Climate Justice

What is Climate Justice?

Climate change as an ethical issue causes a lot of challenges facing humanity today. Climate change is the change in average change in weather conditions over a long period of time. Climate change is caused in large part by human activities. Many efforts have been made by various organisations to reduce climate change. For instance, the UN holds regular talks on Climate change which are used to review the progress of climate change, set standards for the world to reduce climate change, and provide guidelines on how to deal with climate change (COMEST, 2014). Among key approaches suggested as the most appropriate ways of reducing climate change include: using renewable sources of energy, reducing emission of carbon gases, preservation of water and forests, and environmental conservation.

The issue of global climate change has raised a lot of ethical issues, including the issue of climate justice. This refers to the struggle and efforts of removing or reducing the unequal burdens caused by climate change. The causes and effects of climate change are usually related to issues of justice such as environmental and social justice. Some of the areas of concern in climate justice include human rights, equality, collective rights, and responsibility to curb climate change. The basis of this issue is that the greatest impact of climate change is felt by those who are not directly involved in causing it. The UN climate conventions usually comment on the fact that the industrialized countries of the North (Global Justice Ecology Project, 2014). Production and consumption habits of such industrialized countries threaten the survival of biodiversity and humanity across the world.

The UN urges such countries help the countries of the South to get resources and technology to be used in achieving low-carbon economies as a way of achieving climate justice through equality. Basically climate justice requires that urgent action taken to prevent climate change should provide community-led solutions and improve the wellbeing of local communities and the global poor, protect biodiversity ecosystems, and support the indigenous people (Arnold, 2011). Climate justice also identifies corporate globalisation and neo-liberalism is the major causes of climate change, and should be stopped.

Importance of the Climate Justice on society

Climate justice has some repercussions on the society. The nature of climate justice is rooted on equality, fairness and justice to humanity and biodiversity in regards to the consequences of climate change (Global Justice Ecology Project, 2014). Ethically, the effects of climate change should affect those who caused it and not those who are not concerned. However, in reality those who suffer the most from the impact of climate change are those who did not contribute to it including indigenous people, the poor and biodiversity. Climate justice demands that historical responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions and climate change should be vested on the industrialized countries.

In terms of distributive justice, it is true to say that some individuals or societies carry an unfair burden from the negative effects of climate change (COMEST, 2014). With this distributive injustice, it is difficult to achieve climate justice. However, the focus on climate justice requires those responsible for climate change to take historical responsibility and help those who are suffering the consequences of climate change without being engaged in producing it. This improves the wellbeing of the indigenous people, the global poor and biodiversity. This ensures that everyone contributes to the fight against climate change instead of leaving it to the hands of those who suffer its consequences the most. In terms of compensatory justice, it is ethically right for those who caused climate change to compensate those who suffer harm from it. Since climate change is a consequence of collective action of many groups, there is no specific group that can be assigned responsibility to compensate the other (COMEST, 2014). Therefore, compensatory justice only occurs if different groups come together to address the issue and help each other in terms of resources and information.

Climate justice also brings in the issue of procedural justice whereby it determines the people who should participate in the process of decision making concerning the prevention, mitigation and adaptation to climate change (COMEST, 2014). The patterns of inclusion and exclusion are determined by criminal justice. The rising support and agitation for climate justice across the world has caused the inclusion of vulnerable groups such as the poor and the indigenous people in decision making regarding climate change. Traditional and local knowledge will also be respected and integrated in decision making about adaptation policies.

Global climate change has also threatened human rights, but through climate justice the world has some hope of according human rights to everyone who deserves (Kurtz, 2007). Those who suffer the greatest burden of climate change can use the platform of climate justice to claim their human rights from those who have caused the climate change in the first place. It may not be easy for that to be achieved because it is difficult to identify those who caused climate change. The structure and mechanisms of claiming compensation are also difficult. However, those affected can at least fight for their rights through international organisations such as the UN backed by the concept of climate justice.

Ethical Dilemma

While some individuals and societies suffer the burden of climate change without contributing to it, those who contributed to it did not even know they were contributing negative impacts on the society (Philander, 2008). The industrialized western world attempted to solve the world economic problems by producing goods and services through industrialization. Ethical dilemma arises here because two dimensions of justice have arisen. Firstly, those who caused climate change acted fairly by producing goods and services to support the world economy. Secondly, they acted unfairly by causing climate change to people and societies which do not have the capacity to deal with its consequences. Therefore, the ethical dilemma here arises when determining what is unfair or unjust in the distribution of negative consequences caused by climate change; as well as distribution of benefits of the actions that caused the climate change.

There is also an ethical dilemma regarding the issue of compensatory justice. It is difficult to claim compensation legitimately from those who caused climate change because it is difficult under the normal concept of climate change to determine exactly who bears the historical and current responsibility (Philander, 2008). Climate change is caused by collective actions; hence it is difficult to determine who is responsible for it. It is also difficult to determine who exactly is the beneficiary of compensatory justice and to what extent the compensatory justice should be provided.

Another ethical uncertainty is how the decision making process regarding prevention and mitigation of climate change should be conducted, and who should participate in the process. The issue of inclusion and exclusion needs to be determined in certainty in order to achieve procedural justice because those who participate in decision making determine the policies and actions to be taken (Vilcox & Mohan, 2007). If those who are affected by climate change do not participate in decision making, procedural justice may not be attained. Climate justice should be able to bridge this gap and allow those affected negatively by climate change to participate in decision making processes concerning climate change.

In terms of human rights issues, there is a universal declaration of human rights which allows states, individuals or institutions to require other states, institutions or individuals to stop actions that may lead to climate change. The ethical dilemma here arises because there are no clear mechanisms and structures to do so. It is difficult to determine the degree to which global climate change has impacted on basic human rights of the people and societies.

Lesson Learnt/Recommendation

It can be noted that achieving climate justice is difficult because there are no clear mechanisms and structures to determine how procedural justice, distributive justice, compensatory justice and human rights can be achieved. However, it is recommended that participation is the key method of achieving climate justice. Every nation should participate in all aspects of decision making regarding climate change, especially the poor nations and the most affected by climate change. This enhances equity in the pursuit of climate justice (Mohai et al, 2009). Another recommendation is that the loss and damages caused by climate change should be allocated to different nations and individuals based on a guiding principle or standard, e.g. equity. For example, historical accountability can be used so that those who are historically responsible for climate change should provide the resources to deal with climate change, but the affected countries should also participate through policy and decision making. Lastly, trust should be encouraged developed in order to remove the fear that the interests of some people may not be met. Through collective decision making, participants need to cooperate on equitable terms and rightful conditions.


In conclusion, it is clear that climate justice is important in enhancing procedural justice, human rights, compensatory justice, and distributive justice. It allows states and individuals who suffer the negative impacts of climate change to participate in decision making, claim compensation, fight for their human rights and call for equitable distribution of costs of climate change. However, it is difficult to determine who caused climate change, who should take responsibility, who should compensate, who should benefit from compensation, and who should participate in decision making and what basic human rights have been violated. Participation, guiding principles, and trust should be used to achieve climate justice as an ethical way of dealing with climate change.

References list

Arnold, D. G. (2011). The ethics of global climate change. Cambridge: Cambridge University       Press.

Arnold, D.G. (2005). Business, Ethics, and Global Climate Change. Business and Professional     Ethics Journal, 24(1), 103-130.

COMEST (2014). The Ethical Implications of Global Climate Change. Paris, France: UNESCO.

Global Justice Ecology Project (2014). Climate Justice. Accessed October 24, 2014 from

Kurtz, H.E. (2007). Environmental Justice, Citizen Participation and Hurricane Katrina. Southeastern Geographer, 47 (1), 111–113.

Mohai, Paul; Pellow, David; Roberts, J. Timmons (2009). Environmental Justice. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 34 (1), 405–430.

Philander, S. G. (2008). Encyclopedia of global warming and climate change. Los Angeles: SAGE.

Vilcox, M.W., & Mohan, T.O. (2007). Contemporary issues in business ethics. New York: Nova   Science Pub.

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