Every time we take a look at the news, it seems like scientists are offering new evidence of how we are, and have been, moving toward a warming planet. The effects of climate change are already being documented around the world. But a piece often missing from the discussion is who these changes impact the most.
Climate justice is a concept that acknowledges that our dependence on fossil fuels has unequally benefited the richest countries, while disproportionately impacting poorer people and developing countries around the world. For example, in Africa, where farmers have no safety net when their crops fail, climate change’s impact on agriculture is exacerbating existing inequalities.
Around the world, people in developing countries are migrating toward urban centers in search of work. But climate change is threatening basic natural resources, including water, while increasing the incidence of natural disasters, like hurricanes and typhoons, which wreak havoc on coastal regions. Developing countries already suffer from a severe lack of infrastructure, and all of the impacts of climate change only intensify the divide between those living in a shanty and those living in a downtown sky rise.
In the US, rising sea levels due to climate change will displace poorer communities; we’ve already seen how hurricanes like Katrina devastate disadvantaged coastal neighborhoods. In fact, four of the top ten cities most vulnerable to damaging floods are in the US. The same study predicts flood damage to cities around the world will cost $1 trillion a year if those cities don’t take steps to adapt. Study after study show how poor communities and people of color are most affected by pollution from mountain top removal, power plants, toxic waste, car smog and a whole host of health hazards.
Meanwhile, climate change is already costing $1.2 trillion a year, and is forecasted to demand $67 billion in aid to help developing countries adapt. For all these reasons and more, we need to tune into the who of climate change, not just the why and how.
The good news is that nations around the world are beginning to recognize the ethical and economic implications of climate justice. Ben & Jerry’s has joined in the call for widespread climate justice. The United Nations Green Climate Fund, aims to do just that, with the goal of securing financial commitments from wealthy nations that accelerate investments in developing economies that cut emissions, expand renewable energy and adapt to the impacts of climate change that are already being felt. The creation of the GCF is important, but what’s even more important is that the wealthy nations of the world step up and ensure that it is adequately funded.
If adequately funded, programs like the Green Climate Fund can begin to shift this imbalance toward a more sustainable future for everyone. Let’s make sure we’re taking climate justice seriously and jump-start these efforts to get the world on a better track.