Beth Kayser

What is climate justice, and how can businesses nurture it?

5 min Read
Person at protest holding sign that says 'Climate justice now!'

Climate justice acknowledges the relationship between climate change and social inequality. What do I mean by this? On the surface, the connection between the earth’s rising temperatures and global injustice might not seem completely obvious. But dig a little deeper, and these interconnected issues spider out like the London Tube map. 

Read on to explore some of that map. 

What is climate justice?

Climate justice envisions a world where climate solutions are human-centred; particularly around the needs of historically marginalised and underserved communities. Women, ethnic minorities, low-income and other underrepresented voices are forefronted to shape the direction of travel towards a fair, sustainable and equitable future. 

There’s currently no formal definition for climate justice, but reputable organisations like the Mary Robinson Foundation describe the term as the link between…

‘...human rights and development to achieve a human-centred approach. [This safeguards]... the rights of the most vulnerable people and share[s] the burdens and benefits of climate change and its impacts equitably and fairly. Climate justice is informed by science, responds to science and acknowledges the need for equitable stewardship of the world's resources.'

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests that climate justice means: 'Ensuring collectively and individually we have the ability to prepare for, respond to and recover from climate change impacts – and the policies to mitigate or adapt to them – by considering existing vulnerabilities, resources and capabilities.'

Why do we need climate justice?

Social injustice enables climate change. Climate change heightens social inequality. 

Environmental justice activist, Hop Hopkins, writes that if we had achieved social justice, there wouldn’t be a climate crisis, because ‘[t]here would be nowhere to put a coal plant… [N]o one would accept the risks of living near such a monster if they had the power to choose.’

To embed this in science, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) AR5 report spotlights the injustice of the climate crisis: 

  • ‘People who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally, or otherwise marginalized are especially vulnerable to climate change…’ (13)
  • ‘Risks are amplified for those lacking essential infrastructure and services or living in poor-quality housing and exposed areas.’ (56)
  • ‘Major future rural impacts are expected in the near term and beyond… These impacts are expected to disproportionately affect the welfare of the poor in rural areas, such as female-headed households…’ (57)
  • It goes on…

This injustice is amplified by the fact that these vulnerable communities have typically done the least to cause the climate crisis. The Global North (economically developed countries) has generated over 65% of emissions since 1750; today, the average North American’s carbon footprint is 21 tonnes CO2e, while someone living in Malawi’s is around 0.2 tonnes CO2e. 

It exists in the UK too; the richest 10 percent of households emit three times that of the poorest 10 percent. (Joseph Rowntree Foundation)

COP26 saw the topic of climate funding/compensation – whereby countries that grew rich off of fossil fuels support countries that won’t have that opportunity – tabled. The Glasgow Climate Pact has begun a two-year process to discuss what this funding might look like. This also leads to a wider discussion around the importance of reduction for businesses and individuals in a position of privilege; many of us have sizable carbon footprints and hold the potential for big impact.

The IPCC’s most recent report (AR6) reinforces the importance of interweaving climate solutions with social justice, with one of its topline aims being to ‘inform adaptation and mitigation efforts to reduce climate associated risks together with options for creating a sustainable, resilient and equitable future for all.’

At the highest level, it’s recommended that we rebuild a world that works for everyone. If you’d like to do your bit to help push for this, consider injecting (or recommending) Pawprint into your business. We can do the work we need to do, together.

What can your business do to nurture climate justice?

Look to the experts. B Corp’s Climate Justice Playbook for Business provides an excellent starting point. It’s ‘full of real-world insights from and for business leaders.’

Download the playbook and dedicate time to absorbing its information. Perhaps you could form a Climate Justice Learning Task Force (like B Corp did to create its playbook) and work through it together. 

Something which is identified very early on in the playbook is that climate justice work must be centred in and leveraged by frontline communities. This task force must foster meaningful collaboration with those who have been or will be impacted the most by climate change. It is only with diverse voices at the table that we can develop effective, inclusive solutions.

In the words of Ineza Grace, a Rwandan climate activist, environmental engineer and co-director of the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition: 'We will only have a future if we work on this together'.

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Pawprint helps businesses engage with their employees on climate-related action. Learn more about our product by booking a demo.


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