climate ethics & policy


David Morrow's current scholarly work focuses on climate ethics and climate policy, with a special interest in the ethics and governance of carbon removal and solar geoengineering. This page includes links to selected publications.



Sikina Jinnah, Simon Nicholson, David R. Morrow, et al.
Sustainability (2019)
DOI 10.3390/SU11143954 (open access)

Solar radiation management (SRM) technologies would reflect a small amount of incoming solar radiation back into space before the radiation can warm the planet. Although SRM may emerge as a useful component of a global response to climate change, there is also good reason for caution. In June 2017, the Academic Working Group on Climate Engineering Governance released a policy report, “Governing Solar Radiation Management”, which developed a set of objectives to govern SRM in the near-term future: (1) keep mitigation and adaptation first; (2) thoroughly and transparently evaluate risks, burdens, and benefits; (3) enable responsible knowledge creation; and (4) ensure robust governance before any consideration of deployment. To advance the governance objectives identified above, the working group developed twelve recommendations, grouped into three clusters: (1) create politically legitimate deliberative bodies; (2) leverage existing institutions; and (3) make research transparent and accountable. This communication discusses the rationale behind each cluster and elaborates on a subset of the recommendations from each cluster

why talk about carbon removal?

with Holly J. Buck, Wil C. G. Burns, Simon Nicholson, and Carolyn Turkaly
Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy
DOI 10.17606/M6H66H
[Download the report here]

Talk of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is spilling out of scientific circles and into the realm of climate politics and policy. Civil society has a vital role to play in ensuring that this conversation is responsive to social needs and develops in constructive and appropriate ways. This report provides a starting point to help environmental and social justice non-governmental organizations (NGOs) engage in the growing conversation about carbon removal.

Section 1 of the report argues that the world needs to grapple seriously with large-scale carbon removal and long-term storage, exploring both the rationale for considering carbon removal and the associated risks and downsides. Section 2 provides a brief introduction to the range of options for large-scale carbon removal. Section 3 surveys the existing conversation in different domains, from academia to philanthropy to civil society. Section 4 considers the relationship between carbon removal and mitigation. Section 5 sketches a research agenda for assessing various approaches to carbon removal.


Environmental Values (2017)
DOI 10.3197/096327117X15046905490335
[Download a one-page summary here]

One central question of climate justice is how to fairly allocate the global emissions budget. Some commentators hold that the concept of fairness is hopelessly equivocal on this point. Others claim that we need a complete theory of distributive justice to answer the question. This paper argues to the contrary that, given only weak assumptions about fairness, we can show that fairness requires an allocation that is at least as prioritarian as the equal per capita view. Since even the equal per capita view is more prioritarian than is politically feasible, fairness is univocal enough for all practical purposes.


Forum for Climate Engineering Working Paper (2017)

Discussions of climate engineering (CE) governance stand now at a crucial juncture. While the CE research community’s ideas about governance have become increasingly sophisticated and specific over the last half decade, they have by and large not been translated into actual governance mechanisms. This working paper summarizes the main points of agreement among major reports on CE governance and lays out some major open questions. This paper also surveys those reports with a view to helping readers understand each report’s distinctive features and major recommendations regarding CE governance.


Ethics, Policy & Environment (2016)
DOI 10.1080/21550085.2016.1226240

One major question in climate justice is whether developed countries’ historical emissions are relevant to distributing the burdens of mitigating climate change. To argue that developed countries should bear a greater share of the burdens of mitigation because of their past emissions is to advocate ‘historical accountability.’ Standard arguments for historical accountability rely on corrective justice. These arguments face important objections. By using the notion of a global emissions budget, however, we can reframe the debate over historical accountability in terms of distributive justice. This paper argues that, given two defensible assumptions, distributive justice requires historical accountability. These assumptions are that the proper claimants on the emissions budgets are societies or states, not individuals, and that we should be allocating the entirety of the original, pre-industrial budget, rather than just the remainder.


with Toby Svoboda
Public Affairs Quarterly
[Download a preprint here]

The strongest arguments for the permissibility of geoengineering (also known as climate engineering) rely implicitly on non-ideal theory—roughly, the theory of justice as applied to situations of partial compliance with principles of ideal justice. In an ideally just world, such arguments acknowledge, humanity should not deploy geoengineering; but in our imperfect world, society may need to complement mitigation and adaptation with geoengineering to reduce injustices associated with anthropogenic climate change. We interpret research proponents’ arguments as an application of a particular branch of non-ideal theory known as “clinical theory.” Clinical theory aims to identify politically feasible institutions or policies that would address existing (or impending) injustice without violating certain kinds of moral permissibility constraints. We argue for three implications of clinical theory: First, conditional on falling costs and feasibility, clinical theory provides strong support for some geoengineering techniques that aim to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Second, if some kinds of carbon dioxide removal technologies are supported by clinical theory, then clinical theory further supports using those technologies to enable “overshoot” scenarios in which developing countries exceed the cumulative emissions caps that would apply in ideal circumstances. Third, because of tensions between political feasibility and moral permissibility, clinical theory provides only weak support for geoengineering techniques that aim to manage incoming solar radiation.