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Climate Change & Environment

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Climate Justice: A Primer for Policy Makers and NGOs
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By recognising the stark division in resources, development paths and emissions contributions between rich and poor nations, 'climate justice' demands changes that look beyond national boundaries to what is good for the world as a whole, says a report by Barbara Adams and Gretchen Luchsinger.

Link to full report: Climate Justice for a Changing Planet - A Primer for Policy Makers and NGOs

7th December 2009


Introduction: Equity and Justice

December 2009 - Barbara Adams and Gretchen Luchsinger, The United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS)

Climate change may be the most significant challenge the world faces today. It will affect everyone, regardless of geographical location or socioeconomic status. It may determine the way we produce food, our access to water, our health, where we live, and the diversity of plant and animal species. No other current concern can claim the scale of climate change – and the scope of the potential catastrophe if the world fails to act in time.

Climate change was originally perceived as mainly a scientific or environmental issue. While it does have a scientific basis and involves all aspects of the environment, it has emerged through the economic and political systems that govern the world today. These same systems are now charged with sorting out the threats from climate change. However, actions to date have fallen short, while global temperatures climb and the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that cause climate change continue to grow.

As a phenomenon that affects the whole world, climate change clearly warrants a comprehensive global response. While this has been the intent of international negotiations held on the subject, starting with the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and continuing through the annual meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the convention, there has been an ongoing tendency to focus on some issues and interests, but not others.

One of the most fundamental gaps involves the equity dimensions of climate change. Climate change at its heart reveals the still stark divides in resources, development paths and emissions contributions between rich and poor nations, and rich and poor people within those nations. Almost all aspects of climate change can be traced along these lines: who has caused it, who can cope with it and how, who will survive and even benefit, and who will be hardest hit by its consequences.

Because of its magnitude, climate change shines a strong light on longstanding inadequacies in the way the world operates, politically and economically. The UNFCCC noted the inequities that have resulted and committed nations to reducing them. But since then, many disparities have deepened or gone unresolved. Contested international negotiations have produced partial solutions, not all of which have been fully implemented. Still missing is the crucial acknowledgement that no solution will work without equity at its core. A path of development and low emissions is possible for everyone – if extreme imbalances in development are evened out.

Equity is foremost a matter of justice and human rights, recognizing that groups that have benefited most from high levels of emissions in the course of their development are now called upon to ensure that other groups have equal opportunities to develop, within a framework of mutual efforts to slow the pace of climate change. The fact that some of the people with the lowest levels of emissions and development will suffer some of the most severe consequences of climate change must also be rectified.

Equity also fosters effectiveness and efficiency. Given a common goal – a liveable planet – it ensures that resources, including financial and technical ones, go where they are needed most, not just where they are likely to produce profits. Efficiency comes from making the most appropriate choices now for the world as a whole, rather than delaying them until the consequences are more severe, expensive and difficult to fix.

Given the history of climate change negotiations to date, a position of equity is also pragmatic, because it will be the only way to strike a meaningful political consensus that will be viewed as fair and result in sustained action by most countries.

In recent years, the notion of “climate justice” has emerged as a way of encapsulating the equity aspects of climate change. Climate justice builds on a platform of equitable development, human rights and political voice. It is an agenda that seeks to redress global warming by reducing disparities in development and power that drive climate change and continued injustice. This implies transfrmative changes and the need to look beyond national boundaries to what is good for the world as a whole.

Climate Justice for a Changing Planet: A Primer for Policy Makers and NGOs considers how to move towards a climate justice agenda. It is designed for people engaged in climate change policy-making, whether through governments or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as others interested in better understanding the current discourse. Chapter 1 explores international discussions on climate change through an equity lens, and takes a critical look at attempts to mitigate emissions. Chapter 2 examines four major gaps in equity – development disparities, vulnerable groups, global governance and finance – that must be central topics for climate justice policy advocacy. Chapter 3 introduces possible policy directions.

The booklet is premised on the notion that political will strong enough to forge a meaningful international consensus on tackling climate change can emerge – and transform both the content of decisions and how they are made. By definition, this process must uphold the basic principles, universally endorsed, of human rights to sustainable development, security and the shared resources of a common planet. The alternative: a patchwork response and worsening inequities in a steadily warming world.

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