The richest countries are the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, yet they will not pay the same consequences of global warming as the most vulnerable countries. In addressing these inequalities, defenders of climate justice highlight the links between protecting the planet and social justice.

"Climate Justice Now!" (art by Nissa Tzun) Vince Reinhart / Flickr Cc
"Climate Justice Now!" (art by Nissa Tzun) Vince Reinhart / Flickr Cc

Clearly visible on protest signs, climate justice is being demanded throughout the world. This appeal also expresses social demands. Climate policies must take into account the inequalities linked to global warming.


Climate justice fights against the inequalities of emissions and their impacts

First of all, emission inequality. According to Oxfam, the planet’s richest 1% emit 175 more CO2 than the poorest 10%. Therefore, population growth in the developing countries has less of an impact on the climate than the lifestyles of the wealthiest countries, according to economist Gaël Giraud.



In their study from 2015, economists Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty explain: “The richest 1% of Americans Luxembourgers, Singaporeans and Saudis emit more than 200 tCO2e per year and per person. At the other end of the pyramid of emitters, lie the lowest income groups of Honduras, Mozambique, Rwanda and Malawi, with emissions two thousand times lower. ”


“Climate apartheid” or how climate change increases social injustice

In addition to this emission inequality there are unequal impacts: the poorest countries are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The countries or individuals the most responsible for the crisis will be less affected and less quickly than poorer countries and populations, although the richest countries will not be exempt from the effects of climate change. “It is not just global warming that we are dealing with, but global warming in an unequal and unjust world,” says Indian researcher Thiagarajan Jayaraman.

In developing countries, there is a lower level of protection and resilience to extreme climate events: 91% of American farmers have crop insurance in the event of adverse weather conditions, as opposed to 15% in India, 10% in China and 1% in Malawi, according to Oxfam.

According to Philip Alston, the author of a report from the UN Human Rights Council, the consequences of global warming on poverty and basic human rights will be devastating. In referring to this topic he uses the term “climate apartheid”. These consequences could destroy the progress made in recent decades in terms of development and could exacerbate global inequalities.

The average temperature rise of 1.5 °C could expose an additional 457 million people to risks of flooding, droughts, fire, and could diminish the availability of food and water. At 2 °C, an addition 100 to 400 million individuals could suffer from hunger and 1 to 2 billion could have very limited access to water.


Towards common but differentiated responsibilities: in pursuit of justice

The principle of climate justice has already been included in several global agreements: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change set the annual objective of funds from developed countries to help the poorest countries adapt to climate change at $100 billion. The Paris Agreement refers to the dual responsibility of rich countries: that of reducing their emissions and helping poorer countries adapt to and limit the effects of climate change.

However, the international commitments of States rarely translate into practical achievements, or fail to reach the set objectives. The demand for climate justice cannot stop once the event is over and must be taken to the courts. In 2018, a court in The Hague sentenced the Netherlands to reduce its emissions by 25% compared with 1990 levels by 2020 following a case brought by the Urgenda campaign. This historic decision, which integrated novel legal concepts such as the rights of future generations, has inspired other initiatives of taking States to court for climate inaction. This also happened in France, with L’Affaire du Siècle (“the case of the century”).


Climate measures that do not put poorest populations at a disadvantage

At the same time politicians, philosophers, lawyers and economists are trying to find a way to unite social and climate struggles. The Green New Deal, proposed in the United States by representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, integrates a social redistribution policy into an investment plan for green infrastructure. Thiagarajan Jayaraman is calling for stricter regulations for polluting companies.

American economist James K. Boyce sees the yellow vests movement in France as a reminder that climate taxation measures will not work without a social counterbalance.

Finally, according to philosopher Michel Bourban, an energy dividend system like the one tested in British Colombia, Canada, could help to redistribute part of the revenue from the tax to the most destitute populations and could thus lay the foundations for universal basic income: “Social justice and climate justice both have a common objective of reducing inequalities. Now, the important thing is to make them compatible. ”



The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or of AFD.

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