Climate justice

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 effects of climate change to concepts of justice, particularly environmental justice and social justice and by examining issues such as equality, human rights, collective rights, and the historical responsibilities for climate change. An important concern related to climate justice is that those who are least responsible for climate change suffer its gravest consequences.[1][2][3]

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

The term climate justice is also used to mean actual legal action on climate change issues.[4] In 2017, a report of the United Nations Environment Programme identified 894 ongoing legal actions worldwide.[5] At the end of 2018, a series of school strikes for climate started worldwide, inspired by Greta Thunberg's original protest in Sweden.

History of the termEdit

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.[6]

Subsequently, in August–September 2002, international environmental groups met in Johannesburg for the Earth Summit.[7] 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[8] 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[8]

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.[9]

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.[10]

In 2009, the Climate Justice Action Network was formed during the run-up to the Copenhagen Summit.[11] It proposed civil disobedience and direct action during the summit, and many climate activists used the slogan 'system change not climate change'.[12]

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.[13]

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.[14]

Disproportionate impactEdit

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.[15] 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.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17] Women are also disadvantaged and will be affected by climate change differently than men.[18] 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.[17] Indigenous groups are affected by the consequences of climate change even though they historically have contributed the least.[19] In addition, indigenous peoples are disproportionately impacted due to their income and continue to have fewer resources to cope with climate change.[19]

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.[20] Low income communities as well as colored communities possess little to no adaptive resources, making them particularly vulnerable to climate change. [20][21] People living in poverty or in precarious circumstances tend to have neither the resources nor the insurance coverage necessary to recover from environmental disasters.[21] On top of that, such populations often receive an unequal share of disaster relief and recovery assistance.[20] 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.[18]


Basket making among the El Molo people in Kenya

Climate change and gender is a way to interpret the disparate impacts of climate change on men and women,[22] based on the social construction of gender roles and relations.[23]

Climate change increases gender inequality,[24] reduces women's ability to be financially independent,[25] and has an overall negative impact on the social and political rights of women, especially in economies that are heavily based on agriculture.[24] In many cases, gender inequality means that women are more vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change.[26] 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.[22][27][28][29]

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.[30]

Analysis of gender in climate change, however, is not limited to women.[31] 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.[32]

Socio-economic disparitiesEdit

Demonstration against climate poverty (2007)

Climate change disproportionally effects poor and low-income communities around the world. Those in poverty have a higher chance of experiencing the ill-effects climate change due to increased exposure and vulnerability.[33] 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.[34]

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.[35] For example, it takes longer for low-income communities to rebuild after natural disasters.[36] According to the United Nations Development Programme, developing countries suffer 99% of the casualties attributable to climate change.[37]

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.[37] 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 peopleEdit

Climate change disproportionately impacts indigenous people around the world, especially in terms of their health, environments, and communities. Indigenous people 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 [38] found across 90+ countries.[39] Approximately 22% of the planet's land is indigenous territories, varying slightly depending on how indigeneity and land usage is determined.[40] Indigenous people have the important role of the main knowledge keepers within their communities, including knowledge relating to the maintenance of social-ecological systems.[41] 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.[42]

Indigenous Peoples have a myriad of 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 Western science is beginning to include in its research of climate change and its potential solutions. The concepts of ancestral knowledge and traditional practices are increasingly respected and considered in Western scientific research.[43]
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[44]

Rally for climate justice (2009).

Causes of climate injusticeEdit

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.[45][46]



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.[47] 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.[48][49][50] 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.[51] In early 2020, the most pending cases in any one country was in the United States, where over 1000 cases were being heard.[47]

Climate justice protestsEdit

Tens of thousands of people marching in Copenhagen for climate justice (2009).[52]

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,"[53] 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.[53] She is joined by many other students in her school strike for action towards climate change.

Political approaches towards climate justiceEdit

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,[54] 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."[54] 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 studiesEdit

Hurricane KatrinaEdit

NASA flood image after Hurricane Katrina.

According to one study, Hurricane Katrina provided insights into how climate change disasters affect different people differently,[20] as it had a disproportionate effect on low-income and minority groups.[20] 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.[55] Low-income and black communities had little resources and limited mobility to evacuate before the storm.[56][57] Also, after the hurricane, low-income communities were most affected by contamination,[20] and this was made worse by the fact that government relief measures failed to adequately assist those most at risk.[21][55]

See alsoEdit


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  2. ^ Wendy Koch, Study: Climate change affects those least responsible Archived 7 December 2015 at the Wayback Machine, USA Today, 7 March 2011
  3. ^ Africa Speaks up on Climate Change Archived 19 December 2018 at the Wayback Machine This appeal states: "In wealthy countries, the looming climate crisis is a matter of concern, as it will affect the wellbeing of the economy. But in Africa, which is hardly contributing to climate change in the first place, it will be a matter of life and death."
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Further readingEdit