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Know Your Climate Talk: What is ‘Climate Justice’?

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

In a series of articles exploring environmental buzzwords and scientific terms, we break down in a nutshell how these terms relate to sustainable living. Today’s article explores the phrase ‘climate justice’, used to frame the climate crisis in a social, ethical and political way.


Climate Justice protests take place around the world.

The climate crisis is often viewed in scientific scope; facts, figures and imagery (rising sea levels, wildfires and wildlife choking in plastic). Climate justice reframes the climate crisis in an ethical way, it represents the justice needed for so many in the equality issues stemming from climate change.

Climate Justice issues include:

1. Increased natural disasters in vulnerable areas

2. Famine and drought due to seasonal changes and rising temperatures

3. Huge scale loss of biodiversity due to corporations clearing land for agricultural demand from western diets

4. Health issues including respiratory problems as developed nations ship waste overseas to be incinerated

5. Pressures to develop ‘differently’ as the western standard of living is no longer possible for a sustainable future.

6. Economic hardship of rebuilding lives and businesses in climate disaster areas

Effects of climate change are not equally distributed across the planet. The Centre for Global Development concluded that the effects of climate change will be imposed the most on the people living in developing countries. This includes some of the poorest citizens of the earth facing the full force of the combined consequence of the developed world’s damaging lifestyles.

Screenshot 2019-09-02 at 11.06.10

Largest emitters between 1850 and 2011. Developed countries marked in teal; developing countries are yellow. Source: Center for Global Development

When regarding climate justice, it’s important to look at the historical emitters of CO2 as the impacts can accumulate through centuries. Since the recording of emissions began, the EU, USA and Russia sat at the top. By 2014, Russia had been displaced by China and although the EU collectively still features as a top emitter, these individual countries are seeing reductions in emissions including the UK and Germany. All data can be found at Climate Watch!

Climate justice is prominent in the debate surrounding which nations are responsible for climate change. This includes footing the bill for climate change damage and investing into new technology. The World Bank quotes a figure of $70 billion to $100 billion in order to adapt to a 2 degree Celsius warming, which scientists are already suggesting we are on track to overshoot by 2050.

The United Nations Green Climate Fund aims to address climate justice issues, committing finance from developed countries to developing countries in order to adapt and develop to increase their resilience to climate change.

Climate justice is an important little phrase, it reminds us there are social consequences and that even climate change presents entrenched inequalities and justice issues. Climate justice is an extremely important part of future debate on the climate crisis.

About the Author: Megan Tarbuck is the Lifestyle Editor for WILD Mag, she studies Human Geography and the Environment at York.

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