Climate justice is a term used to frame global warming as an ethical and political issue, rather than one that is purely environmental or physical in nature. This is done by relating the effects of climate change to concepts of justice, particularly environmental justice and social justice and by examining issues such as equality, human rights, collective rights, and the historical responsibilities for climate change. An important concern related to climate justice is that those who are least responsible for climate change suffer its gravest consequences.
The term climate justice is also used to mean actual legal action on climate change issues. In 2017, a report of the United Nations Environment Programme identified 894 ongoing legal actions worldwide. At the end of 2018, a series of school strikes for climate started worldwide, inspired by Greta Thunberg's original protest in Sweden.
History of the term
In 2000, at the same time as the Sixth Conference of the Parties (COP 6), the first Climate Justice Summit took place in The Hague. This summit aimed to "affirm that climate change is a rights issue" and to "build alliances across states and borders" against climate change and in favor of sustainable development.
Subsequently, in August–September 2002, international environmental groups met in Johannesburg for the Earth Summit. At this summit, also known as Rio+10, as it took place ten years after the 1992 Earth Summit, the Bali Principles of Climate Justice were adopted.
In 2004, the Durban Group for Climate Justice was formed at an international meeting in Durban, South Africa. Here representatives from NGOs and peoples' movements discussed realistic policies for addressing climate change.
In 2009, the Climate Justice Action Network was formed during the run-up to the Copenhagen Summit. It proposed civil disobedience and direct action during the summit, and many climate activists used the slogan 'system change not climate change'.
In April 2010, the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth took place in Tiquipaya, Bolivia. It was hosted by the government of Bolivia as a global gathering of civil society and governments. The conference published a "People's Agreement" calling, among other things, for greater climate justice.
In December 2018, the People’s Demands for Climate Justice, signed by 292,000 individuals and 366 organisations, called upon government delegates at COP24 comply with a list of six climate justice demands.
Disadvantaged groups will continue to be disproportionately impacted as climate change persists. These groups will be affected due to inequalities that are based on demographic characteristics such as differences in gender, race, ethnicity, age, and income. Inequality increases the exposure of disadvantaged groups to the harmful effects of climate change while also increasing their susceptibility to destruction caused by climate change. A problem with destruction is that disadvantaged groups are the last to receive emergency relief and are rarely included in the planning process at local, national and international levels for coping with the impacts of climate change.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth National Climate Assessment Report found that low-income individuals and communities are more exposed to environmental hazards and pollution. One problem with this disproportionate impact is that it takes longer for low-income communities to rebuild after natural disasters. Low-income groups will be affected by increased warming due to climate change because wealth will be a factor in determining one's ability to cope with warmer temperatures. This means that individuals with more money could afford resources that will help adapt or cope with increased warming while individuals of lower income may not be able to afford the same resources. Low-income communities also have access to less information which makes it harder to be able to prepare for the impacts of climate change.
Communities of color, women, indigenous groups, and people of low-income all face an increased vulnerability to climate change. These groups will be disproportionately impacted due to heat waves, air quality, and extreme weather events. It has been found that there are more U.S. racial and ethnic minorities that live in low-lying areas than Whites which shows a disproportionate impact since these areas are more susceptible to flooding. Women are also disadvantaged and will be affected by climate change differently than men. This will impact the ability of minority groups to adapt unless there is progress made so that these groups have more access to universal resources. Indigenous groups are affected by the consequences of climate change even though they historically have contributed the least. In addition, indigenous peoples are disproportionately impacted due to their income and continue to have fewer resources to cope with climate change.
One way to mitigate the disproportionate impact of climate change to achieve climate justice is to involve disadvantaged groups in the planning and policymaking process so that these individuals have a say in their own futures. This would also help minority groups achieve more access to resources to adapt and plan for a changing climate. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Environmental and Climate Justice Program was also created to support community leadership in addressing the disproportionate impact of communities of color and low income.
Reasons for the differential effects of climate change
The ability of populations to mitigate and adapt to the negative consequences of climate change are shaped by factors such as income, race, class, gender, capital and political representation. As low-income communities and communities of color possess few if any adaptive resources, they are particularly vulnerable to climate change. People living in poverty or in precarious circumstances tend to have neither the resources nor the insurance coverage necessary to recover from environmental disasters. On top of that, such populations often receive an unequal share of disaster relief and recovery assistance. Additionally, they generally have less say and involvement in decision-making, political, and legal processes that relate to climate change and the natural environment.
One contentious issue in debates about climate justice is the extent to which capitalism is viewed as the root cause of climate injustice. This question frequently leads to fundamental disagreements between, on the one hand, liberal and conservative environmental groups and, on the other, leftist and radical organizations. While the former often tend to blame the excesses of neoliberalism for climate change and argue in favor of market-based reform, the latter view capitalism with its exploitative traits as the underlying central issue.
Hurricane Katrina case study
According to one study, Hurricane Katrina provided insights into how climate change disasters affect different people differently, as it had a disproportionate effect on low-income and minority groups. A study on the race and class dimensions of Hurricane Katrina suggests that those most vulnerable include poor, black, brown, elderly, sick, and homeless people. Low-income and black communities had little resources and limited mobility to evacuate before the storm. Also, after the hurricane, low-income communities were most affected by contamination, and this was made worse by the fact that government relief measures failed to adequately assist those most at risk.
Climate change litigation
There have been increasing efforts to use national and international judiciary systems to enforce climate change efforts at national governments and at commercial and industrial entities.
One of the first landmark climate change litigation cases was Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2007. The suit was brought by several American states against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after the EPA declined to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions as part of their duty under the Clean Air Act (CAA) in 2003. The EPA had argued that their authority under the Clean Air Act were to regulate "air pollutants", which they claimed carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases did not fall under, so could not apply regulations. States, like Massachusetts, argued that these emissions could lead to climate change-related damages to their states, such as through rising ocean levels, and thus these emissions should be seen as harmful under the CAA and within the EPA's ability to regulate. While EPA initially won at the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court, on a 5-4 decision, agreed with the states that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases had been shown to be harmful, and required the EPA to regulate them.
In 2015, a number of American youth, represented by Our Children's Trust, filed a lawsuit against the United States government in 2015, contending that their future lives would be harmed due to the government's inactivity towards mitigating climate change. While similar suits had been filed and dismissed by the courts for numerous reasons, Juliana v. United States gained traction when a District Judge Ann Aiken ruled that the case had merit to continue, and that "a climate system capable of sustaining human life" was a fundamental right under the United States Constitution. The United States government has since attempted to dismiss the case through various challenges to Aiken's findings but it remains pending in court actions.
The Netherlands had committed to reducing its carbon dioxide emissions from 1990 levels by 49% by 2030 with various intermediate targets. However, the Dutch Environmental Assessment Agency determined that the country would be missing its goals for 2020.
In 2012, the Dutch lawyer Roger Cox gave the idea of judicial intervention to force action against climate change. In 2013, the Urgenda Foundation, with 900 co-plaintiffs, has filed a lawsuit against the Government of the Netherlands "for not taking sufficient measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause dangerous climate change".
In 2015, the District Court of The Hague ruled that the government of the Netherlands must do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to protect its citizens from climate change (Urgenda climate case). It was described as a "precedent-setting judgment" and as the "world’s first climate liability suit".
According to James Thornton, chief executive of Client Earth, "Most remarkably, it is based in essence on established science and the ancient principle of a government's duty of care. That reasoning is applicable in any legal system and will certainly be used by courts in other countries". In 2018, a court of appeal in The Hague has upheld the precedent-setting judgment that forces the Dutch government to step up its efforts to curb greenhouse-gas emissions in the Netherlands.
In December 2019, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands upheld the ruling on appeal, affirming that the government must cut carbon dioxide emissions by 25% from 1990 levels, by the end of 2020, on the basis that climate change poses a risk to human health.
After the landmark ruling of the Netherlands in 2015, groups in other countries tried the same judicial approach. For instance, groups went to court in order to protect people from climate change in Belgium, India, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland and the United States.
In the United States, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace together with the cities of Boulder, Arcata and Oakland won against the Export-Import Bank of the United States and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (state-owned enterprises of the United States government), which were accused of financing fossil-fuel projects detrimental to a stable climate, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (case filed in 2002 and settled in 2009).
In 2017, Saul Luciano Lliuya sued RWE to protect his hometown of Huaraz from a swollen glacier lake at risk of overflowing.
In 2017, San Francisco, Oakland and other California coastal communities sued multiple fossil-fuel companies for rising sea levels. In 2018, the city of New York announced that it is taking five fossil fuel firms (BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell) to federal court due to their contribution to climate change (from which the city is already suffering).
Climate justice protests
In 2019 Greta Thunberg, a 16 year old Swedish native, brought a great deal of media attention to the idea of climate justice. Every Friday she skips school to strike for the climate and she once stated in an interview with Democracy Now!, “Since you don’t give a damn about my future then I won’t either,” referring to the Swedish members of Parliament. When Thunberg came to the United States to speak at the UN Climate Summit she traveled across the Atlantic Ocean by sailboat in protest of the emissions caused by airplanes.
Greta Thunberg’s radical way of protesting has created “The Greta effect” which inspires a new generation to take a stance on climate justice as a political issue. She is joined by many other students in her school strike for action towards climate change.
Political approaches towards climate justice
This section relies largely or entirely on a single source. (December 2019)
The 21st century became the time to take serious action towards climate justice[neutrality is disputed] because many elite groups[which?] were unwilling to solve the environmental and social issues for climate justice. At the same time, climate justice activists demands began to increase significantly that it was important to take alternative steps. For example, the Climate Justice Now! network, which is a network of organizations that advocate for climate justice was founded in 2007 by the UNFCCC. Additionally, in 2010, the Bolivian government sponsored "Peoples' World Conference on Climate Change and the Right of Mother Earth in Cochabamba,, which helped connect many climate change activists together. Many political groups also began to take impressive actions towards climate change: The grassrootscampaign of Dine local citizen group in New Mexico prevented "the creation of the Desert Rock coal plant, which would have been the third such polluting monolith in this small, rural community." New coal power plant proposals have been cancelled because the community is against it and therefore has helped keep the climate pollution low. The increase of climate justice political groups helped go against many companies and were successful at lowering pollution.
- Climate ethics
- Climate debt
- Contraction and Convergence
- Deliberative democracy
- Earth Summit
- Ecological debt
- Environmental justice
- Environmental racism
- Extinction Rebellion
- Global Legal Information Network
- Global Justice Movement
- Greenhouse Development Rights
- Green banking
- Juliana v. United States
- Social justice
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