the world, for different reasons: AGN because of its perceived lack of negotiating power in the international arena, and AILAC because of its relatively recent formation as a bloc. I will use narrative policy analysis and critical discourse analysis to map the blocs' negotiating positions against the landscape of the rest of the UNFCCC, intra-bloc disputes, and domestic pressures.

Supervised by Chuks Okereke (Geography) and Jonathan Golub (Politics).

Joshua Wells 

I started my BA in Politics and International Relations at the University of Reading in 2010. My interest in the ethics of climate change was sparked in a second year 'political thought' lecture by Professor McKinnon on the topic. I always enjoyed applying political philosophy to real world problems, so during my Masters at the University of York I contacted Catriona with a proposal for an applied climate ethics project.

My research is concerned with a critical policy to combat particular effects of climate change: how we should globally govern geoengineering. Geoengineering is defined as 'the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change' (Royal Society, 2009).

To understand how we should govern geoengineering my project will engage with three key questions:

- Who should be able to perform the act?

- Whose interests should be considered when we perform the act?

- How should the decision be made?

This raises many ethical questions. For example, how should we balance the conflicting interests of current and future generations? Or the conflicting interests within generations between the wealthy and the poor? Or the conflicting interests between different life forms? Should we give weight to the interests of animals and nature as well as humans and future generations?

It seems possible that geoengineering could occur with no engagement with, or answers to, these questions. This would be a tragic injustice. It would be a tragic injustice if the powerful were to impose a geoengineered climate upon the world on the own terms. I aim to engage with these questions so an ethically sound answer can be provided when the question, 'how should we govern geoengineering?' is asked.

Supervised by Catriona McKinnon (Politics), Chuks Okereke (Geography), and Andrew Charlton-Perez (Meteorology).

Current Second Year Scholars

James Draper

James Draper Photo

Since I began my Bachelor's degree in Philosophy and French at the University of Sheffield in 2011, my interests have been focused on ethics and political philosophy, and in particular in issues of justice. The context of climate change, as well as being of serious practical significance, provides fertile ground for philosophical analysis, and, as such, I found myself increasingly drawn to this context. Since undertaking an MA in Applied Ethics at Utrecht University, I have been able to focus on issues of climate justice, including intergenerational justice and statelessness in the context of climate change.

My PhD research will focus on the issue of climate-induced human displacement. The challenges facing those often termed 'environmental refugees' are increasingly urgent, and often take us outside of the traditional frameworks used in international law and politics, at least in part because of the complex drivers of human migration and displacement, and because of the complex relations of cause and effect in the context of climate change. My research will focus on three lines of enquiry:

(1) How should we conceptualise the plight of those facing climate-induced displacement, especially in terms of international protection mechanisms? Is, for example, the term 'environmental refugee' appropriate? The current understanding of the refugee takes 'persecution' to be the defining factor. What is the normative significance of persecution? Is this understanding still appropriate, or is it simply a post-WW2 reaction to totalitarianism? How could Internally Displaced Persons be accommodated into a new 'environmental refugee' paradigm?

(2) What does it mean to 'care for' those displaced by climate change? What would it mean for responses to the plight of those displaced by climate change to be 'refugee-led'? Is the human rights framework, as the normative standard in international law, the best way to understand our obligations to those displaced? Is self-determination the appropriate guiding principle for displaced populations?

(3) How ought responsibility to be apportioned? Is the framework of Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) which guides UNFCCC responses to climate change appropriate and/or viable in the context of human displacement? Are its justificatory principles still appropriate given the complexity of human migration? Under what conditions and circumstances could a 'right to migrate' be generated for those displaced by climate change?

Supervised by Patrick Tomlin (Politics), Robert Jubb (Politics) and Alex Arnall (Agriculture, Policy and Development).

Bennet Francis

Bennet Francis Photo

My work is based in Philosophy and Political Theory. My PhD project will be an attempt to theorise climate change as a form of structural injustice. I am sceptical of the idea that climate change is a "tragic" phenomenon, whereby individuals acting within their rights unfortunately give rise to disastrous climatic effects. On such accounts, it is the responsibility of states to counteract climate change in a way that respects individual liberty, while the responsibilities of individuals are minimal. The problem with such accounts is this: if a group of individuals, through their actions, together causes determinate and serious harm, it looks like some kind of agent-caused wrongdoing has occurred. If so, it seems some agent or agents should be considered responsible for that wrongdoing.

A structural account, meanwhile, identifies our individual actions as participation in harmful social-structural processes. These, broadly speaking, are processes in which individual actions give rise to constraints on the behaviour of others that present themselves as objective structures. Philosophical accounts of responsibility for climate change tend to focus on our contributions to the "economy" of atmospheric greenhouse gases; a social-structural approach situates these harms within the context of the regular global economy.

Prior to joining the Climate Justice programme at Reading, I completed a BA followed by an MPhil in Philosophy at UCL. My MPhil thesis was on the relationship between collective self-determination and the state's presumed right to exclude immigrants. I argued that justifications for the right to exclude made on the basis of a people's right to collective self-determination tend implicitly to rely on a problematically demanding conception of the individual's influence over the group. These considerations inform my current work. The extent to which states should be considered the bearers of responsibility for climate harms may be thought to depend on their status as self-determining entities. The prospect of growing numbers of "climate refugees" means the philosophy of migration must be an important consideration for theorists of climate justice.

Supervised by Brad Hooker (Philosophy), Robert Jubb (Politics) and Jo Wolff (External - University College London).

Daniel Harris

I started off my academic career as a law student at UCL. Extended essays and a dissertation in the field of jurisprudence drove my interest in the theory of law and politics, whilst an engaging module in environmental law combined my determination to protect the environment with an awareness of the existing regulatory tools for doing so.

Having transitioned from my undergraduate studies in law, focussing on environmental law and legal theory, I gained new understandings of global environmental challenges during my MPhil in Political Theory at the University of Oxford. My modules and research centered on problems of historic injustice and their relevance to present day policies.

I applied for the Leverhulme Climate Justice Programme because it combines my academic research interests in responses to global climate change and my career aspirations to become a policy advisor for the European Commission.

My PhD project is primarily concerned with how a detailed exploration of historic emissions, the changing state of knowledge and awareness of climate science and the problem of collective responsibility can help to inform a new interpretation of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities.

I will engage with questions concerning;

  • The state of knowledge- who knew what and when;
  • The moral significance and challenge of excusable ignorance;
  • The complex process of climate change causation;
  • The potential moral significance of the atmospheres absorptive capacity;
  • The notion of uncertainty and its interaction with precautionary approaches;
  • Problems of collective responsibility for historic groups and their transmission to present day agents;
  • The role of corporations interfering in the dissemination of knowledge.

Through identifying the underlying ethical principles operant across history we can more accurately delineate and justify the responsibilities of present agents, motivating them to engage with and tackle the urgent threat of climate change.

Supervised by Catriona McKinnon and Patrick Tomlin (Politics).

Lydia Messling

Lydia Messling Photo

My research is exploring how climate change researchers should engage in advocacy, if at all, when communicating with policy makers and the lay public.
This will involve examining the frames and methods of communication that researchers use to explain their findings to non-experts, and how they navigate communicating uncertainties whilst providing useful information for policy makers. It is widely valued that science should be politically neutral, independent and objective. Advocacy has the potential to undermine public trust and damage the scientific integrity of scientists' work by being at odds with these values. However climate change is an issue that requires urgent action. The stakes are high, the risks and uncertainties are difficult to comprehend, and advocacy for coordinated social action is vital. But should climate change researchers engage in this advocacy? Or is this outside of their remit?

My background is as a natural scientist, but I have increasingly been interested in the role that science plays in society and the ethics and politics of scientific communication. I completed my BSc in Environmental Science at the University of East Anglia in 2013, which included a year abroad in San Francisco studying Environmental Sustainability and Social Justice. I then worked for a social enterprise encouraging people to change their behaviour to travel more sustainably. I returned to study and did a Masters of Research in Politics and International Relations at the University of Reading. During this time, I also worked with the research team at Climate Outreach, looking at how to engage the public with climate change.

Supervised by Catriona McKinnon (Politics), Ed Hawkins (Meteorology) and Mike Goodman (Geography and Environmental Science).

Jessica Omukuti

Jessica Omukuti Photo

My academic background is in climate change studies, with an MSc in Climate Change and Development from the University of Sussex and a BSc in Meteorology from the University of Nairobi. My work experience is in the Horn of Africa, across programs in climate change adaptation, conflict mitigation, peace building and market development. During my Masters studies, I was able to learn about the complex links between gender and climate justice, with these just recently starting to become reflected in policy and action. It is clear that where policies are adequate, transforming these policies into action through programming has remained a challenge, especially as climate resilience programmes often take a simplistic view of gender. Despite many donors and NGOs mainstreaming gender targets, gender integration is often implemented without a clear understanding of how actions can address the differential needs of diverse groups.

My PhD is underpinned by the understanding that without better understanding how social constructs such as gender fit into the climate justice debate, it will be difficult to link policy to meaningful action. The PhD will examine the different framings of gender in climate policy and programming, and crucially, how their impacts propagate through programming scales to protect different social groups from climate change impacts. This will be analysed through the following questions:

  1. An examination of the links between gender and climate justice at an international and national policy level, for example the output of the COP process, international goals and in national gender and climate policies.
  2. An assessment of the extent to which gender responsive climate change policies and subsequent programs result in gender equality and climate justice for vulnerable populations.

Supervised by Peter Dorward and Alex Arnall (Agriculture, Policy and Development).

Current First Year Scholars

Africa Bauzà Garcia-Arcicollarafricabauza

I completed my BA in Sociology & International Relations at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Political Philosophy at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. I started my studies with a general interest on issues of justice and fairness that I now place in the context of climate change and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

In the context of a changing climate that threatens the existence of certain SIDS, my research will:

1. Explore established narratives around development futures and climate justice in SIDS.

2. Investigate the different scenarios that Maldivians envisage for their futures in terms of human mobility and migration in the context of a changing climate and sea-level rise.

3. Analyse how these different futures differ on the basis of socio-economic, demographic and political differentiation, both within and between island communities.

4. Determine what these different groups consider to be a fair migration outcome in a changing climate, and what are the factors that are driving these justice-based perspectives.

By addressing the above exposed objectives and engaging with people's realities, ideas and aspirations, this project hopes to pluralise the debate on climate justice and migration and to allow local voices to lead the discussion.

Supervised by Alex Arnall (Agriculture, Policy and Development), Andrew Ainslie (Agriculture, Policy and Development), and Catriona McKinnon (Politics).

Livia Luzzattolivialuzzatto

My research interests are in European politics, moral and political philosophy, particularly climate policy and intergenerational justice. I first became interested in political theory during my BA in European Studies at King's College London, after which I studied for an MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy at the London School of Economics. During my Masters I focused on the politics and philosophy of climate change, and the extent to which the prospect of dangerous climate change affects our duties of morality.

Drawing on my previous research, my PhD project tackles the intergenerational asymmetry between the causes and effects of climate change; it combines my interests in both politics and philosophy: I begin with a philosophical investigation, and then formulate a set of corresponding policy recommendations. Overall, I explore the following questions: what are future generations entitled to in the face of a changing climate, and what must present generations do to secure it for them? In response, I develop a framework of intergenerational climate justice, centred around the following key issues:

- What is the nature of our intergenerational obligations in a changing climate: are they influenced by the Non-Identity problem, i.e. the fact that present policy choices, such as those limiting our emissions, affect the identity of future people? Can we nevertheless frame our intergenerational duties in a person-affecting manner, i.e. owing to the direct claims of future individuals?

- What is the currency of our intergenerational duties, and what is its pattern of distribution: how do we account for factors such as the uncertainty regarding future interests, the uncertainty about future climate impacts, or the need to ensure that present generations are not held hostage by the claims of future individuals?

In my attempt to define basic human entitlements across generations I engage primarily with Amartya Sen's and Martha Nussbaum's capabilities. Part of my work is adapting their concept of human capabilities to cover intergenerational justice in general, and intergenerational climate justice in particular. Ultimately, my aim is to develop a set of ethical principles that are both necessary and sufficient for the justification of global climate policies.

Adam Pearce


Before my present research I studied History and Politics at Warwick (BA) and Political Theory at York (MA). Throughout, I have been concerned with the position of future people in theories of justice. Nevertheless, even if our theory of justice was perfect, I suspect we cannot rely on actors to meet fully their duties of justice to future people voluntarily. So, the motivating thought for my project is whether there is a place for criminal coercion to restrain greenhouse gas emissions. My research will work in moral, political, and legal philosophy to (1) assess the legitimacy of this option and (2) tackle the limitations of present principles which make criminal enforcement of emissions limits theoretically problematic.

On the legitimacy of criminal enforcement, we face a problem of moral justification. Typically, society appeals to the harm done to victims to justify criminal sanction. Unfortunately, the non-identity problem scuppers the applicability of this justification. Future people who would be affected by climate change would not exist if we change our emissions policy, different people would instead. Because many would be no worse-off existing with the effects of climate change than not existing at all they would not be harmed. Taking this to be an alarming conclusion, several questions arise. Should we change how we understand the concept of harm? If not, should we appeal to how climate change will harm contemporaries later in life only? Or, what is an alternative justification? Most would agree that dangerous climate change is morally wrong but liberal societies tend to avoid this justification for criminalisation to respect a plurality of views and moral disagreement. The appeal to harm is attractive as it has moral weight and tends to respect moral disagreement. Is there another justification which could fulfil a similar role?

On limitations in our present principles, proportionality in punishment could be very stifling. First, any one emission is a tiny proportion of total emissions, is mixed with others, and is spread globally meaning that one emission only partially affects any one person. Is a proportionate punishment therefore a partial sentence? This would likely undermine any attempt at a policy of deterrence. Second, if punishment should match up to the gravity of the crime's effect, what is the guidance when the precise effects of climate change are uncertain? Does proportionality indicate that sentences should be reduced in proportion to the relative uncertainty? Third, emissions are the by-product of different actions with different motives. Should sentencing reflect the different types of action that cause emissions?

Zainab Aliyu


I started my career with a degree in Marine Biology from the University of Lagos, Nigeria. It was during my undergraduate studies that I became fascinated with understanding the interactions of the Earth's component, the resulting impacts on the environment, life (abundance and biodiversity) and the socio-economic importance of such changes. This led me to pursue a master's degree in Sustainable Development, Climate Change and Environment from the University of Exeter, UK. Here, I gained a deeper understanding of the science of climate change and its inextricable links to socio-economic issues. My work experiences have mostly been in Environmental Management and Consultancy; providing technical expertise and implementing outstanding initiatives for a diverse range of clients.

My PhD research will center on how individuals and societies in Sub-Saharan Africa understand and respond to the climate justice narratives, and the capacities of Climate Justice Movements (CJM) to impact on policy and poverty alleviation on the communities on which their campaigns are focused. The research will utilize one prominent case study from Nigeria and Kenya respectively, and will examine the:

Climate justice narratives and discourses within the case studies CJMs in Sub-Saharan Africa, what factors drive these narratives and how theses narratives align with international narrative on climate justice?

Campaign models and mechanism adopted by the case studies CJMs and why?

Impact/effectiveness of the CJMs i.e. How relevant is the objectives of the case studies CJMs to the local needs? What is the sustainability of current strategies employed? What is the extent of inclusion and levels of engagement of the CJMs with other relevant actors?

This research was conceived due to the perception that current understanding of the impacts of climate change, its effect on socio-economic development and the need for climate action in many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa is still relatively low. This is particularly worrisome because although Africa contributes little to the total greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, it bears the brunt of the impacts of climate change. Agreed, the issue of attribution and responsibility for climate change remains a complicated task. However, the failure of the Kyoto protocol and the recent withdrawal of the US from the landmark Paris Climate Agreement make it apparent that the climate injustice in Africa can only be resolved by the affected people and local communities themselves through their demand for justice and call for climate action at national and international deliberations. I anticipate that this research will advance climate justice debates and inform policy designs that will help redress climate injustice in Africa.

Selam Abebe

My academic background is in law, with a first degree from Mekelle University in Ethiopia and an LLM from the University of South Africa with a specialization in International Economic Law. I have been passionate about the environment and environment challenges, and I believe the law and legal systems are important tools for addressing such challenges. After graduating from law school, I joined the Environmental Authority of the Ethiopian Government to pursue a career in public service. I started off my career as an environmental law expert, and then went on to lead the department of environmental policy and law. During my five years service for the government, I was a legal adviser and member of the negotiating team that represented the Government of Ethiopia in the United Nations Framework Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations.

Since 2015, I have been working with the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) on the UNFCCC as a legal adviser to the Group, the African Group Chair and African Ministers on Environment (AMCEN). I was also the lead negotiator for the African Group on legal and procedural issues of the Paris Agreement, including the Preamble, Purpose (Article2) and facilitation of implementation and compliance (Article 15).

My interest in this area of research is informed by the practical difficulties I have experienced in the UNFCCC negotiations including the operationalization of concepts such the principles of equitable access to sustainable development and climate justice. My PhD project aims to investigate how these concepts and principles are operationalised in the global climate change regime in general and the compliance mechanism of the Paris Agreement in particular. My research will further explore how and where the principles of equity and justice should be applied in the sharing of contribution to the global effort of addressing the impacts of climate change and tracking of such contributions in the newly adopted compliance mechanism of the Paris Agreement. In addition to the investigating the criteria to be used in operationalizing these concepts, I am interested in understanding how these criteria are developed in the process of negotiations.