The Ethics of Assisted Colonization in the Age of Anthropogenic Climate Change

  • G. A. Albrecht
  • C. Brooke
  • D. H. Bennett
  • S. T. Garnett
Review Paper


This paper examines an issue that is becoming increasingly relevant as the pressures of a warming planet, changing climate and changing ecosystems ramp up. The broad context for the paper is the intragenerational, intergenerational, and interspecies equity implications of changing the climate and the value orientations of adapting to such change. In addition, the need to stabilize the planetary climate by urgent mitigation of change factors is a foundational ethical assumption. In order to avoid further animal and plant extinctions, or at the very least, their increased vulnerability to becoming rare and endangered; the systematic assisted colonization of “at risk” species is being seriously considered by scientists and managers of biodiversity. The more practical aspects of assisted colonization have been covered in the conservation biology literature; however, the ethical implications of such actions have not been extensively examined. Our discussion of the value issues, using a novel case study approach, will rectify the limited ethical analysis of the issue of assisted colonization of species in the face of climate change pressures. Beyond sustainability ethics, both animal and environmental ethical approaches will be used and intrinsic versus instrumental value orientations in the literature shall form the basis of our discussion. After the application of all the ethical approaches to the case studies, we conclude that without mitigation and the prospect of a future stable climate, assisted colonization will be involved in an inherently unethical process and a “move and lose it” outcome. With mitigation, there is wide-ranging ethical support for assisted colonization.


Ethics Climate change Assisted colonization Managed relocation Mitigation Adaptation Intrinsic value Instrumental value Sentience Environmental ethics Sustainability ethics 



The authors wish to thank the National Climate Change Adaptation Facility (NCCARF) for funding the genesis of this paper at a multi-disciplinary assisted colonization workshop in York, Western Australia in 2010. Also the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. A. Albrecht
    • 1
  • C. Brooke
    • 2
  • D. H. Bennett
    • 3
  • S. T. Garnett
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Social Sciences and HumanitiesMurdoch UniversityMurdochAustralia
  2. 2.WWF InternationalUltimoAustralia
  3. 3.Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and EducationCharles Darwin UniversityDarwinAustralia
  4. 4.Research Institute for the Environment and LivelihoodsCharles Darwin UniversityCasuarinaAustralia

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