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Climate justice

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Children marching for climate justice in Minnesota, USA in April 2017.
Children marching for climate justice in Minnesota, USA in April 2017.

Climate justice is a term used to frame global warming as an ethical and political issue, rather than one that is purely environmental or physical in nature. This is done by relating the causes and effects of climate change, including effects of responses to climate change, to concepts of justice, particularly environmental justice and social justice. Climate justice examines concepts such as equality, human rights, collective rights, and the historical responsibilities for climate change. Climate justice actions can include the growing global body of legal action on climate change issues.[1] In 2017, a report of the United Nations Environment Programme identified 894 ongoing legal actions worldwide.[2]

Historically marginalized communities, such as women, indigenous communities and communities of color often face the worst consequences of climate change: in effect the least responsible for climate change suffer its gravest consequences.[3][4][5] They might also be further disadvantaged by responses to climate change which might reproduce or exacerbate existing inequalities, which has been labeled the 'triple injustices' of climate change.[6] [7][8]

Use and popularity of climate justice language has increased dramatically in recent years, yet climate justice is understood in many ways, and the different meanings are sometimes contested. At its simplest, conceptions of climate justice can be grouped along the lines of procedural justice, which emphasizes fair, transparent and inclusive decision making, and distributive justice, which places the emphasis on who bears the costs of both climate change and the actions taken to address it. [6]

Some climate justice approaches, promote transformative justice where advocates focus on how vulnerability to climate change reflects various structural injustices in society, such as the exclusion of marginalized groups from decision-making and from climate resilient livelihoods, and that climate action must explicitly address these structural power imbalances. For these advocates, climate change provide an opportunity to reinforce democratic governance at all scales, and drive the achievement of gender equality and social inclusion. At a minimum, priority is placed on ensuring that responses to climate change do not repeat or reinforce existing injustices, which has both distributive justice and procedural justice dimensions. Other conceptions frame climate justice in terms of the need to curb climate change within certain limits, like the Paris Climate Agreement targets of 1.5C, otherwise the impacts of climate change on natural ecosystems will be so severe as to preclude the possibility of justice for many populations [9]

History of the term

In 2000, at the same time as the Sixth Conference of the Parties (COP 6), the first Climate Justice Summit took place in The Hague. This summit aimed to "affirm that climate change is a rights issue" and to "build alliances across states and borders" against climate change and in favor of sustainable development.[10]

Subsequently, in August–September 2002, international environmental groups met in Johannesburg for the Earth Summit.[11] At this summit, also known as Rio+10, as it took place ten years after the 1992 Earth Summit, the Bali Principles of Climate Justice[12] were adopted.

Climate Justice affirms the rights of communities dependent on natural resources for their livelihood and cultures to own and manage the same in a sustainable manner, and is opposed to the commodification of nature and its resources.

Bali Principles of Climate Justice, article 18, August 29, 2002[12]

In 2004, the Durban Group for Climate Justice was formed at an international meeting in Durban, South Africa. Here representatives from NGOs and peoples' movements discussed realistic policies for addressing climate change.[13]

At the 2007 Bali Conference, the global coalition Climate Justice Now! was founded, and, in 2008, the Global Humanitarian Forum focused on climate justice at its inaugural meeting in Geneva.[14]

In 2009, the Climate Justice Action Network was formed during the run-up to the Copenhagen Summit.[15] It proposed civil disobedience and direct action during the summit, and many climate activists used the slogan 'system change not climate change'.[16]

In April 2010, the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth took place in Tiquipaya, Bolivia. It was hosted by the government of Bolivia as a global gathering of civil society and governments. The conference published a "People's Agreement" calling, among other things, for greater climate justice.[17]

In December 2018, the People’s Demands for Climate Justice, signed by 292,000 individuals and 366 organisations, called upon government delegates at COP24 comply with a list of six climate justice demands.[18]

Disproportionate impact

Disadvantaged groups will continue to be disproportionately impacted as climate change persists. These groups will be affected due to inequalities that are based on demographic characteristics such as differences in gender, race, ethnicity, age, and income.[19] Inequality increases the exposure of disadvantaged groups to the harmful effects of climate change while also increasing their susceptibility to destruction caused by climate change.[19] A problem with destruction is that disadvantaged groups are the last to receive emergency relief and are rarely included in the planning process at local, national and international levels for coping with the impacts of climate change.[20]

Communities of color, women, indigenous groups, and people of low-income all face an increased vulnerability to climate change. These groups will be disproportionately impacted due to heat waves, air quality, and extreme weather events. It has been found that there are more U.S. racial and ethnic minorities that live in low-lying areas than Whites which shows a disproportionate impact since these areas are more susceptible to flooding.[21] Women are also disadvantaged and will be affected by climate change differently than men.[22] This will impact the ability of minority groups to adapt unless there is progress made so that these groups have more access to universal resources.[21] Indigenous groups are affected by the consequences of climate change even though they historically have contributed the least.[23] In addition, indigenous peoples are disproportionately impacted due to their income and continue to have fewer resources to cope with climate change.[23]

The ability of populations to mitigate and adapt to the negative consequences of climate change are shaped by factors such as income, race, class, gender, capital and political representation.[24] Low income communities as well as colored communities possess little to no adaptive resources, making them particularly vulnerable to climate change. [24][25] People living in poverty or in precarious circumstances tend to have neither the resources nor the insurance coverage necessary to recover from environmental disasters.[25] On top of that, such populations often receive an unequal share of disaster relief and recovery assistance.[24] Additionally, they generally have less say and involvement in decision-making, political, and legal processes that relate to climate change and the natural environment.

One way to mitigate the disproportionate impact of climate change to achieve climate justice is to involve disadvantaged groups in the planning and policymaking process so that these individuals have a say in their own futures. This would also help minority groups achieve more access to resources to adapt and plan for a changing climate.[22]


Climate change and gender is a way to interpret the disparate impacts of climate change on men and women,[26] based on the social construction of gender roles and relations.[27]

Climate change increases gender inequality,[28] reduces women's ability to be financially independent,[29] and has an overall negative impact on the social and political rights of women, especially in economies that are heavily based on agriculture.[28] In many cases, gender inequality means that women are more vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change.[30] This is due to gender roles, particularly in the developing world, which means that women are often dependent on the natural environment for subsistence and income. By further limiting women's already constrained access to physical, social, political, and fiscal resources, climate change often burdens women more than men and can magnify existing gender inequality.[26][31][32][33]

Gender-based differences have also been identified in relation to awareness, causation and response to climate change, and many countries have developed and implemented gender-based climate change strategies and action plans. For example, the government of Mozambique adopted a Gender, Environment and Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan in early 2010, being the first government in the world to do so.[34]

Analysis of gender in climate change, however, is not limited to women.[35] It also means not only applying a binary male/female system of analysis on sets of quantitative data, but also scrutinizing discursive constructions that shapes power relations connected to climate change,[36] and considering how gender, as a social factor that influences responses to climate change, intersects with other variables such as age, caste, marital status, and ethnicity.[37]

Socio-economic disparities

Demonstration against climate poverty (2007)
Demonstration against climate poverty (2007)

Climate change and poverty are deeply intertwined because climate change disproportionally effects poor people in low-income communities and developing countries around the world. Those in poverty have a higher chance of experiencing the ill-effects climate change due to increased exposure and vulnerability.[38] Vulnerability represents the degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change including climate variability and extremes.[39]

Climate change's health, economic impacts, and human rights impacts exacerbate existing environmental inequities. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth National Climate Assessment Report found that low-income individuals and communities are more exposed to environmental hazards and pollution and have a harder time recovering from the impacts of climate change.[40] For example, it takes longer for low-income communities to rebuild after natural disasters.[41] According to the United Nations Development Programme, developing countries suffer 99% of the casualties attributable to climate change.[42]

Climate change raises some climate ethics issues, as the least 50 developed countries of the world account for an imbalanced 1% contribution to the worldwide emissions of greenhouse gasses which are theorized to be attributable to global warming.[42] Climate justice and distributive justice questions are central to climate change policy options. Many of the policy tools often employed to solve environmental problems, such as cost-benefit analysis, usually do not adequately deal with these issues because they often ignore questions of just distribution and the effects on human rights.

Indigenous people

Climate change and indigenous peoples is a way to interpret how climate change disproportionately impacts indigenous peoples around the world compared to non indigenous people. These impacts are particularly felt in relation to health, environments, and communities. Indigenous peoples found in Africa, the Arctic, Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, Latin America, North America and the Pacific have strategies and traditional knowledge to adapt to climate change. These knowledge systems can be beneficial for their own adaptation to climate change as well as applicable to non-indigenous people.  

The majority of the world’s biological, ecological, and cultural diversity is located within Indigenous territories. There are over 370 million indigenous peoples [43] found across 90+ countries.[44] Approximately 22% of the planet's land is indigenous territories, with this figure varying slightly depending on how both indigeneity and land usage are defined.[45] Indigenous peoples play a crucial role as the main knowledge keepers within their communities. This knowledge includes that which relates to the maintenance of social-ecological systems.[46] The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People recognizes that Indigenous people have specific knowledge, traditional practices, and cultural customs that can contribute to the proper and sustainable management of ecological resources.[47]

Indigenous peoples have myriad experiences with the effects of climate change because of the varying geographical areas they inhabit across the globe and because of the differences in cultures and livelihoods.[definition needed] Indigenous peoples have a wide variety of experiences that science is beginning to include in its research of climate change and its potential solutions. As a result of this inclusion, the concepts of traditional knowledge and traditional practices are increasingly respected and considered in scientific research.[48]
Developed countries, as the main cause of climate change, in assuming their historical responsibility, must recognize and honor their climate debt in all of its dimensions as the basis for a just, effective, and scientific solution to climate change. (...) The focus must not be only on financial compensation, but also on restorative justice, understood as the restitution of integrity to our Mother Earth and all its beings.

World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, People's Agreement, April 22, Cochabamba, Bolivia[49]

Rally for climate justice (2009).
Rally for climate justice (2009).

Causes of climate injustice

One contentious issue in debates about climate justice is the extent to which capitalism is viewed as the root cause of climate injustice. This question frequently leads to fundamental disagreements between, on the one hand, liberal and conservative environmental groups and, on the other, leftist and radical organizations. While the former often tend to blame the excesses of neoliberalism for climate change and argue in favor of market-based reform, the latter view capitalism with its exploitative traits as the underlying central issue.[50][51]



Climate change litigation is an emerging body of legal practice and precedent designed to further climate change mitigation efforts from public institutions, such as governments and companies. In the face of slow politics of climate change delaying climate change mitigation, activists and lawyers have increased efforts to use national and international judiciary systems to advance the effort.

Since the early 2000s, the legal frameworks for combatting climate change have increasingly been available through legislation, and an increasing body of court cases have developed an international body of law connecting climate action to legal challenges, related to constitutional law, administrative law, private law, consumer protection law or human rights.[52] Many of the successful cases and approaches have focused on advancing the needs of climate justice and the youth climate movement.

After the 2019 ruling in State of the Netherlands v. Urgenda Foundation, which gave binding requirements for the state of the Netherlands to address climate change, a growing trend of activist cases have begun being fought globally.[53][54][55] 2019 saw a sharp rise in actions, and as of February 2020 Norton Rose Fulbright published a review identifying over 1400 cases in 33 countries.[56] In early 2020, the most pending cases in any one country was in the United States, where over 1000 cases were being heard.[52]

Climate justice protests

Tens of thousands of people marching in Copenhagen for climate justice (2009).[57]
Tens of thousands of people marching in Copenhagen for climate justice (2009).[57]

In 2019 Greta Thunberg, a 16 year old Swedish native, brought a great deal of media attention to the idea of climate justice. Every Friday she skips school to strike for the climate and she once stated in an interview with Democracy Now!, "Since you don’t give a damn about my future then I won’t either,"[58] referring to the Swedish members of Parliament. When Thunberg came to the United States to speak at the UN Climate Summit she traveled across the Atlantic Ocean by sailboat in protest of the emissions caused by airplanes.

Greta Thunberg’s radical way of protesting has created "The Greta effect" which inspires a new generation to take a stance on climate justice as a political issue.[58] She is joined by many other students in her school strike for action towards climate change.

Inspired by Greta Thunberg, Vanessa Nakate began her own strike for the climate in Uganda. She was also part of the group of youth activists who spoke at COP25 and in Davos she was cropped out of a photo with fellow activists. She went on to speak about diversity within the environmental movement and called out the erasure of climate activists of colour.[59]

Political approaches towards climate justice

The 21st century became the time to take serious action towards climate justice[neutrality is disputed] because many elite groups[which?] were unwilling to solve the environmental and social issues for climate justice.[citation needed] At the same time, climate justice activists' demands began to increase significantly that it was important to take alternative steps. For example, the Climate Justice Now! network, which is a network of organizations that advocate for climate justice was founded in 2007 by the UNFCCC. Additionally, in 2010, the Bolivian government sponsored "Peoples' World Conference on Climate Change and the Right of Mother Earth in Cochabamba,[60] which helped connect many climate change activists together. Many political groups also began to take impressive actions towards climate change: The grassroots campaign of Dine Local citizen group in New Mexico prevented "the creation of the Desert Rock coal plant, which would have been the third such polluting monolith in this small, rural community."[60] New coal power plant proposals have been cancelled because the community is against it and therefore has helped keep the climate pollution low. The increase of climate justice political groups helped go against many companies and were successful at lowering pollution[citation needed].

Case studies

Hurricane Katrina

NASA flood image after Hurricane Katrina.
NASA flood image after Hurricane Katrina.

According to one study, Hurricane Katrina provided insights into how climate change disasters affect different people differently,[24] as it had a disproportionate effect on low-income and minority groups.[24] A study on the race and class dimensions of Hurricane Katrina suggests that those most vulnerable include poor, black, brown, elderly, sick, and homeless people.[61] Low-income and black communities had little resources and limited mobility to evacuate before the storm.[62][63] Also, after the hurricane, low-income communities were most affected by contamination,[24] and this was made worse by the fact that government relief measures failed to adequately assist those most at risk.[25][61]

Environmental dumping of harmful appliances

The growing use of cooling appliances like room air conditioners (RACs) and refrigerators is projected to be one of the top drivers of global electricity demand in the coming years.[64] As demand for cooling appliances has grown in the developing world, environmental dumping[65] of energy inefficient electronic products like cooling appliances into developing countries has increased.[66] These inefficient cooling appliances include used and near end-of-life appliances that utilize excessive electricity, substandard appliances and appliances that use refrigerants with either high global warming potential (GWP) or super greenhouse gases like Hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) which are ozone-depleting substances (ODS). An end to environmental dumping of such products is critical in mitigating climate change and ensuring climate justice for communities that are being dumped upon.

See also


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Further reading

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