Climate Justice

updated September 2016

The Case for Climate Justice
In their parsimonious approach to international climate negotiations, rich governments turn a blind eye to the impact of global warming on the world’s poorest households. All assessments of vulnerability to climate change concur that the countries whose people are most seriously threatened are those which bear the least responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions. As many as 100 of these most vulnerable countries account for less than 5% of global emissions and this is the core injustice that strives to make its voice heard in international discourse.

The daily struggle for marginal resources of food, water and energy is already undermined by unfamiliar weather patterns, coastal inundation and warming oceans. Living in substandard housing, located in low-lying urban areas or on unstable hillsides, the poor are also exposed to extreme weather events. According to the International Panel on Climate Change (2014 Fifth Assessment Report), “climate change is expected to lead to increases in ill-health in many regions and especially in developing countries with low income.”

The sense of grievance within the poorer countries has been accentuated by the adoption of two degrees Centigrade as a tolerable temperature rise for the purpose of emissions targets. Many small island states are unlikely to survive this level of warming, due to salinisation of water supplies and ultimate inundation by rising tides.

Most climate models predict that richer countries in temperate zones will benefit from higher crop yields within the two degree range. By contrast, crops in tropical regions are already approaching the limit of their sensitivity to peak daytime temperatures and warmer nights.

For example, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture believes that a two degree temperature rise in West Africa will make it impossible to grow cocoa, without migrating plantations. The fate of the Arabica coffee bean, the world’s most popular variety, is subject to similar concern due to its sensitivity to temperature.

Furthermore, the two degree figure is a global average – most of inland Africa will experience significantly higher increases. On the Tibetan plateau temperatures have been rising at double the global average over the last three decades, setting in motion the retreat of most Himalayan glaciers, with complex implications for the watersheds of South Asia.

Turn Down the Heat, a major report published by the World Bank in 2013, was notable for its focus on the impact of warming of 1.5 degrees rather than the higher figure. For example, the report warns that even this more modest temperature rise would reduce the land area suitable for growing maize in sub-Saharan Africa by 40% by the 2030s.

This weight of scientific evidence prompted ministers from all 54 African states meeting in Cairo in early 2015 to call for international emissions reductions necessary to keep warming “well below 1.5 degrees from pre-industrial levels.” To considerable surprise, the Paris Climate Agreement reached later that year supplemented the familiar goal of 2 degrees with the aspiration of “pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.”

A strong sense of injustice is also felt by young people in richer countries. Through no fault of their own, they face a barrage of disturbing forecasts for their planetary home as the century advances. Intergenerational anger across the globe may be the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back of political intransigence on climate action.


Managing Fossil Fuel Decline
A group of lawmakers at the recent Marrakech climate conference addresses the urgency of revaluing stranded assets of fossil fuel companies

from OneClimate

Scientists on the feasibility of the 1.5C climate change limit
Views expressed at a recent Oxford conference

from Carbon Brief

more Climate Justice briefings
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
Kyoto Protocol
Paris Climate Agreement
Climate Justice and Development Goals
Climate Finance
Loss and Damage
Climate Change and Migration
Climate Litigation
Source material and useful links

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