The F.E.L. Priestley Lecture Series presents: Andrew Light

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The F.E.L. Priestley Lecture Series presents:

Andrew Light (George Mason University and the World Resources Institute)
Valuing Climate Loss and Damage

Friday, October 25, 2019
7:30-9:00PM | Science Commons Auditorium SA8002

One of the most difficult problems to resolve in the creation of the 2015 UN Paris Agreement on Climate Change was how to attend to the emerging problem of “Loss and Damage” – a formal designation in the climate negotiations – an issue that had never been addressed in previous climate agreements. I witnessed this firsthand as one of the senior climate change officials for the U.S. Department of State at the time. The idea of Loss and Damage was introduced into the negotiations primarily by small island states and low-lying least developed countries. It refers both to slow onset events – such as sea level rise and glacial retreat – and extreme events – such as the possibility of permanent foreseeable droughts and relentless tropical storms – which countries may not feasibly adapt to. In the run up to Paris, the debate over Loss and Damage threatened to break apart the negotiations with calls from some countries that only a system of compensation and liability from larger high-emitting countries to poorer low-emitting countries could justly resolve it. It also created a moral platform that launched both a new international mechanism on Loss and Damage, and leveraged an array of side agreements to provide more resources to climate-vulnerable countries to predict and prepare for extreme climate impacts. In this talk I will review the relatively recent history of Loss and Damage, focusing on what its recognition by the global climate community implies for our understanding of a world potentially marked by extreme climate vulnerability. More specifically, I will both defend the claim that Loss and Damage should not devolve into an attempt at creating a system of compensation and liability, as well as look at how this issue has forced these negotiations to grapple with an equally difficult problem of how to fairly value non-economic losses, including human mobility, cultural heritage, territory, and indigenous knowledge in a world of constant disruption.

Andrew Light is a Professor of Philosophy, Public Policy, and Atmospheric Sciences at George Mason University, and Distinguished Senior Fellow in the Climate Program at the World Resources Institute, in Washington, D.C. From 2013-2016 he served as Senior Adviser and India Counselor to the U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change and Staff Climate Adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry in the Office of Policy Planning in the U.S. Department of State. In this capacity, he served on the senior strategy team for the UN climate negotiations, Director of the U.S.-India Joint Working Group for Combating Climate Change, and Chair of the U.S. Interagency Climate Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals. In recognition of this work, Andrew was awarded the inaugural Public Philosophy Award, from the International Society for Environmental Ethics in June 2017, which has been renamed the “Andrew Light Award for Public Philosophy,” the inaugural Alain Locke Award for Public Philosophy, from the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy in March 2016, and a Superior Honor Award, from the U.S. Department of State in July 2016, for his work creating and negotiating the Paris Agreement on climate change. In his academic career, Andrew is the author of over 100 articles and book chapters, primarily on climate change, restoration ecology, and urban sustainability, and has authored, co-authored, and edited 19 books, including Environmental Values (2008), Moral and Political Reasoning in Environmental Practice (2003), Environmental Pragmatism (1996), and the forthcoming Ethics in the Anthropocene.


The F.E.L. Priestley Lecture was endowed in 1987, in memory of Professor Priestley, whose 50-year academic career began as a teacher in a one-room school in Pine Coulee, and ended when he retired from University College, University of Toronto, in 1972.

The purpose of the lecture series is to invite internationally renowned scholars and authors to campus to further the tradition of the humane letters, in particular in the disciplines of the history of ideas, literature, philosophy, and history.

It provides an opportunity to advance the humanist tradition and intellectual values that Professor Priestley cherished and promoted in his works and in the classroom. 

Room or Area: 
Auditorium SA8002



Kent Peacock | |

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