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The Law and Governance of Existential Risks (LGER)

Images: Creative Commons (HCC | Steph P.S. | Shever | Humanrobo)


There is a growing concern in the scientific community and the wider public about existential risks caused by scientific experiments and technological progress. An existential risk is one that threatens to cause the extinction of all human beings on earth and hotly debated areas are, for instance, specific types of research in biotechnology, certain types of geoengineering, and the development of artificial intelligence (AI): One can think of a virus that is modified such that its pathogenicity is enhanced, enabling it to cause a global pandemic (these are so called gain of function experiments (GOF)); one could think of experiments where large amounts of sulfur dioxide gas is injected into the stratosphere so that more sunlight is reflected, potentially changing our climate system (so-called solar radiation management).

Discussing the topic of existential risks means dealing with essential questions concerning the future of humankind: What responsibilities do States and even the international community as a whole have to reduce and manage these risks? Can these risks be effectively minimized without disproportionately restricting legitimate science and technological progress? How can we rationally deal with high risk scenarios in the area of scientific research if the research is intended to solve problems of humankind (for instance fight global warming; fight an epidemic etc.)? Are there gaps in the legal framework that must be addressed on an international level?



Members of the Research Group

Silja Voeneky



Prof. Dr., Director Institute of Public International Law and Ethics of Law, University of Freiburg, currently Fellow Harvard Law School, Human Rights Program, Academic Year 2015 / 16.  
Phone: +49.761.203-2206

Research Assistants

Jakob Jürgensen

Phone: +49.761.203-2349

Natalie Lamp

Phone: +49.761.203-2349

Maximilian Stützel

Phone: +49.761.203-2349


Current Research Projects

  • Voeneky, Silja: Existential Risks, the Precautionary Principle, and Human Rights (Harvard Law School, Human Rights Program), Download Precis
  • Beck, Felix: State Liability and Channeling of Liability for Transboundary Environmental Harm in International Law (Staatenhaftung und völkerrechtliche Haftungsverteilung für grenzüberschreitende Umweltschäden, Dissertation, University of Freiburg)
  • Hammel, Lena: The Regulation of Existential Risks caused by Research and Technical Developments from the Perspective of International Law and Ethics (Die Regulierung von existentiellen Risiken durch Forschung und Technik aus völkerrechtlicher und rechtsethischer Sicht, Dissertation, University of Freiburg)
  • Teetzmann, Constantin: Protection against Scientific Knowledge? The Regulation of Dual-Use Research in the Field of Life Sciences (Schutz vor Wissen? Möglichkeiten des Umgangs mit Forschung mit doppeltem Verwendungszweck und ihre Rechtsbedingungen, Dissertation, University of Freiburg)


Articles (Download)


Presentations (Podcasts)


PhD Projects (forthcoming)


Institutes dealing with Existential Risks


Further Articles, Documents, and Studies

(read more)


Events 2015/2016



Institute of Public Law
Department 2 (Public International Law and Comparative Law) - Prof. Dr. Silja Voeneky
Platz der Alten Synagoge 1
79098 Freiburg im Breisgau

Phone: +49.761.203-2206
Fax: +49.761.203-67683