What is meant by ‘climate justice’?

By Rob Macquarie for Grantham Research Institute

Many of the people and communities that are most vulnerable to climate change and environmental degradation are those who are already poor and largely excluded from the rewards of global economic activity. Responsibility for human-caused climate change is also distributed unevenly – most historical emissions have been from the richest countries that have the most resources and capacity to adapt to rising temperatures.

In addition to this geographical dimension, climate change is intimately related to other inequalities, such as structural racism. Even within the same country or city, people with less privilege in society – whether due to their ethnicity, gender or other factors – are likely to be worst affected by climate change. The logic also applies on an intergenerational basis: young people and future generations have contributed least to rising temperatures but will suffer most from extreme outcomes over the course of this century.

Building on these facts, the concept of ‘climate justice’ places an ethical challenge at the heart of the argument for climate action. It identifies climate change as a symptom of unfair and unrepresentative economic, social and political institutions, drawing links to other issues like rising global inequality.

Who advocates for climate justice?

A large and growing movement – particularly featuring youth, women, disabled people, Indigenous Peoples, and activists from across the Global South – is confronting political and business leaders over their record and plans for climate action. Alongside its critique of existing systems, the movement puts forward measures to deal with climate change in a manner that also addresses injustice, and which go considerably further than current policies and targets in several key respects.

Read the full explainer on the Grantham Research Institute website.