On Climate Justice
Shooka Bidarian: The world is beset by problems: extreme poverty, conflict, pandemics, environmental destruction, and of course climate change. We are now observing these pre-existing conditions of inequality are being exacerbated by the impacts of climate change, particularly on marginalized communities. We have seen this pattern recurring in all parts of the world. The countries that have contributed very little to the climate crisis, primarily those in the developing world, are now suffering the most from the impacts of climate change. This impact is the result of climate change being a threat multiplier and accentuating existing stressors in disadvantaged groups. It deepens the struggle of those who are already dealing with issues, such as poverty, food security, insecure housing and conflict.
Climate justice is a concept that aims to bridge social justice and climate change, showing how the most vulnerable and poorest communities around the world have disproportionately been adversely affected by climate
change. And how any solutions to climate change must improve the lives of the most vulnerable people in each country. Climate justice is an intersectional, social, racial, economic, and environmental struggle.
Climate justice is a concept that aims to bridge social justice and climate change, showing how the most vulnerable and poorest communities around the world have been disproportionately and adversely affected by climate change. Climate justice is an intersectional, social, racial, economic, and environmental struggle. This concept highlights the importance of focusing on solutions that improve the lives of the most vulnerable people in each country.
The term climate justice evolved from environmental justice and gained popularity in the 1990s with the first official appearance in a 1999 court watch report. Climate justice is a human-centered approach to climate politics and, of course, climate activism. It recognizes that the climate movement is linked to other worldwide movements such as racial justice, gender equality, and indigenous sovereignty. In climate justice, the climate crisis is seen as a moral call to action that addresses issues of equality, human rights, and historical responsibility. Climate change and social inequality are two of the biggest global challenges currently facing the international community, and as a result, there has been growing awareness and concern about the issue of climate justice in recent years.
The cruel reality is that the countries that have benefited most from fossil fuel extraction are the least vulnerable to climate change. Meanwhile, poorer countries are much more susceptible to the impacts of climate change and have the least adequate resources to adapt to them. Therefore, countries that have in effect caused climate change and benefited the most from the global fossil fuel economy should have the heaviest responsibility to deal with the climate crisis. This is one of the reasons why the concept of “historic emissions and responsibility” has become the core part of climate debates for the past thirty years.
Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, humans have put around 2,500bn tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, leaving less than 500Gt CO2 of the remaining carbon budget to stay below the recommended limit of 1.5˚C of warming. When it comes to climate justice debates, the party responsible for using up this historic carbon budget and causing the current warming of 1.2˚C to become a central issue. Analysis of historic emissions shows that the United States (US) has created the most at 20% of the world’s emissions, followed by China (11%), Russia (7%), Brazil (5%), Indonesia (4%), Germany (4%), India (4%) and then the UK (3%). Contrast this to current emissions which are dominated by China (28%) and the US (15%). However, a closer observation of the emissions shows that the US, with a population that is a quarter of China’s, has released almost twice as much carbon. When we look at this proportionately, we can see that the average US citizen has benefited from 5½ times their share while the average Chinese citizen has benefited from less than ⅔ of their share and those on the subcontinent have only benefited from 10%. Over the past 200 years, industrialized nations have taken advantage of fossil fuel developments to transform the quality of life for their citizens, and now countries like China, India, and those in the Global South claim the right to access similar standards. To achieve the justice needed while cutting global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it is crucial to acknowledge the historic legacy of countries that have been polluting the atmosphere for hundreds of years. Countries like Canada, America, Russia, Australia, and the United Kingdom (the five largest polluters per capita) must take responsibility for their historic emissions and do their part to influence decarbonization in developing countries whose major economic source is the burning of fossil fuels. These efforts would require a commensurate investment that enables growing economies to transition to green energy infrastructure.
In 2009, at the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15), wealthy countries promised to provide $100 billion annually in climate funding by 2020 to address the effects of climate change. This funding was intended to provide direct aid to the poorest and least developed countries to move away from fossil fuels and use renewable energy. While this was ratified in 2010, the money was never delivered. Despite the fact that developing nations demanded support for loss and damage at the 26th climate negotiations in Glasgow (COP26), the request was refused by developed countries led by the US and EU, and now the new report suggests that 100$ billion may not even be delivered by 2023.
The argument on climate finance has been going on for years and it is apparent that adequate financial aid to support poor countries is necessary to make progress toward meeting net-zero targets and building a more just and equitable world. However, as the climate crisis is facing multiple injustices created by our current economic and political systems, the remake of such systems will require a diverse and inclusive coalition that is made up of all groups most affected by this emergency.
We need to recognize structural imbalances and inequalities and tackle the climate crisis by demolishing the evil notion that some lives are more important than others. We cannot win the fight against the climate crisis if we do not address these imbalances and inequalities, and we cannot solve these issues without making fundamental changes in our current political and economic systems. A system change is only possible if individuals engage in civic engagement to keep politicians accountable for promises they make and ensure further demand for more action. It is our collective action that can tilt the power and enact the changes we need.
*Shooka Bidarian is Manoto TV’s Environment Correspondent and TV Presenter - Climate Reality Leader and Mentor
Illustration: Touka Neyestani