Can we achieve climate justice in an unequal society?


THE latest Global Risk Report ranked the Philippines as the most disaster-prone country out of 193 countries representing 99% of the world’s population. For a country that is already in the top 10 in terms of climate change impacts, this poses a major concern.

India, Indonesia, Colombia, Mexico, Myanmar, Mozambique, China, Bangladesh and Pakistan complete the list of 10 countries at risk. The report, published by Bundnis Entwicklung Hilft and the Institute for the International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict, assessed countries on risk, exposure, vulnerability, susceptibility and their capacities to adaptation and adaptation.

Without sufficient resilience, adaptation or adaptive capacities, populations will continue to face risks where there are hazards from extreme natural events or the negative impacts of climate change.

The words of Hoesung Lee, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), at the virtual launch of the report Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability six months ago continue to resonate with me. He described the IPCC report as a dire warning about the consequences of inaction and said “our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to growing climate risks”.

While the world’s population is expected to increase by 2.5 billion and reach almost 10 billion by 2050, the IPCC report pointed out that 90% of the growth will take place in Asia and Africa. As a result, the number of people highly exposed to the impacts of climate change will also increase dramatically. Countries in the South will be more vulnerable to climate-induced risks due to informal and sprawl development coupled with a lack of adaptive capacity.

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Inequality, according to the International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, is a phenomenon of unequal and/or unfair distribution of resources and opportunities among members of a given society. Right now, inequalities are growing in the climate space. The World Inequality Report 2022, a work by more than 100 researchers on social, economic and ecological disparities, said inequalities between nations, societies and populations are growing.

The report says the richest 10% of the world’s population accounts for 52% of global income, while the poorest half earns a meager 8.5%. The top 10% also owned 76% of all wealth, while the bottom half owned only 2%.

The report further details the link between global income, wealth and ecological inequalities with those contributions to climate change. On average, humans emit 6.6 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per capita per year. The report states that the top 10% emitters are responsible for nearly 50% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, while the bottom 50% produce only 12%. Tackling inequality is key to tackling the climate crisis.

With insufficient adaptive capacity, the poorest face the most extreme conditions. They will struggle to adapt to the increasing impacts of the climate, with many living in areas close to the limits of human habitability. Most of these poor societies will be shaken by the continuous shocks of floods, extreme heat, drought and crop failure.

Widespread inequalities are at the root of profound instabilities in societies. If humanity is to achieve prosperity for all within planetary boundaries, inequality must be a priority for immediate action.

The Club of Rome’s new book Earth for All: A Survival Guide to Humanity – a sequel to The Limits of Growth published 50 years ago – identifies “five stages of system change” – inequality, eliminating poverty poverty, the empowerment of women, the transformation of food systems and the transition to clean energy—these need to be addressed urgently.

Limits to Growth captured the plight of mankind and the implications of continued economic growth. He concluded that the interdependent resources of the earth, the global system of nature in which we all live, were unlikely to sustain economic and population growth rates.

Humanity today stands on the edge of a cliff. With the current system left unchanged and hampered by continued inaction, social tensions will continue to rise and human well-being will continue to dilute. There is no climate justice in an unequal society.

The author is executive director of the Young Environmental Forum and a non-resident fellow of the Stratbase ADR Institute. He completed his Climate Change and Development course at the University of East Anglia and an Executive Program in Sustainability Leadership at Yale University. You can email him at [email protected]


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