When people think of climate change, they usually think of extreme weather events such as tsunamis, tornadoes or floods, whose impact is often emphasized on television. However, the term contains other aspects that are no less important. These include climate or environmental equity and refugee movements as possible effects of climate change.

These topics are dealt with by Prof. Dr. Silja Klepp as part of her work as a social anthropologist at the Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel. In the field of environmental equity, she deals with questions concerning a fairer coexistence with other cultures.

Effects on Cultures

Her research is focused on Kiribati, an atoll island state in Oceania. It has emitted almost no CO2 over the last 150 years but is now one of the first countries whose existence is threatened by climate change. As the maximum elevation on Kiribati is 3m above sea level, it is to be assumed that the island state will sink into the sea due to the rise in sea level caused by climate change. However, the inhabitants will probably have to leave their islands much earlier due to food scarcity.

In negotiations between the Kiribati government and Fiji, it was possible to acquire a land area of 2,200 hectares in Fiji. The approximately 100,000 I-Kiribati are to be relocated to this land area within the next years and decades. By the way, Fiji is the only country that has so far agreed to accommodate the I-Kiribati as future climate refugees.

Equally important is the topic of refugee movements. Here Prof. Dr. Silja Klepp takes a “pro refugee” approach. Her positioning in this area is specifically mentioned here, as such a reference is very important to ethnologists. Contrary to other disciplines in science, in ethnology, it was clear quite early on that scientists are part of the research field and interact within the research field. Since one’s own positioning can influence the objectivity required in scientific work, it is particularly important for ethnologists to make their standpoint on the topic as transparent as possible. This is practically achieved by reflecting as closely as possible on one’s own role and positioning in the field.

“The reflection work is part of the scientific work, without which the whole thing would not be scientific!”

-Prof. Dr. Silja Klepp; Interview for the Kieljournal

A Question on Moral Issues

Another area Prof. Dr. Silja Klepp deals with is the field of environmental equity. Here she investigates, among other things, the research enquiry of the different behaviour of people in societies such as Germany. There are people who, compared to others, emit much less CO2. Interestingly, the research shows that personal CO2 emissions are rarely a personal decision “per climate”, but rather a variable determined by disposable income or assets. A higher CO2 emission is usually accompanied by a higher level of available financial resources. An interesting question that arises from this is how people, especially the more affluent, can be motivated to save CO2 in the future in a sustainable manner.

Kiel and Climate Change

In Kiel, the understanding has matured quite early that the situation cannot continue like this and that something should be done to combat climate change. For this reason, Kiel has been a climate protection city since 1995. Of course, titles do not really help the environment. Therefore, Kiel has set itself the specific goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 95 per cent and halving final energy consumption by 2050 compared to 1990.

By 2014, a reduction of approximately six percent in greenhouse gas emissions has already been achieved. The additional savings beyond this are to be achieved by implementing climate protection measures as defined in the “Master Plan 100% Climate Protection for the state capital of Kiel”. Particularly important measures in this context are seen as the energy-related renovation of buildings, energy efficiency in new buildings, optimisation of the heating system, CO2-neutral district and local heating supply and the expansion of its use, efficient lighting, e-mobility, improvements in public transport, expansion of the infrastructure for bicycles and the improvement of user behaviour.


1] “Interview for the Kiel Journal with Prof. Dr. Silja Klepp”, 25.10.2019

2] “Climate change and its consequences: On the run from the climate?”, Der Tagesspiegel, 22.11.2019

3] “Masterplan 100% Climate Protection for the State Capital of Kiel”, State Capital Kiel, Environmental Protection Office, Climate Protection Department, Holstenstraße 108, 24103 Kiel, Internet: www.kiel.de/klimaschutz

Text/Layout: Florian Langner
Photos: Thomas W.