Climate change affects all nations and people throughout the world. Within the wider climate change discourse, however, increasing attention is being drawn to the equally significant issue of climate justice. In the first of this two-part series on climate justice, we explore what climate justice is and who is most affected by it.
What Is Climate Justice?
Whilst climate change tends to generally focus on the climate crisis from a scientific and environmental lens, climate justice instead shifts the focus, framing the climate emergency as an ethical and political issue instead. Rather than simply considering the physical and environmental impact of climate change upon the planet, climate justice instead seeks to shed light on the causes and effects of climate change from a social and humane perspective as well. For a growing number of people, climate justice is not merely terminology, but a movement.
Although climate change affects everyone in the world, the level of impact is not fairly distributed across all nations, with the poorest of people and communities facing the brunt of the crisis, despite contributing the least to it. Climate justice therefore, seeks to balance the scales.
Through the movement, it aims to repair the damage caused to the poorest communities and the biggest victims of climate change, whilst simultaneously holding those responsible to account. It acknowledges that climate change can exacerbate existing inequalities and inequitable social conditions and seeks to promote strategies and policies to address these, in order to create a fairer, more balanced society moving forward.
Moreover, the climate justice movement aims to ensure that all people in the world are able to prepare for, respond to and recover from the impacts of climate change when faced with them. Whilst at present different groups within society ae disproportionately affected, the goal of climate justice is to ensure that all people and nations are given increased access to universal resources.
Additionally, climate justice highlights the fact that current climate injustice is not due to a singular factor. Instead, it emphasises that existing vulnerability is due to a combination of interconnected factors and struggles, including social, economic, environmental and cultural factors, as well as institutional practices and policies.
Who Is Most Affected by Climate Injustice?
According to research by Oxfam, the world’s richest 10% of people cause 50% of the world’s emissions. Similarly, the world’s wealthiest countries have also contributed the most towards climate change. Although at present many of these countries are attempting to reduce their carbon emissions and are in the process of making commitments towards zero net emissions, many were historically the biggest polluters. Yet, despite this, it is often those individuals, groups and countries which are the least responsible who often feel the most acute effects.
According to research, those countries in the global south, as well as low-income communities in the industrialised North are the ones most likely to suffer the harshest consequences of climate change. Similarly, typically marginalised communities are the most likely to face some of the worst consequences of climate change, including low-income groups and individuals, people of colour, women, disabled people and indigenous groups.
Whilst richer nations and communities are able to retreat to safety and rebuild following natural disasters, poorer communities are less likely to have the same level of access to funding and resources, therefore suffering the impacts more significantly. For instance, many low-income communities may not be able to evacuate when natural disasters strike, or have access to funds and resources to help them rebuild their homes. In many cases such groups may already have been the subject of existing discriminatory state and corporate policies, which limit their ability to prepare and cope with such situations when they arise.
For poorer nations, droughts and extreme weather events can lead to increased food insecurity and lack of access to clean water, housing and medical care. Similarly, rising sea levels and melting glaciers are increasingly threatening coastal communities, who often rely on the sea for their livelihood. In many areas, indigenous communities are also being forced to abandon their land and move to higher ground as a result of flooding or deforestation. Diseases which spread through crops, causing them to fail are also extremely problematic, particularly for poorer nations where many of their peoples rely upon farming to survive.
Low-income groups in richer countries are also negatively affected. Often, they tend to live in lower-quality accommodation or cramped conditions, which negatively impact on their health. Such groups are also less financially able to transition towards more sustainable living practices and energy use. Yet, they are less likely to contribute towards carbon emissions. Proportionally more people within low-income or vulnerable groups are likely to use public transport, less likely to fly and tend to have lower household emissions. Yet, because of their socio-economic circumstances, they are less able to adequately prepare for, respond to and recover from negative circumstances relating to climate change when they arise.
Similarly, younger generations and the elderly are more likely to be negatively affected by climate change. For many elderly people, they do not have the financial or physical means to adapt to changing circumstances. By contrast, for younger generations, they are the ones most likely to have to bear the brunt of past inaction on the issue of climate change.
The climate justice movement not only highlights these inequalities, but proposes ways in which we, as a global society, can mobilise and make changes towards a fairer world. In Climate Change – Part II, we will examine who is responsible for climate injustice and what steps we can take to rectify the problem for future generations.