Climate Justice 101

Climate justice recognizes that climate change is a social justice issue, not just an environmental one*. The climate crisis has been called the biggest threat to human rights of the 21st century and the impacts of the climate crisis are already being felt around the world (see Climate Crisis 101). As calls for climate action gain traction all over the world, it’s crucial to take a critical lens on the discussion around the causes of climate change, the impacts of climate change and the steps we must take to move towards a just and liveable future for all.

Marginalized communities, especially Indigenous, Black and other Peoples of Colour have been at the forefront of the climate justice movement for a very long time; more is needed to centre their efforts. Meaningful climate action must take active steps to support and amplify Indigenous Peoples’ human rights, which includes respecting Indigenous self-determination and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples[1] (UNDRIP). We must use an intersectional lens to understand that the origin and driver of the climate crisis is rooted in both “historic injustices as a result of their colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories, and resources, thus preventing them from exercising, in particular their right to development in accordance with their own needs and interests,” as recognized in UNDRIP. The crisis we are facing will impact multiple dimensions of human existence and will continue to pose a great risk to already vulnerable communities on a local and global level[2].

Climate change has a “multiplier effect” meaning that it will exacerbate existing injustices and inequalities. Wealthier countries in the Global North are primarily responsible[3] for historic pollution and contributions to climate change, while countries in the Global South are burdened with the consequences even though they have fewer resources available to adapt to the changes[4].  In light of this, a climate justice perspective recognizes that wealthy countries have an ethical responsibility to assume a proportional cost for the harms caused by climate change. Some proposed solutions include governments paying their fair share to the people who have suffered, including the costs of mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage. Within and across countries, marginalized and economically vulnerable communities will be disproportionately impacted by climate change[5]. Women will bear the burden of climate change disproportionately as a result of existing gender injustices and power dynamics[6]. Moreover, with more frequent extreme weather and natural disasters, global human migration patterns are likely to be greatly impacted and will disproportionately impact already marginalized communities. Climate Strikes the world over have also underlined the intergenerational injustice inherent to climate change. Climate change driven conflicts over resources, natural disasters (e.g. water shortages, floods, forest fires, etc), and other factors are forcing people to leave their homes. A 2018 World Bank report predicted that without appropriate international action, over 143 million people will be displaced by 2050 in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and South Asia alone[7]. Climate change will not only impact human lives, but threatens the web of life we rely on. Changes in climate have already had detrimental impacts on biodiversity and the lives of non-human beings all over the world[8].

As we explore solutions to address the climate crisis, we must include a climate justice lens that understands the broad context of project impacts, including impacts on Indigenous rights and self-determination. Some mitigation measures have had undesirable direct and indirect consequences for local communities[9, 10].  As we envision a sustainable future and tackle this global crisis, our climate solutions must simultaneously dismantle inequalities and build a more just, equitable, and inclusive society, working towards dismantling historic and existing barriers faced by marginalized communities.



* The term climate justice has recently become widespread in the climate movement, based on the understanding that our unjust political and economic system creates societal inequities and climate change. This overarching term acknowledges that without a focus on correcting injustice, work on climate change addresses only symptoms, and not root causes.









[9] Jeanette Schade & Wolfgang Obergassel (2014) Human rights and the Clean Development Mechanism, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 27:4, 717-735, DOI: 10.1080/09557571.2014.961407

[10] Cabello, Joanna, and Tamra Gilbertson. “A colonial mechanism to enclose lands: A critical review of two REDD+-focused special issues.” Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization 12 (2012).