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Climate justice

Page history last edited by John McMahon 4 years, 6 months ago



  1. Climate Justice and the Normative Approach 
  2. Climate Injustice and the Environment
  3. Climate Injustice and Gender 
  4. What Has Already Been Done to Combat Climate Injustice 






     Over the past several decades, our natural resources have decreased, animals are losing their habitats, and people are losing the resources needed to survive. Moreover, as the earth slowly warms up every year, it deteriorates, often causing people to flee to seek the natural resources needed to survive. With recent reports saying that the planet can be in severe danger by 2050, the idea of justice becomes harder to achieve, particularly in regions where societies are still developing. This causes people to become divided based on the ability to access resources that are needed to survive, making some feel less equal than others. Humans have a chance to lose what we need to survive, but some are more at risk than others. In addition to climate change affecting the air we all breathe, the water we drink, and the land that we live on, it can be experienced differently based on gender, as this entry will discuss. There are forms of legislation and calls for action to combat climate change, but the chances of those changes to happen appear to be more of a long-term goal rather than a short-term one. Different theoretical approaches are taken to understand climate change and think through how we can ensure the right to live through climate justice over the long-term. Climate justice is an issue that can be felt in other areas of justice because if we can better the planet that we live in, then justice can be more of a possibility in other realms of justice. 


1. Climate Justice and the Normative Approach

     The approaches taken towards unpacking and understanding climate change vary depending on which political theory is best seen to fit in explaining justice in this realm. The most realistic way that was found to investigate climate justice is through the normative lens of political theory. 

     A normative approach that is rather detailed in terms of dealing with the modern-day effects of climate change is through the ‘non-ideal approach’ to analyzing climate justice. As articulated by Eric Brandstedt, the non-ideal approach responds to the necessary precautionary steps needed to analyze modern-day climate injustice. Brandstedt (2017, 6) praises the work of Henry Shue (2016) and Simon Caney (2014), both of whom expose how vulnerable humans are to climate change and how to avoid further harm on the environment, through the first step of approach of responding to noncompliance. Noncompliance to climate change is in reference to neglecting to either acknowledge the existence of climate injustice or to take action in combat the issues behind it. He also discusses the need to find a politically feasible approach for a governing body to take, which helps find the best route for a nation or state to take in order to better the lives of the citizens through combating climate change (Brandstedt 2017, 6-7). 

     Simon Caney, another political theorist, describes a different approach as to why climate injustice exists and how we can look at the issue from a different point of view, more specifically from a global perspective. He proposes two different theories that do this: (1) examining how the burden of combating climate injustice should be shared by everyone in society rather than a select few people; and (2) taking the starting point of the "imperative to prevent climate change" and deduce who should do what to solve the problem of climate injustice (Caney 2014, 125-126). The two different theories are also described by Caney in this way:

From the external point of view, it is defensible to argue that ‘concessions need to be made to high emitters because without that they are not likely to comply (or will not comply)’. But if a high emitting country like the USA simply says ‘this treaty needs to reward us because unless it does so then we are not likely to comply’ (or, just, ‘we will not comply’), then it is hard to see why this counts as a justification at all. It is a prediction of expected behaviour and perhaps a threat.(Caney 2014, 131). 

Although both are reasonable approaches, the first way of analyzing climate injustice is the best way to research and analyze the long-term effects of global warming and other issues of climate injustice, according to Caney. The different issues of climate injustice are continued throughout the remainder of the entry.

     The normative theory of political thought is a realistic approach to analyzing climate injustice, due to the available resources and reducing the amount of time people have to solve the problem before the planet becomes uninhabitable for human life before the end of the current century. 


2. Climate Injustice and the Environment

     One of the most obvious effects of climate injustice can be observed within our natural surroundings. Humans rely on the surrounding environment for survival through the dependency for food, water, and shelter. Human work on the environment, as the environment is itself greatly affected, can contribute to climate change. According to Deepak Ghimire and Dinesh Panday, agriculture is one of, if not, the biggest contributor to climate change through the use of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. How major of an impact agriculture makes on the environment was represented in the text through data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):

According to IPCC 5th Assessment Report, Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFLOU) contribute 20–24 percent of anthropogenic GHG emissions. IPCC estimates that agriculture accounts for 13.5 percent of GHG emissions. These measured emissions are largely the results of synthetic fertilizer use, methane from large scale animal operations, and methane release from rice paddies (IPCC 2015) (Ghimire and Panday 2016, 271).

Through the use of artificial fertilizers and methane that is present among large scale animal farms, greenhouse gas emissions that are omitted from farms are a sign that there needs to be more of an environmentally-friendly option for farming and fertilizing crops. There are some challenges as the major concerns of farming revolve around mitigating and adapting to the environment, however according to Ghimire and Panday (2019, 271), the issues of food security, farmers’ rights, rural livelihoods, and adapting to climate change all have to be taken into consideration. 

     The use of mitigation and adaptation is best described by Henry Shue in relation to the United States and the possible paths that they could go down to ensure climate justice. Although climate justice is something that can be achieved by all, Shue splits up climate justice into two different concepts when discussing the United States’ strategy to combating climate change:

The contention of the USA has consistently been, in effect, ‘climate first, justice maybe later’. Negotiations will have two tracks: a fast track for climate, meaning mitigation, and a slow track for justice, including adaptation (Shue 2016, 5).

For nations like the United States, reducing the severity of effects from climate change matter more than allowing people to adapt to the changing environment, which can restrict justice from flourishing through a longer period of adaptation. Shue also raises a point in relation to this by stating that mitigation is experienced by all, however adaptation is not to be shared by everyone because of the lack of resources that developing nations have access to due to financial reasons (2016, 5). Climate justice cannot be fulfilled if both mitigation and adaptation are not serving as a collective burden, as some will still feel some forms of injustice on a global scale. The interpretation of mitigation and adaptation are observed differently among legislation and through gender, as discussed throughout the prompt, however the brunt of the effects are caused by humans through agriculture and other forms of industrialization (i.e. fossil fuels and large-scale animal farming). 


3. Climate Injustice and Gender (also see the Gender justice page)

     Mitigating and adapting to situations caused by climate change are dealt with differently by everyone in the context of economical, environmental, and societal differences felt across the world. Climate injustice is usually felt by everyone, however one argument states that climate change can be experienced differently based on the person’s gender. According to Margaret Alston and Kerri Whittenbury (2013, 8-9), gender is one of the most significant indicators of how a person is affected by climate change, aside from educational disadvantage, lack of employment opportunities, poverty, and other forms of socio-economic disadvantages felt among humans. In order to introduce gender and analyzing the impacts felt, gender is defined as a relational concept that consists of socially constructed behaviors and attitudes that shape masculinity and femininity in society (Alston and Whittenbury 2013, 8). 

     Prior to understanding the gendered impacts of climate change, the only effects that were analyzed are the economic and environmental impacts of climate change, without taking into account who would be impacted the most. As for how disadvantaged some are in comparison to others, the issues of climate change are felt more among women than men when discussing the gendered impacts of climate change and other forms of injustice:

Women are much more likely to be living in poverty, are less likely to own land and resources to protect them in a post-disaster situation, and have less control over production and income, less education and training, less access to institutional support and information, less freedom of association, and fewer positions on decision-making bodies. (Alston and Whittenbury 2013, 9)

In other words, men are less likely to experience the gendered impacts of climate change unless if they lose land, money, food, and other assets that are crucial for humans to survive. This might be an obvious reason to why women feel the impacts of climate change due to already asserted gender roles in society. As described by Lane and McNaught and backed up by Alston and Whittenbury (2013, 9): "… women are more likely to be responsible for the practical preparation of the household, informing family members, storing food and water, and protecting family belongings." As men are proven to deal with the mitigation of a disaster, women are stuck with the adaptation part of the disaster, as they are stuck looking after children and the elderly. Although the effects based on gender are not expressed among children and elders, the effects are observed among adult males and females through their societal contribution, as the effects are implied among children and elderly as they are assumed to be cared for by women, according to Alston and Whittenbury (2013, 9). As gender norms are becoming more contested due to the rise of social justice movements, the burden of climate injustice may become more of a shared one rather than experiencing it differently based on gender. 


4. What Has Already Been Done to Combat Climate Injustice

     As the effects of climate change are felt through gender, the environment, and socio-economic status, climate injustice has become a major issue that is examined by those who are part of the United Nations. With recent news of the United States leaving the Paris Climate Agreement and China and India taking initiative to combat climate injustice, the issue of climate change and ensuring climate justice has been a bigger issues in national elections, making cooperation from every national government necessary. 

The agricultural effects mentioned earlier in the prompt are still a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, however the agricultural industry is only partially responsible. According to Gabriel Ferrero y de Loma-Osorio:

Climate Justice emphasizes the asymmetrical impact of climate change on the poor and vulnerable (individuals, communities, countries), those least responsible of climate change vis-a-vis the impact on wealthy countries and fossil fuel companies, who have benefited from GHG emissions for centuries and suffer less the impacts of the problem (2016, 223).

As the effects of climate change are mostly caused by wealthier nations and the fossil fuel industry, it is up to the developed countries and those corporations to mock up a plan to mitigate the effects and ensure justice for all at the same time. Through the perspective of Ferrero y de Loma-Osorio, the effects have been more harsh on the economically disadvantaged as other nations that have more money are suffering less of an impact. 

     Although developed nations have long-term goals in mind, the time frame needed to achieve these goals is smaller than expected. What has already been done prior to the Paris Climate Agreement was a set of goals by 2030 that were set in place at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009. The goals, known as substantial development goals (SDGs), are a compilation of seventeen different goals to combat climate change by 2030, which include solving problems like food security, gender equality, poverty, and economic stability, as well as achieving goals that are related to finding alternative and more affordable forms of energy, and protecting and conserving the surrounding ecosystems (Ferrero y de Losa-Osorio 2016, 225). Though these goals are set to be achieved by 2030, these will take much longer to achieve as it is much harder to organize a climate justice movement when only those who are wealthy are leading the charge. This alone would be even harder if wealthy nations are acting noncompliant towards climate injustice, as discussed through the works of Brandstedt that are mentioned earlier in the prompt. In the Paris Climate Agreement, the goal set was more of a realistic approach to mitigation, as the set goal by 2100 is to minimize global warming to less than two degrees Celsius of an increase in temperature (Ferrero y de Losa-Osorio 2016, 227). As this ensures justice for all humans taken into account, the benefits for animals are open-ended as animals thrive in different climates and ecosystems.

     The 2030 Agenda and the Paris Climate Agreement are best combined, according to Ferrero y de Loma-Osorio (2016, 228), because it can be best adapted to the twenty-first century society as a modern adaptation of justice through collective benefits in mind. The normative theory, in relation to the agreements made during the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen and the Paris Climate Agreement, cannot work successfully without incorporating some forms of utilitarianism, like helping those who are less advantaged economically and socially. 



     Climate injustice is a more recent issue that has arisen due to the neglectful ways that humans have abused their surroundings. As possible goals and theories are currently being tested through forms of legislation and social movements, the issues of climate injustice are felt differently based on one’s gender, socioeconomic status, and access to the resources needed to survive. As the impacts of climate change were observed through current effects on the planet and other forms of environmental and economic injustice, the connection between climate injustice and gender introduced by Alston and Whittenbury is a modern approach to figuring out the inequalities faced by citizens beyond national borders. 

     Brandstedt and Caney’s normative theory, which gives a general analysis of how climate justice will be conceptualized and enforced, has been developed over time, and can be seen as reflected through dvelopments like the Paris Climate Agreement and the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, where more goals are set in mind for those who are disadvantaged. With goals in mind for the next few decades to come, according to Ferrero y de Loma-Osorio, they might be rushed by developed nations, which could ensure justice for a few rather than for the entire global society. Climate justice is important because justice in other realms cannot be achieved unless we look out for our surrounding environment and ensure that everyone is living with equal access to natural resources.


--Jon Legault (email: jlega003 <AT> plattsburgh <DOT> edu)




Alston, Margaret, and Kerri Whittenbury, eds. 2013. Research, Action and Policy: Addressing the Gendered Impacts of Climate Change. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. https://books.google.com/books?id=5n93NDe3zDkC&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false


Brandstedt, Eric. 2017. “Non-Ideal Climate Justice.” Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy22(2): 221–34. doi: 10.1080/13698230.2017.1334439. https://portal.research.lu.se/ws/files/60696939/Review_Article._Non_Ideal_Climate_Justice_AM_.pdf


Caney, Simon. 2014. “Two Kinds of Climate Justice: Avoiding Harm and Sharing Burdens.” Journal of Political Philosophy 22(2): 125–49. doi: 10.1111/jopp.12030. https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.webdb.plattsburgh.edu:2443/doi/epdf/10.1111/jopp.12030


Ferrero y de Loma-Osorio, Gabriel. 2016. “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: Bringing Climate Justice to Climate Action.” Development59(3-4): 223–28. doi: 10.1057/s41301-017-0122-9. https://search-proquest-com.webdb.plattsburgh.edu:2443/docview/1943618358?accountid=13215&rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo


Ghimire, Deepak, and Dinesh Panday. 2016. “Interconnection of Climate Change, Agriculture and Climate Justice: Complexities for Feeding the World Under Changing Climate.” Development59(3-4): 270–73. doi: 10.1057/s41301-017-0118-5. https://search-proquest-com.webdb.plattsburgh.edu:2443/docview/1943624737?accountid=13215&rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo


Shue, Henry. 2016. Climate Justice - Vulnerability and Protection. Oxford University Press. https://books.google.com/books?id=8BWeAwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false









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