DSC Seminar | “Who pays? And is it fair?” Legal liability and ethics in climate adaptation


In the first of our Deep South Challenge seminars for 2019, we hear from Lisa Ellis and Catherine Iorns, researchers from different fields, both looking at the question of who should fund climate adaptation.

Lisa Ellis’s research report, How should the risks of sea-level rise be shared?, was published late last year, and received wide coverage in the media. In a recent long-form Stuff NZ article, Beach Rd: The rising sea and the reshaping of New Zealand, Lisa said, “Sea-level rise as a whole poses the threat of a ‘perfect moral storm of risk transfer’ – without a solid, fair legal framework, the disadvantaged would bear the brunt of the problem… The problem is we don’t have a predictable, legal framework outlying where those risks should lie.” 

Lisa will be joined by Catherine Iorns, whose Deep South Challenge research project, Sea level rise, housing and insurance: Liability and compensation, is due for completion later this month. Catherine’s research investigates the extent to which homeowners can or should rely on the EQC, or on local or central government, to compensate them if their homes become uninsurable, or uninhabitable, due to sea level rise, or because of associated climate risks like storm surges or coastal erosion. The research also looks into current trends in international climate litigation, and investigates the Crown’s Treaty of Waitangi obligations in relation to sea level rise.

About our presenters

Lisa Ellis is a political theorist who teaches ethics, environmental philosophy, and philosophy, politics and economics at the University of Otago. Her current book project, Extinction and Democracy, asks how democratic practices interact with species conservation policies. She is also writing about the collective ethics of flying, the human value of biodiversity loss, and (with the Deep South Challenge) the principled distribution of the risk of sea level rise.

Catherine Iorns is a Senior Lecturer in Law at Victoria University Wellington. Her research interests include Indigenous Rights in International and Domestic Laws, Statutory Interpretation and Environmental Law and Management. Her current research covers indigenous political representation in international and domestic laws, indigenous (co-)management of natural resources, and indigenous reparations and grievance settlements.

Physical hubs: 
  • University of Victoria: Government Buildings Lecture Theatre 1 (GBLT1)*
  • University of Otago: MA 229, 2nd Floor, Science III Building*
  • NIWA Wellington: Allen Board Room (Ground Floor Allen Building)
  • NIWA Christchurch: TerraNova Room
  • University of Canterbury: Puaka James Hight 501D

*Our presenters will be speaking from these hubs.

Please note, all visitors to NIWA must sign in on arrival.

We encourage you to set up your own hub and bring friends and colleagues together to participate in the seminar. Please let us know if you do set up your own hub.

Email: [email protected]


Lisa Ellis

Lisa Ellis is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics programme at the University of Otago. Lisa’s work investigates how we can make policy decisions that serve our interests in flourishing now and in the future. Her current project, “the collective implications of discrete decisions,” includes papers in environmental democracy, the collective ethics of flying, the value of biodiversity losses, climate adaptation justice, and species extinction.

She has also worked as a professional birdwatcher. Lisa divides her spare time between looking for birds around the South Island and working with others for transformational environmental change.

Catherine Iorns

Catherine Iorns is a Professor of Law at Victoria University of Wellington. Her research interests focus on Environmental Law and Management while also covering Indigenous Rights and Statutory Interpretation. Her current research covers a range of topics including climate adaptation laws, freshwater, deep seabed mining, Māori environmental justice, and responsibility frameworks for nature. She is also involved in the current appeal of the Draft Water Conservation Order for Te Waikoropupū Springs.