Social Ecology Lecture, 11.12.2020


Reflections on the research project ’Ethics and Energy’: how the turn to bottom-up climate governance also rendered non-state actors responsible for climate change


The talk gives a presentation of a recently finalized reseach projekt on ’ethics and energy’ (2014-2019) funded by the Independent Research Foundation Denmark. The project focused on how Danish society has made the energy transition from the 1960s until today. A main outcome of the project is a monograph on Routledge entitled ’Ethics in Danish Energy Policy’ (2020). The project was interdisciplinary and conducted in collaboration between researchers from philosophy (the principal investigator), from history and environmental planning.

The project not only aimed at covering the Danish case, but to also pursue a broader global perspective. For instance, the project covers the issue of climate change emerging as a political concern in the 1990s resulting in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (1994) and subsequent conferences of the parties (COPs) leading up to the breakdown of climate negotiations at the COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009, and the celebrated but non-binding Paris Agreement in 2015. Climate governance has thus been described to move from a global top-down towards more bottom-up kinds of processes.

This development has increased the expectations to abate climate change raised against non-state actors such as corporations, municipalities, big cities, and even individuals. Simultaneously, nation-states continue to be held accountable for their fair share of emissions (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, the INDCs) (Toft 2020a).

However, looking to corporations it is less clear what their fair share of mitigation (and adaption) in the context of climate change could be. Instruments like the ’science based targets’ are available, but also human rights could provide guidance (Toft 2020b)

The presentation will reflect on how corporate actors can be conceived as partners in collective responsibility for climate change. And, how the topics of ethics and energy combined in an interdisciplinary research project focusing on a nation-state case, but with a broader global purview.

Kristian Høyer Toft earned his PhD in political science at Aarhus University (2003) and was a visiting scholar in philosophy at Columbia University, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Reading. He has published articles about climate justice, human rights, and corporate responsibility in international journals, for example, The Business and Human Rights Journal and Energy Research & Social Science. He held positions as a postdoctoral researcher in bioethics at the University of Copenhagen (2006–2007) and assistant and associate professor at Aalborg University in applied philosophy (2011–2019) and is currently a guest researcher at the Sustainability Centre at the Copenhagen Business School (2020). He published 'Corporate Responsibility and Political Philosophy: Exploring the Social Liberal Corporation' on Routledge in 2020.


Toft, K.H. (30 March 2020a) ‘COP 15 and the new climate agenda: The ethics of bottom-up governance’, Chapter 11 in (Ed. Arler et al.) in Ethics in Danish Energy Policy. Abingdon: Routledge.

Toft, K.H. (2020b) ‘Climate change as a business and human rights issue – A proposal for a moral typology’. Business and Human Rights Journal, vol. 5, issue 1, January, pp. 1-27.

Date / Time / Settting: 11. December 2020, 11:30 (Start of the Lecture 11:40), 30 Min. Presentation, 15 Min. Discussion

Place: Zoom -
Meeting-ID: 958 3928 6465
Code: kioes1