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Ethics in International Development

Ethics and Equity in International Development

IERG’s research on Ethics and Equity in International Development is led by Dr. Keith Hyams, together with postdoctoral researchers Dr. Morten Byskov, Dr. Chris Nathan, and Dr. Poshendra Satyal, and doctoral researchers Gah-Kai Leung and Kun-Feng Tu.

At the core of our research is the view that vulnerability is a side-effect of inequitable and unethical development. We aim to demonstrate how international development outcomes can be improved by placing equity and ethics at the centre of international development research, policy and practice.

We have particular research expertise in the ethics of adaptation to climate change. We also work across a range of ethical issues arising in international development, including the politics of self-determination, urban violence, resilience to environmental shocks, indigenous rights, health, and safeguarding.

We draw on cutting edge research from across philosophy and the social sciences. Our collaborators include political scientists, geographers, epidemiologists, economists and physical scientists. We collaborate widely with research and policy partners in the Global South.

Our publications have been cited by the Cabinet Office, by the Leader of the Opposition the Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP, and by several prominent international NGOs.

We have received funding from the UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund, the British Academy, the ESRC, the Leverhulme Trust, and the University of Warwick.

To find out more about our research please explore our research projects below.

You can contact us at

Our Collaborators

  • The UK Cabinet Office
  • Overseas Development Institute (ODI)
  • Indigenous Health Adaptation to Climate Change project
  • King's College Centre for Integrated Research on Risk and Resilience
  • University of Cape Town
  • Makerere University
  • University of Zambia
  • Christian Aid
  • Universitas Gadjah Mada
  • Universitas Cenderawasih
  • University of Sao Paolo
  • IBA, Karachi
  • CASM
  • Arab Urban Development Institute
  • International Alert
  • University of Khartoum
  • Adelphi
  • Konkuey Design Initiative
  • Centre de Sciences Humaines Delhi
  • University of Zambia
  • Oxfam

Our Projects

Supporting Just Response and Recovery to COVID-19 in Informal Urban Settlements

The project works with the organisation Slum Dwellers International and its Youth Federation members in six Sub-Saharan African cities to understand inequalities and injustices associated with COVID-19 impacts and policy responses in informal urban settlements. The project will facilitate the creation of a series of video-diaries informed by ethical analysis, co-designed and produced with youth groups in the cities, which will provide the foundation for research articles and policy briefs to be shared with local authorities. The project is funded by the AHRC.

Inserting Ethics into Adaptation and Resilience Policy

The project will work with collaborators at the University of Cape Town and with Cape Town city’s climate adaptation department to look at how issues of ethics and justice can be incorporated into responses to climate-related risks. Cape Town has already come perilously close to a city-wide drought and regularly suffers from flooding: the project seeks to ensure that the most vulnerable communities such as informal settlements are incorporated in an ethical manner into city-level protection plans. By doing so, it aims to model a pathway to inserting ethics into adaptation and resilience policy that can be utilised in other settings. The project is funded by the AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund.

Technological Risks in Development

Food insecurity poses a major risk to human lives and well-being in the Global South, especially in the face of climate change. In this project, we investigate how technologies that have been introduced as solutions to food insecurity have contributed to the creation of new risks, and ask how such technologies should might be governed ethically to reduce these risks. We focus on the loss of biodiversity as a result of the introduction of GMO crops, and the rise of antimicrobial resistance as a result of the overuse of antibiotics to combat communicable diseases in crops and livestock. The project is funded by the British Academy and is a collaboration between the University of Warwick, CABI, and the University of Nairobi.

Remedying Injustice in Indigenous Climate Adaptation Planning

Indigenous communities are especially vulnerable to risks associated with climate change, yet their voices are often marginalised in climate adaptation planning. This project investigates ethics and equity aspects of the relationship between indigenous communities, climate change, and adaptation policies, bringing together both philosophical and social scientific research. It asks how adaptation policies that integrate indigenous voices into climate adaptation planning can work to reduce the unequal and inequitable distribution of climate impacts on indigenous populations. The project works closely with collaborators at Makerere University and the Indigenous Health Adaptation to Climate Change research network, and includes fieldwork with Batwa Indigenous communities in South West Uganda. The project is funded by a British Academy Research Grant.

Read our policy report 'Remedying Injustice in Indigenous Climate Adaptation Planning: Climate ethics, inequality, and Indigenous knowledge'

The Politics of Papua Project

The Politics of Papua Project at the University of Warwick conducts research and provides informed political analysis to policymakers, in order to facilitate a peaceful resolution to the conflict in West Papua. We collaborate with researchers around the world, including at the Papuan Cenderawasih University. Our research has been endorsed by several policymakers and politicians, including the Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP. We have received funding from the ESRC, the Warwick Impact Fund, and the Global Partnerships Fund.


Since 1969, West Papua has been part of Indonesia. However, a movement in West Papua led by Indigenous Papuans asserts an ongoing right to self-determination, based on evidence that the so-called ‘Act of Free Choice’ consultation by which West Papua was incorporated into Indonesia was coercive and did not meet international standards. The ongoing conflict in the region, between the Indonesian military and Indigenous Papuans, is estimated to have killed at least a hundred thousand Papuans. Concerns have been expressed about human rights violations and lack of media access to the region. Our aim is to provide informed and rigorous academic analysis, in collaboration with Papuan and other researchers, that can help all parties move closer to a peaceful and sustainable resolution of the conflict, and to help build institutions to support development in West Papua. To this end, the project has a strong practical focus, engaging closely with British and International MPs and other policy-makers in order to best inform future decision-making on the issue.


Tackling Climate-related Health Risks in Urban Slums: an Interdisciplinary Analysis of the Challenge of Integrating Local and Scientific Knowledges

Many urban populations in the Global South live in slums with poor access to sanitation and clean drinking water. Changes to the local and global climate threaten to exacerbate these health risks; flooding increases exposure to infectious diseases, while droughts threaten food supplies. To help these challenges, this project develops a new framework for integrating different knowledges in the context of climate-related health risks in slums. We combine philosophical analysis of the concept of expertise, empirical research in Zambia on traditional ecological knowledge, and medical knowledge of urban slum health. The project is funded by the British Academy and is a collaboration between the University of Warwick (PAIS – lead; medical sciences), the University of Leeds (Priestley International Centre for Climate), and the University of Zambia (Geography and Environmental Sciences).


Challenging Inequalities: An Indo-European Perspective

Challenging Inequalities is an interdisciplinary collaboration across humanities and social sciences, with participants from India, UK, France and Norway. The project seeks to integrate cutting edge philosophical work on the salient ethical dimensions of inequality with social scientific approaches, both quantitative and qualitative, to measuring and addressing inequality in international development contexts. It examines inequality from three different perspectives. First, the project addresses how inequality should be defined and measured. Second, the project looks at attitudes to inequality and inequality-reducing policies. Third, the project investigates the experience of inequality and looks at the effects of inequality on livelihoods and policy interventions. The project is funded in the UK by the ESRC.


Improving Earth Systems Governance through Purpose Ecosystems

Business as usual is pushing the planet to the brink of environmental disaster: biodiversity is being lost at mass-extinction rates, agricultural systems are under strain and pollution of the air and sea has become an increasingly pressing threat to human health. Coupled with climate change, rising inequality and entrenched poverty, these interconnected sustainability issues are triggering social instability and conflict. Yet incremental approaches to pursuing sustainability are insufficient for delivering change at the speed and scale necessary. The aim of this project is to investigate the role and agency of purpose ecosystems in contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and Earth System Governance. The project will bring together researchers in Earth System Governance, equity, purpose ecosystems, sustainability and climate change. It aims to develop a long term collaborative hub for future research and engagement based at the University of Warwick and the University of Monash, which jointly fund the project.


Urban Violence and Climate Change

The two challenges of urban violence and of climate change adaptation for urban development in the Global South have been of increasing concern to the humanitarian, security, and development communities. But these two challenges have so far been treated in parallel, without a strong analytic basis for understanding the interlinkages between the two, and implications for policy interventions in both fields. The aim of the project is to develop new understanding about the interactions between urban violence and climate change risks in urban areas of the Global South. Climate and development policy in areas of urban violence raises a number of difficult ethical questions about legitimacy and authority, and about the ethics of working with ‘gangs’, which are at the core of the project. The project is funded by the ESRC and includes partner researchers and policymakers at the University of Nottingham and in Brazil, Pakistan, Honduras, Kenya and Sudan.


Why We Disagree about Resilience

The concept of resilience is increasingly used in urban planning and disaster risk reduction. While resilience may appear consensual to some, disagreements exist regarding what urban resilience should look like. Some approaches to resilience focus on infrastructure and materials, whereas other approaches are more inclusive of social and environmental concerns. WhyDAR aims to identify different ways in which urban resilience is understood while investigating the role of science, technology, ethics and expertise in the making of resilience strategies in the Global South. It draws out key ethical questions arising from disagreement about conceptions to resilience, and asks what an equitable approach to resilience would look like in the face of this disagreement. The project is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (ESRC, AHRC and NERC) and is a collaboration between the University of Warwick, Kings College London, the University of Cape Town, Christian Aid (Philippines), and Konkuey Design Initiative (Kenya).