Climate justice

Climate justice is a term used to frame climate change 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 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]

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

Historically marginalized communities, such as low income, 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]

A special focus is placed on the role of MAPA (Most Affected People and Areas),[9] i.e., groups disproportionately affected by climate change, such as women, racial minorities, young, older and poorer people.[10] In particular with the rise of grassroots movements with the goal of climate justice - such as Fridays for Future, Ende Gelände or Extinction Rebellion - the connection of these groups in the context of climate justice became more important.[11]

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 [12]

History of the termEdit

Harsha Walia at Climate Justice conference ( A Movement of Movements) at Victoria, Coast Salish Territories. 2013

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.[13]

Subsequently, in August–September 2002, international environmental groups met in Johannesburg for the Earth Summit.[14] 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[15] 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[15]

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.[16]

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.[17]

In 2009, the Climate Justice Action Network was formed during the run-up to the Copenhagen Summit.[18] It proposed civil disobedience and direct action during the summit, and many climate activists used the slogan 'system change not climate change'.[19]

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.[20]

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.[21]

Disproportionate impacts on disadvantaged groupsEdit

Woman protesting for climate justice

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.[22] 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.[22] 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.[23]

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 examined that there are more 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.[24] Women are also disadvantaged and will be affected by climate change differently than men.[25] 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.[24] Indigenous groups are affected by the consequences of climate change even though they historically have contributed the least.[26] In addition, indigenous peoples are unjustifiably impacted due to their income and continue to have fewer resources to cope with climate change.[26]

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.[27] Low income communities as well as colored communities possess little to no adaptive resources, making them particularly vulnerable to climate change.[27][28] People living in poverty or in precarious circumstances tend to have neither the resources nor the insurance coverage necessary to recover from environmental disasters.[28] On top of that, such populations often receive an unequal share of disaster relief and recovery assistance.[27] 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.[25]


The US, China and Russia have cumulatively contributed the greatest amounts of CO
since 1850.[29]

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[30]

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.[31][32]



Climate change litigation, also known as climate litigation, is an emerging body of environmental law using legal practice and precedent 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.[33] Many of the successful cases and approaches have focused on advancing the needs of climate justice and the youth climate movement.

Climate justice protestsEdit

Rally for climate justice: Mass mobilization at the Chevron Oil Refinery in Richmond, California (2009).
Tens of thousands of people marching in Copenhagen for climate justice (2009).[34]

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,"[35] 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.[35] 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.[36]

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.[37] 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,[38] 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."[38] 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].

Human rightsEdit

Oxfam is providing clean drinking water in Mingkamen

Human Rights and Climate Change is a conceptual and legal framework under which international human rights and their relationship to global warming are studied, analyzed, and addressed. The framework has been employed by governments, United Nations organizations, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, human rights and environmental advocates, and academics to guide national and international policy on climate change under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the core international human rights instruments.

Human rights and climate change analysis focuses on the anticipated consequences to humans associated with global environmental phenomena including sea level rise, desertification, temperature increases, extreme weather events, and changes in precipitation, as well as adaptation and mitigation measures taken by governments in response to those phenomena that may involve human rights or related legal protections. Many legal approaches to climate change use the right to a healthy environment, other related rights or other emergent environmental law approaches, such as rights of nature, to advocate for new or required action by governments and private actors, through climate justice advocacy and climate litigation.


Hurricane KatrinaEdit

NASA flood image after Hurricane Katrina.

Because of climate change, tropical cyclones are expected to increase in intensity and have increased rainfall, and have larger storm surges, but there might be fewer of them globally. These changes are driven by rising sea temperatures and increased maximum water vapour content of the atmosphere as the air heats up.[39] Hurricane Katrina provided insights into how climate change disasters affect different people individually,[27] as it had a disproportionate effect on low-income and minority groups.[27] 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.[40] Low-income and black communities had little resources and limited mobility to evacuate before the storm.[41][42] Also, after the hurricane, low-income communities were most affected by contamination,[27] and this was made worse by the fact that government relief measures failed to adequately assist those most at risk.[28][40]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ See, for example the Climate Justice Programme's Climate Law Database Archived 9 April 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ (in French) Patricia Jolly, "Les Pays-Bas sommés par la justice d’intensifier leur lutte contre le changement climatique" Archived 12 October 2018 at the Wayback Machine, Le Monde, 9 October 2018 (page visited on 18 October 2018).
  3. ^ Global Humanitarian Forum (1 October 2009) Kofi Annan launches climate justice campaign track Archived 15 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Global Humanitarian Formum, 1 October 2009.
  4. ^ Wendy Koch, Study: Climate change affects those least responsible Archived 7 December 2015 at the Wayback Machine, USA Today, 7 March 2011
  5. ^ 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."
  6. ^ a b Peter Newell, Shilpi Srivastava, Lars Otto Naess, Gerardo A. Torres Contreras and Roz Price, "Towards Transformative Climate Justice: Key Challenges and Future Directions for Research," Working Paper Volume 2020, Number 540 (Sussex, UK: Institute for Development Studies, July 2020)[1]
  7. ^ United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) (2016) Policy Innovations for Transformative Change: Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Geneva: UNRISD
  8. ^ Routledge handbook of climate justice. Jafry, Tahseen, Helwig, Karin, Mikulewicz, Michael. Abingdon, Oxon. November 2018. ISBN 978-1-315-53768-9. OCLC 1056201868.CS1 maint: others (link)
  9. ^ "As young people, we urge financial institutions to stop financing fossil fuels". Climate Home News. 9 November 2020. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  10. ^ Climate Change and LandAn IPCC Special Report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems. Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change. 2019. p. 17.
  11. ^ "Selbstreflexion". Ende Gelände (in German). Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  12. ^ Edward Cameron, Tara Shine, and Wendi Bevins, "Climate Justice: Equity and justice informing a new climate agreement," Working Paper (Washington, DC: World Resources Institute & Mary Robinson Foundation, September 2013) [2]
  13. ^ CorpWatch: Alternative Summit Opens with Call for Climate Justice Archived 19 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine, 19 November 2000
  14. ^ website (archive)
  15. ^ a b Bali Principles of Climate Justice (PDF). (Report). 29 August 2002. Archived (PDF) from the original on 1 April 2016. Retrieved 20 December 2019.
  16. ^ "Durban Group for Climate Justice". Transnational Institute. 6 July 2009. Archived from the original on 18 April 2016. Retrieved 6 April 2016.
  17. ^ "The Global Humanitarian Forum Annual Meeting 2008". Archived from the original on 15 January 2010. Retrieved 28 June 2017.
  18. ^ Climate Change and Justice: On the road to Copenhagen Archived 21 December 2018 at the Wayback Machine, Heinrich Böll Foundation
  19. ^ 100,000 March for System Change not climate change in Copenhagen with mass arrests Archived 1 December 2018 at the Wayback Machine Indymedia, 13 December 2009
  20. ^ World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, People's Agreement Archived 5 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine April 22, Cochabamba, Bolivia
  21. ^ "The People's Demands for Climate Justice". The People's Demands for Climate Justice. Archived from the original on 8 December 2018. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  22. ^ a b Islam, S. Nazrul. "Climate Change and Social Inequality" (PDF). Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Archived (PDF) from the original on 16 January 2019.
  23. ^ Baird, Rachel. "Impact of Climate Change on Minorities and Indigenous Peoples" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 20 May 2019.
  24. ^ a b "Fourth National Climate Assessment". Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Archived from the original on 27 October 2019.
  25. ^ a b Pearson, Adam R.; Ballew, Matthew T.; Naiman, Sarah; Schuldt, Jonathon P. (26 April 2017). "Race, Class, Gender and Climate Change Communication". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190228620.013.412. ISBN 9780190228620.
  26. ^ a b "Indigenous Peoples Disproportionately Impacted by Climate Change, Systematically Targeted for Defending Freedoms, Speakers Tell Permanent Forum | Meetings Coverage and Press Releases". Archived from the original on 31 October 2019. Retrieved 31 October 2019.
  27. ^ a b c d e f Christian-Smith, Juliet; Peter H. Gleick; Heather Cooley; et al. (2012). A twenty-first century US water policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199859443.
  28. ^ a b c Mohai, Paul; Pellow, David; Roberts, J. Timmons (2009). "Environmental Justice". Annual Review of Environment and Resources. 34 (1): 405–430. doi:10.1146/annurev-environ-082508-094348.
  29. ^ Evans, Simon (5 October 2021). "Analysis: Which countries are historically responsible for climate change? / Historical responsibility for climate change is at the heart of debates over climate justice". Carbon Brief. Archived from the original on 26 October 2021. Source: Carbon Brief analysis of figures from the Global Carbon Project, CDIAC, Our World in Data, Carbon Monitor, Houghton and Nassikas (2017) and Hansis et al (2015).
  30. ^ World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth April 22nd, Cochabamba, Bolivia - People's Agreement (Report). World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. 22 April 2010. Archived from the original on 19 December 2019. Retrieved 20 December 2019.
  31. ^ Space for Movement: Reflections from Bolivia on climate justice, social movements and the state Archived 22 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine PDF, edited by Building Bridges collective, July 2010, ISBN 978 0 85316 294 0
  32. ^ "Is a Successful Ecological Turnaround of Capitalism Possible?". Archived from the original on 17 December 2018. Retrieved 6 April 2016.
  33. ^ King; Mallett, Wood Mallesons-Daisy; Nagra, Sati. "Climate change litigation - what is it and what to expect? | Lexology". Retrieved 20 September 2020.
  34. ^ Bibi van der Zee and, David Batty "Copenhagen climate protesters rally" Archived 20 March 2018 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian, 12 December 2009 (page visited on 17 December 2017).
  35. ^ a b Kühne, Rainer Walter (2 September 2019). "Climate Change: The Science Behind Greta Thunberg and Fridays for Future". doi:10.31219/ S2CID 203005125. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  36. ^ "'Like I wasn't there': climate activist Vanessa Nakate on being erased from a movement". The Guardian. 29 January 2020. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  37. ^ Boykoff, Maxwell T. (22 September 2011). Who Speaks for the Climate?: Making Sense of Media Reporting on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-139-50179-8.
  38. ^ a b Khoase, Refiloe; Derera, Evelyn; McArthur, Brian; Ndayizigamiye, Patrick (15 August 2019). "Perceptions of Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises' (SMMEs) owners on services provided by the supporting institutions in South Africa". Journal of Gender, Information and Development in Africa. 8 (2): 139–160. doi:10.31920/2050-4284/2019/8n2a8. ISSN 2050-4276.
  39. ^ Walsh, K. J. E.; Camargo, S. J.; Knutson, T. R.; Kossin, J.; Lee, T. -C.; Murakami, H.; Patricola, C. (1 December 2019). "Tropical cyclones and climate change". Tropical Cyclone Research and Review. 8 (4): 240–250. doi:10.1016/j.tcrr.2020.01.004. ISSN 2225-6032.
  40. ^ a b Giroux, Henry A. (2006). "Reading Hurricane Katrina: Race, Class, and the Biopolitics of Disposability". College Literature. 33 (3): 171–196. doi:10.1353/lit.2006.0037.
  41. ^ Elliott, James R.; Pais, Jeremy (2006). "Race, class, and Hurricane Katrina: Social differences in human responses to disaster". Social Science Research. 35 (2): 295–321. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2006.02.003.
  42. ^ Masozera, Michel (2007). "Distribution of impacts of natural disasters across income groups: A case study of New Orleans". Ecological Economics. 63 (2–3): 299–306. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2006.06.013.

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