2023 has been the year of climate records. Record-breaking heatwaves in July made it the hottest month globally. Over 200,000 wildfires across the globe have burned 10 million acres, destroying livelihoods, communities and killing at least 1,000 people. Heavy rains in China, India, Central and Southern Europe have become a “new abnormal.” As the grim reality of the consequences of climate change increase in frequency and intensity, the people and groups most affected by global warming are organising to demand justice and compensation.
Environmentalism is by no means a new concept. Indigenous communities in the Americas, Africa and Australasia have a long history of protecting the environment and campaigning to have their The modern grassroots environmentalist movement can arguably be traced to 1962, with the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. The book, which highlighted how the use of insecticides (namely DDT) had a negative effect on the natural environment, was a watershed moment for global environmentalism. Subsequent events such as the first Earth Day in 1970, the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987, the 1992 Earth Summit and the 2015 signing of the Paris Agreement have defined and shaped global environmentalism.
Climate justice has its roots in grassroots environmental campaigns. Inspired by the power of collective actions on communal, local, national and international levels, climate justice groups such as Extinction Rebellion, the Sunrise Movement and the youth climate movement (popularised by Greta Thunberg) have combined their activities (which include organised marches, vandalism, disrupting traffic and non-violent protests at oil companies) with the other growing movements of loss and damage finance, adaptation finance and climate litigation. The argument behind climate justice is simple. As Rob Macquarie wrote in an explainer for the London School of Economics:
“the concept of ‘climate justice’ places an ethical challenge at the heart of the argument for climate action. It identifies climate change as a symptom of unfair and unrepresentative economic, social and political institutions, drawing links to other issues like rising global inequality.”
The four tenets of equity (distributive justice), accountability (historical responsibility), participation (involvement in key decision-making processes) and resilience (adaptation and mitigation) provide a framework that ensures that any action, policy or initiative aimed at addressing climate change has the unique needs and demands of marginalised and affected communities at heart.
The beginning of the 2020s saw an increase in activity and success for the global climate justice movement. In 2022, the United Nations General Assembly adoped a resolution that recognised access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human rightAt both COP26 and COP27, countries such as Tuvalu and Barbados emerged as champions of loss and damage finance. The two island nations are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Vanuatu recently scored a victory at the United Nations with the adoption of the Vanuatu Resolution, which asks the International Court of Justice to weigh in when member states fail to meet climate obligations. Global climate strikes have increased in frequency and reach. Choosing to believe in their collective power than giving into despair, young climate activists have come together online and on the streets under Fridays for Future, whose goal is "to put moral pressure on policymakers, to make them listen to the scientists, and then to take forceful action to limit global warming." A report by the UN Environment Programme and the Sabin Centre for Climate Change shows that the number of climate change court cases has doubled since 2017, signalling that individuals, communities and countries are turning more to legal forms of justice and restitution.
As the deadline to achieve goals set out by the Paris Agreement inches closer, the determination by those most affected by climate change will continue the push for equity, accountability, participation and resilience in climate action. The combined efforts of legislators, activists, scientists and businesses are necessary to correct historical imbalances, address present concerns and build towards an equitable, resilient future.
Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash