We need high ambitions for climate justice

Published on 10 December 2020

Image of Shilpi Srivastava

Shilpi Srivastava

Research Fellow

Image of Lars Otto Naess

Lars Otto Naess

Research Fellow

Peter Newell

University of Sussex

Global leaders need to ensure that commitments to reduce emissions are achieved in a way that is fair and inclusive for the communities already suffering the worst impacts of climate change.

This weekend (12 December) the UN, UK and France convene a Climate Ambition Summit to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the historic Paris Agreement. A recent report highlights how the post-Paris years (2015-2020) have been the warmest five year period on record globally. It is clear that to achieve the Agreement’s goal of keeping the global temperature increase below 2°C, we will need a major increase in actions from various countries and their  governments.

Last week, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled the UK’s ambitious plan of 68 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2030 with an announcement of green growth and green jobs. Much of the emphasis of the current plan focuses on meeting mitigation targets. Cutting down emissions undoubtedly remains incredibly important, but the UK and other countries need to ensure that efforts to meet these goals squarely address the issues of climate (in)justice nationally, as well as globally, to tackle the effects of climate change that are unfolding in various parts of the world.

As we push for the path to rapid and deep decarbonisation, we need to ensure that our responses are underpinned by a sense of fairness, equity, inclusivity and justice. In short, what will be needed over the next decade is transformative climate justice.

Why climate justice?

There is increasing realisation that climate change is fundamentally a question of justice, in terms of the responsibility for the problem as well as its mitigation. Most often, the communities that bear the brunt of climate change are not the ones who created it in the first place. The impacts of climate changes are felt unequally and disproportionately by the poor communities (both in the global North and South) in a range of areas such as sanitation, water and food. Importantly, vulnerabilities to the impacts of climate change both reflect, but also exacerbate structural injustices driven by race, class, ethnicity, gender and ableism.

More transformative visions of climate justice are required to shift decision-making processes which lock-in and reproduce climate injustice. We also need to move beyond the ‘silos’ of mitigation and adaptation to bridge the gap between justice concerns in climate change funding and actual interventions on the ground. Addressing structural root causes – such as historical injustices, land rights, political participation, and governance – is key to achieving climate justice in the long term.

Targeting structural injustice at home and overseas

Deep cuts in carbon emissions are only half the battle, however. In many parts of the world, people are already struggling with loss of livelihoods, environmental degradation and habitat loss, which are being made worse by climate change. This is not an apocalypse waiting to happen in 2050; those that are the most vulnerable are already well past the threshold of ‘tolerable’ impacts. In many cases, they will also be beyond effects they can ‘adapt’ to, which leads on to discussions about loss and damage, recognised in the Paris Agreement but where details on funding and implementation are lacking.

UK aid budget cuts should be reconsidered

The push for decarbonisation needs to be accompanied by a wider commitment towards climate finance, particularly for developing countries, to facilitate just transitions. The UK must consider stepping up its funding commitment rather than reducing it at this crucial time. It also needs to show leadership by cutting export finance for fossil fuels, which locks poorer communities into carbon intensive and socially and environmentally destructive pathways. The United Kingdom Export Finance (UKEF) currently oversees up to £6bn worth of fossil fuel investments which could be redirected to support for low carbon development.

Inclusivity, accountability and diversity in decision-making

Meaningful political participation, building public trust and more deliberative forms of governance such as climate assemblies are required to hold powerful institutions and corporations to account and explore alternative pathways. It is imperative that a  diversity of voices – including women and Black, Asian, minority and ethnic groups- have a say in the plans and pathways of mitigation and adaptation.

The UK has already demonstrated an ambitious commitment to reducing emissions, but the pathway to achieving this must be fair and inclusive. The country also needs to step up on its commitments to address climate injustice at home and globally to meaningfully tackle the challenge of climate change and sustainable development.


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