Climate Justice Is the Solution to Our Climate Crisis
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The science is settled: climate change is a planetary emergency
Leading companies recognise that the rapid accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has resulted in long-term global heating, and that the current pace of climate change is already challenging the ability of ecosystems, human society, and economies to adapt.
In response, these companies often focus on mitigating emissions. Your company may also be setting or working to achieve a net-zero emissions target.1 Though crucial, these efforts are only part of the solution. Until we address the effects of climate change on social equity and the need for a just transition, our efforts to stop and reverse catastrophic warming will fall short.
In other words, climate risks for your company will continue to worsen unless we transition rapidly to a low-carbon, regenerative economy that reduces – and strives to end – the activities that create and entrench systemic inequity.
Climate change is the product of social inequity
Our current economy is a product of choices made by the few for the many: our production and consumption has led to a global climate crisis with serious local risks. Continuing on this path threatens our food and water supply, our jobs and economy, our security, and our way of life, and especially for the billions of highly vulnerable people who will face the worst repercussions.
For too long, our shared planet Earth has been exploited without consideration for the long-term effects: the forests transformed and harvested without adequate replacement, the watersheds compromised with pollutants and chemicals, and our air becoming routinely burdened with noxious and toxic emissions – particularly in urban regions, where low-income earners are most likely to be exposed to airborne pollutants. These spaces are treated as sacrifice zones, wherein the privileged few benefit at the expense of the natural world and to the detriment (and premature deaths) of tens of millions of people.
As part of that privileged few, it is our insulation from the most immediate impacts of climate change that has allowed the climate emergency to grow and evolve so intensely. With less than 20% of the world’s population, the countries of the ‘Global North’ account for more than 90% of accumulated greenhouse gas emissions.2 And yet the countries from the ‘Global South’ and, in particular, Indigenous communities, low-income earners, historically disadvantaged communities, people with disabilities, and women and children both North and South are bearing – and will continue to bear – the most severe consequences.
Climate change is therefore as much a social, economic, and human rights issue as it is an environmental one. It undermines the most fundamental human rights: the right to food, water, health, shelter, education, a clean and healthy environment, and more.
Recognition of this intersectionality has created the climate justice movement.
Climate justice, defined
The climate crisis is already having a disastrous effect on communities around the globe. As it stands, climate change is driving acute food insecurity for 34 million people,3 and the World Bank estimates that up to 132 million will be pushed into extreme poverty by climate change by 2030.4
Existing inequities born from factors such as race, gender, and income are exacerbating the impacts of these crises on lives and livelihoods, and limiting their opportunities to participate in the transition to a regenerative economy.
Climate justice has grown from this urgent need to connect the climate emergency and related environmental impacts with social equity and ethics. Climate justice is a movement, and it refers to the acknowledgement that racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination and historic inequity persist; that climate change has differing social, economic, and other adverse impacts; that these adverse impacts – which are not created equal and not distributed equally – exacerbate social and economic inequity; and that persons, governments, and organisations with power have a responsibility to protect and enhance the rights of those affected. Low-income earners, historically disadvantaged communities, people with disabilities, and women and children are most at risk from worsening conditions. Climate justice means that it is unacceptable for any of these people to lack clean air and water and accessible, affordable, and appropriate food, housing, and health resources. It also means that it is unacceptable for those working in the industries that will be most affected by climate change to be abandoned; creating re-skilling and training opportunities for the jobs of the future.
Why climate justice matters to business
A business is only as resilient as the systems it depends upon. No matter your sector or industry, your business depends on healthy, vibrant, regenerative, and equitable natural and social systems.
COVID-19 has highlighted how deeply interconnected our social, environmental, and economic systems are. It has also revealed how grossly ineffective siloed and individual action is when tackling a systemic threat.
In addition, political and popular support for climate justice is growing, as are the expectations for businesses to make positive contributions. The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer5 found that 86% of those polled believe that CEOs must lead on societal issues. Most recently, the United Nations Human Rights Council6 formally (and overwhelmingly) voted in favour of recognising access to a clean and healthy environment to be a fundamental right. Although this resolution is not yet legally binding, businesses face growing and unprecedented risks related to climate litigation.
Pursuing climate justice for a just transition
Overcoming the challenge of climate change requires a united front. If we direct all our attention to planting trees and protecting wildlife and wildlands while neglecting communities and allowing (or forcing) workers to struggle with poverty-level wages and broken (or absent) social support systems, the consequences will be the same: too little, too late. For this reason, climate justice is a critical, foundational pillar for a just transition: no worker or community can be left behind if we want to succeed.
But where do businesses go from here? How can you best transform motivation and incentives into action?
Possessing the necessary purpose and capacity to contribute to climate justice and a Just Transition is only part of the equation. In our next blog on climate justice, we’ll explain nine actions that your company can take immediately to support those most threatened by climate change.
1 2020 - Global Report on Food Crises. UN World Food Programme, Food Security Information Network, 20 Apr. 2020, https://www.wfp.org/publications/2020-global-report-food-crises.
2 Hickel, Jason, 2020, Quantifying national responsibility for climate = breakdown: an equality-based attribution approach for carbon dioxide emissions in excess of the planetary boundary and Hickel, Jason, 2020, Less is more: how degrowth will save the world. ISBN 978-1785152498
3 Arga Jafino, Bramka, et al. World Bank Group, 2020, Revised Estimates of the Impact of Climate Change on Extreme Poverty by 2030, https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/34555/Revised-Estimates-of-the-Impact-of-Climate-Change-on-Extreme-Poverty-by-2030.pdf.
4 Edelman Trust, 2021, Edelman Trust Barometer 2021, https://www.edelman.com/sites/g/files/aatuss191/files/2021-01/2021-edelman-trust-barometer.pdf.
5 The Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment: 6 Things You Need to Know | | UN News. United Nations, 15 Oct. 2021, https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/10/1103082.
6 The Net-Zero Standard. Science Based Targets Initiative, 28 Oct. 2021, https://sciencebasedtargets.org/net-zero.