Climate change: The disproportionate impact on climate justice

The global warming crisis is no longer an environmental concern alone, it is very much a human crisis, one that desperately needs addressing. Catastrophic events, such as the Australian wildfires in 2020, saw fires burn through 10 million hectares of land, killing 28, and leaving millions of people affected by hazardous smoke. More than a billion animals native to Australia were killed resulting in some species and ecosystems at threat of never recovering. News of the fires was reported all over the media and social media with celebrities, philanthropists, billionaires, and everyday people clamouring to raise support, donate funds and spread awareness.


However, in some of the world’s poorest and lowest carbon-emitting countries, people and the climate are suffering the worst and sadly, more frequently. In countries such as Nepal, India and Bangladesh deadly floods and torrid weather conditions have killed, devastated, and destroyed lives, with these frequent events seeing far less attention. More than 20 million people a year are forced to leave their homes because of climate change, with the number of climate-related disasters tripling in the last 30 years. These worrying statistics beg some questions. Who is really suffering the most from climate change? Where are people suffering the most? And what can we do as a collective?


Brands have launched sustainable alternatives, created clothing collections from recycled materials and promised commitments to lower their carbon footprint. These all seem like significant steps in the right direction as countries and corporations move toward achieving their Paris Climate Agreement Goals and brand sustainability targets.


However, compliance in the industrialised world is having a disproportionate effect in terms of climate, the social, humanitarian, and economic impact on countries that have not yet benefitted from industrialisation, and who have had the least effect on creating our global climate problem in the first place. This dichotomy is at the heart of who should take what action to address our planet's climate emergency and is central to the issue of climate justice.


What is climate justice?


Disha Ravi defined climate justice as being about intersection equity. It is about being radically inclusive of all groups of people so that everyone has access to clean air, food, and water. Climate justice isn’t just for the rich and white. It is a fight alongside those who are displaced: whose rivers have been poisoned: whose lands were stolen; who watch their houses get washed away every other season; and who fight tirelessly for what are basic human rights. To meet climate justice, we must find solutions to the climate crisis, particularly in sections of the world where we have the capacity to do so. The solutions must be centred around reducing emissions, keeping fossil fuels in the ground, investing in renewable energy, switching to more sustainable transport, improving farming, encouraging a vegan diet and reducing how people consume.


Individuals can play a huge part in making better choices for the planet and themselves such as: where they get their energy, where they purchase their food, where do they get their clothes and what mode of transport do they use?


Finding Climate Justice


Current global agreements, such as Paris 2015, set out a goal for countries to collectively hold global

warming to ‘well below 2C with the goal of being climate neutral by 2050. However, whilst larger,

industrialised economies would have to reduce emissions at a greater rate to meet this goal, not all

wealthier countries accepted they should do more – and the US even withdrew from the agreement

under President Trump.


Accepting these emission targets also makes it more difficult for developing economies to industrialise to generate greater wealth without burning fossil fuels. Without sovereign wealth, these countries are less able to invest in infrastructure to protect themselves from rising sea levels and more extreme climate events. For example, both The Netherlands and Bangladesh are low-lying and exposed to sea level rise, but The Netherlands has a greater ability (e.g., engineering skills, financial support for development and implementation of coastal zone management plans) to make adaptations to its coastal zone to prevent flooding than Bangladesh.


The Paris Agreement also said climate funding should achieve a ‘balance’ between measures to cut emissions and projects that help people adapt to the impacts of climate change, but so far this has

tipped far more towards emissions reductions rather than helping developing countries to develop

and adapt to climate change.


With climate change already significantly affecting people around the world, financial support to

help people adapt to these impacts is another key part of the climate justice conversation.


Achieving Climate Justice


To achieve climate justice, industrialised countries must acknowledge their historical role in creating

this crisis and take steps to support developing countries to transition to clean energy generation to

power their economic development and adapt to our changing global climate.

To truly achieve “climate justice” developing countries must be given a more equal voice in climate

policy negotiations to ensure a greater degree of self-determination in solutions to the problem.


Ilaria-Mia Salisbury