Climate justice

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Climate justice is generally used as a term for viewing global warming as an ethical and political issue and considering how its causes and effects relate to concepts of justice, particularly environmental justice and social justice. This can mean examining political and economic systems and issues such as equality, human rights, collective rights, and historical responsibility in relation to climate change. Recognizing and addressing the fact that those least responsible for climate change experience its greatest impacts is seen by many as being central to climate justice.[1][2] The term is also sometimes used with reference to legal systems, where justice is achieved through application and development of law in the area of climate change.[3]

Definitions of climate justice[edit]

Climate justice is a fluid concept; however, there are recurring themes across definitions. The following definitions taken from 'Organizing Cools The Planet' give a picture of the various understandings of climate justice:[4]

Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative[edit]

Roots in Environmental Justice: “Climate Justice is a vision to dissolve and alleviate the unequal burdens created by climate change. As a form of environmental justice, climate justice is the fair treatment of all people and freedom from discrimination with the creation of policies and projects that address climate change and the systems that create climate change and perpetuate discrimination.[5]

"Demanding Climate Justice" section from Hoodwinked in the Hothouse[edit]

Climate Justice as Evaluative Model: “Climate Justice is a struggle over land, forest, water, culture, food sovereignty, collective and social rights; it is a struggle that considers “justice” at the basis of any solution; a struggle that supports climate solutions found in the practices and knowledge of those already fighting to protect and defend their livelihoods and the environment; a struggle that insists on a genuine systematic transformation in order to tackle the real causes of climate change… Climate Justice addresses four key themes: root causes, rights, reparations and participatory democracy.[6]

Global Justice Ecology Project[edit]

Climate Justice as Global Justice: “The historical responsibility for the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions lies with the industrialized countries of the Global North. Even though the primary responsibility of the North to reduce emissions has been recognized in the UN Climate Convention, the production and consumption habits of industrialized countries like the United States continue to threaten the survival of humanity and biodiversity globally. It is imperative that the North urgently shifts to a low carbon economy. At the same time, in order to avoid the damaging carbon intensive model of industrialization, countries of the Global South are entitled to resources and technology to make a transition to a low-carbon economy that does not continue to subject them to crushing poverty. Indigenous Peoples, peasant communities, fisherfolk, and especially women in these communities, have been able to live harmoniously and sustainably with the Earth for millennia. They are now not only the most affected by climate change, but also the most affected by its false solutions, such as agrofuels, mega-dams, genetic modification, tree plantations and carbon offset schemes.[7]

Indigenous Environmental Network[edit]

Four Principles for Climate Justice: "Industrialized society must redefine its relationship with the sacredness of Mother Earth"[8]

  1. Leave Fossil Fuels in the Ground
  2. Demand Real and Effective Solutions
  3. Industrialized – Developed Countries Take Responsibility
  4. Living in a Good Way on Mother Earth

Tensions around interpretations of climate justice[edit]

This section from 'Space for Movement: Reflections from Bolivia on climate justice, social movements and the state',[9] written in 2010, discusses the tensions around interpretaions of climate justice:

"Under the broad banner of climate justice, different groups and networks employ a wide range of tactics – from lobbying and campaigning through to sabotage and direct actions, and everything in between. Many of the struggles are not primarily or explicitly ‘climate’ struggles but are in fact local struggles against dispossession, exploitation, contamination or industrial expansion in local areas: including those against monoculture plantations in Uganda, hydroelectric dams in Brazil, large-scale wind farms in India, open-cast coal mining in Wales, and exploitation of tar sands in Canada. Others are fighting to prevent the new markets and agreements that will encourage and facilitate more exploitation, accumulation and dispossession – such as opposing and challenging the carbon market, the privatisation of forests or the domination of powerful countries and corporations within international negotiations. The different uses of the term are often (but not always) reflected in the political tactics employed, so for example one understanding of justice may pursue a legal route whereas others reject this and use direct action.

It goes on to describe how different understandings relate to the recognition of capitalism as the root cause of climate change:

"One of the debates around the term is over the extent to which capitalism is identified as the underlying cause of the problem... There are those, often of a liberal Keynesian persuasion, who have no problem with capitalism per se, only with the neoliberal version of it. They tend to argue that neoliberal policies encourage the worst excesses of capitalism, and that what is preferable is the careful management of capitalism towards the interests of the people. For others, there may for some be a strategical decision to say ‘neoliberalism’ over ‘capitalism’ because the former, having clearly definable policies, offers a more tangible enemy than abstract social relations but nonetheless they understand the problem to be capitalism itself, not the way we choose to ‘manage’ it. Finally, there are those who identify not just a particularly ‘pure’ form of capitalism as the problem, but capitalist relations themselves – relations based on domination and exploitation in the pursuit of profit. Capitalism, whether mediated by state regulations or otherwise, values profit above all other things."

History of the term's use[edit]

In 2000, the first Climate Justice Summit took place in the Hague, the Netherlands parallel to the Sixth Conference of the Parties (COP 6) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Summit's mission stated: “We affirm that climate change is a rights issue. It affects our livelihoods, our health, our children and our natural resources. We will build alliances across states and borders to oppose climate change inducing patterns and advocate for and practice sustainable development”[5]

An international coalition of groups met in Johannesburg in August–September, 2002 for the Earth Summit. The summit ratified a set of principles with the purpose of "putting a human face" on climate change: "The Bali Principles of Climate Justice redefine climate change from a human rights and environmental justice perspective." The coalition included CorpWatch, Third World Network, Oil Watch, the Indigenous Environmental Network, among others. The principles were developed in Bali, at the final preparatory negotiations for the Earth Summit in June, 2002.

The Durban Group for Climate Justice was formed in 2004 when representatives from organizations and peoples’ movements from around the globe came together in Durban, South Africa to discuss realistic avenues for addressing climate change. The group emerged from the meeting with a call for a global grassroots movement against climate change.[10]

Climate Justice Now!, a global coalition of networks and organizations campaigning for climate justice, was founded at the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia. In 2008 the Global Humanitarian Forum focused on climate justice at its inaugural Annual Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.[11]

The Climate Justice Action Network formed during the 2009 COP 15 mobilisation, and organised civil disobedience and direct action during the summit. The phrase 'system change not climate change' was used by many climate justice activists to call for systemic change, seeking to replace the economic and political systems causing climate change.[12][13][14]

In April 2010 the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth took place in Tiquipaya, Bolivia, just outside the city of Cochabamba. The event was a global gathering of civil society and governments hosted by the government of Bolivia. Issues related to climate justice were discussed in the conference, with the resulting People's Agreement calling for a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth and an International Climate and Environmental Justice Tribunal.[15]

Environmental justice and climate change vulnerability[edit]

Robert Bullard, one of the early environmental justice activist, described environmental justice as the idea that “all people and communities are entitled to equal protection of environmental and public health laws and regulations.”[16] Bullard established that in addition to the physical and natural world, the environment included the spaces where people lived, worked, played, and went to school.[16] According to the book, A Twenty First Century U.S. Policy, and the IPCC 2013 Summary for Policymakers report, climate change will bring about new forms of environmental hazards which are predicted to include increased flooding, water scarcity, and sea-level rise, among others.[17][18]

In A Twenty First Century U.S. Policy, the authors argue that the ability of populations to mitigate and adapt to the negative impacts of climate change are influenced by factors such as income, race, class, gender, capital and political representation among other social factors.[17] According to the same authors and Mohai, P. et al., as a result of the limited adaptive resources that low-income communities and communities of color are likely to have, these populations are particularly vulnerable to the predicted impacts of climate change.[16][17] The authors of A Twenty First Century U.S. Policy, also indicate that low-income people and people of color, who have lower financial stability, less insurance resources, and less access to disaster risk awareness have been least abled to recover from environmental disasters. Additionally these populations have been prone to unequal distributions of disaster relief and recovery assistance.[17] Assessing vulnerability is an important component of defining the level of threat, and the ability to make appropriate decisions concerning climate justice.[19]

Hurricane Katrina case study[edit]

NASA flood image after Hurricane Katrina

According to one study which considered the environmental justice dimensions of climate change, the outcomes of Hurricane Katrina presented insights to outcomes of predicted climate change disasters.[17] According to the authors of the book, A Twenty First Century U.S. Water Policy, the impacts of Hurricane Katrina, which involved the displacement of 400,000 individuals along the United States Gulf Coast, disproportionately affected low-income and minority victims of the disaster.[17] A study looking at the race and class dimensions of Hurricane Katrina suggest that individuals most vulnerable to the disaster included poor, black, brown, elderly, sick, and homeless people.[20]

The book A Twenty First Century U.S. Water Policy argues that a combination of geographic, social and political factors resulted in the disproportionate impact of the hurricane on low-income communities and black communities.[17] For example, low- income communities and black communities had little resources and limited mobility to evacuate before the storm.[21][22] In the aftermath of the hurricane, low- income communities and communities of color in Louisiana were burdened by the hazards of flooding waters that were polluted by contaminated sites and facilities that were located near these communities.[17] Two studies looking at the environmental justice aspects of Hurricane Katrina argue that post disaster, government responses failed to adequately assist the most affected.[16][20] Scholars Elliott, J. and Pais, J. claim that among some of these most impacted included those who had no flooding insurance, those who suffered from low job security, and the low-income homeowners which dealt with mortgage foreclosures.[21][22]

A number of research reports claim that the outcomes of Hurricane Katrina presented opportunities for revealing novel instances and causes of environmental injustices.[17][23] These include the inequitable aspects of city planning and development which result in increased risks of natural disasters and disproportionate impacts on some populations.[16][23]

Groups and organisations[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Global Humanitarian Forum (1 October 2009) Kofi Annan launches climate justice campaign track.
  2. ^ Koch, Wendy (March 7, 2011). Study: Climate change affects those least responsible. USA Today.
  3. ^ For example, see Climate Law Database of the Climate Justice Programme.
  4. ^ Organizing Cools The Planet
  5. ^ a b Climate Institute, "Climate Justice Movements"
  6. ^ Rising Tide North America and Carbon Trade Watch Hoodwinked in the Hothouse: False Solutions to Climate Change. Second edition.
  7. ^ Global Justice Ecology Project, 'What is Climate Justice?'
  8. ^ For full descriptions of these four principles, see Four Principles for Climate Justice
  9. ^
  10. ^ Durban group for Climate Justice
  11. ^ The Global Humanitarian Forum Annual Meeting 2008
  12. ^ Climate Justice Now statement
  13. ^ Klimaforum declaration
  14. ^ Indymedia article
  15. ^ World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, People's Agreement
  16. ^ a b c d e 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. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i Christian-Smith, Juliet; Peter H. Gleick; Heather Cooley; et al. (2012). A twenty-first century US water policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199859443. 
  18. ^ Stocker; et al. IPCC, 2013: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 
  19. ^ Adger, W. Neil., and P. M. Kelly. "Chapter 1." Assessing Vulnerability to Climate Change and Facilitating Adaptation. Norwich: Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment, 1999. N. pag. Print.
  20. ^ 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. 
  21. ^ a b 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. 
  22. ^ a b 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. 
  23. ^ a b Kurtz, Hilda E. (2007). "Environmental Justice, Citizen Participation and Hurricane Katrina". Southeastern Geographer 47 (1): 111–113. doi:10.1353/sgo.2007.0007. 

Further reading[edit]