In the second part of our series on climate justice, we examine who is responsible for the climate debt and what we can do moving forward, to help create a more just world.
The Climate Debt – Who is Responsible?
It would be deeply unfair and inaccurate to state that any one nation or part of the world is singularly responsible for the climate crisis. Climate change is a global issue, affecting all nations and peoples. Yet, just as climate change affects some groups more than others, so too are some nations more responsible than others.
Poorer and less developed countries tend to be the ones most affected by climate change, whilst being the ones less responsible for the damage. The countries deemed to have the biggest historical responsibility for the current climate emergency are usually the richest and most developed. Countries which thrived during the industrial era or which continue to be hugely reliant upon fossil fuels, its production and use are the biggest contributors of climate change.
Additionally, richer countries also tend to have a higher carbon footprint in the form of exports and imports of goods, as well as through travel. Nations where people have higher disposable incomes tend to have increased tourism and therefore travel, with aviation and car usage being two highly significant polluters.
It’s also true that many countries, including the UK, are seeking to lead the way towards zero net emissions and are making changes in policy to reflect this. Such commitments, including supporting poorer nations to better cope with climate change, were reaffirmed as part of the Paris Agreement of 2015. However, many of these changes remain slow in many cases.
For many climate activists and organisations, climate justice can only be achieved when those responsible for the current climate crisis are held to account. Such groups claim that the world’s richest nations not only have a historical responsibility, but also a moral and legal one to help bring about climate justice.
According to The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), wealthy countries that have historic responsibility for causing the existing climate emergency have a legal obligation to provide financial support to poorer countries. Through such support, poorer counties will then be better placed to reduce their own emissions and be better equipped to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
This brings two issues to the forefront – procedural justice and distributive justice. Procedural justice refers to the creation and implementation of policies and procedures which promote fair, transparent and inclusive decision-making practices. These would include providing opportunities and platforms for the world’s most vulnerable, affected and often disadvantaged groups to have their voices heard and taken into account when climate change policies are being discussed, created and implemented.
Distributive justice refers instead to who should bear the cost of climate change and the actions required to be taken in order to address it. In this respect, it is the belief of many that the world biggest polluters and richest nations should help provide financial and technical support to poorer nations and peoples to help them make the necessary changes in order to be able to adapt to, prepare, cope with and recover from the impact of climate change. This would include providing aid, equipment and funds to help poor nations rebuild after natural disasters or supporting poorer nations in implementing greener energy policies, including providing technological support or funding to upgrade existing frameworks and practices. Ultimately, distributive justice would see the cost of the damage caused by climate change being fairly and proportionally distributed throughout all the world’s nations.
How Can We Ensure Climate Justice For the Future?
Climate justice solutions are not simply limited to reducing emissions or protecting the natural environment. Rather, it is a commitment to creating a more just and fairer world and society in the process as well, which involves addressing and combating existing injustices.
For example, as governments commit to reducing emissions, there is a requirement for all within society to transition to a low carbon economy. This will necessarily require everyone to make changes to their daily lives and essential needs, including modes of transport, housing, energy use and work. For richer nations and groups, such transitions may be cumbersome and expensive, but affordable nonetheless. However, for poorer nations and groups, such changes may not be feasible.
Climate justice argues that in such scenarios, no-one in society should be left behind. A justice-based solution would see workers in high-carbon sectors being supported into jobs in low-carbon sectors, where the labour standards are high and wages fair. Similarly, as new, more energy efficient technology is introduced, climate justice activist also argue that effective and appropriate support needs to be offered to low-income households so that they may be able to meet the costs involved in such transitions.
Furthermore, the introduction of zero net emissions could see the cost of some items rising sharply, including some food and energy prices. Those hit hardest will be the poorest in society. Similarly, the introduction of other environmentally-friendly policies run the risk of exacerbating existing socio-economic divisions in society. A justice-based approach places responsibility upon wealthier governments and countries to provide support to the poorest in society to help them meet these increased costs in order that they too may be able to adapt.
Finally, if climate change is to be fully confronted, all members of society will be required to make changes in lifestyle and habits. Transitioning to regularly using ‘greener’ technologies and more sustainable living practices will require high levels of investment from larger companies. Funding and investment needs to shift from unsustainable fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Equally, there must be support and even incentives put in place to support all members of society to make the necessary transitions in the required timeframe.
Climate change is a complex issue, which will come to affect all aspects of our daily lives. If we are to truly combat the climate crisis, we will all need to make changes to our lifestyles. In our attempt to address the climate emergency, we have the opportunity to also address some the existing injustices in our society. As we seek to build a more sustainable society and world, we can also build a fairer, more just society which acknowledges our interconnectedness and communal responsibility to our planet and each other.
This week, we invite you to consider your role in the fight against climate change. Are there any aspects of your lifestyle that you could alter to make them more sustainable and environmentally-friendly? Consider too who else also benefits from your altered behaviour. Are there any changes which you can make that support both the planet, as well as the people within it?
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