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This essay provides a broad-based and jargon-free introduction to climate justice to foster critical thinking, engaged discussions, and profound reflections. It introduces the reader to three dimensions of justice—distributional, procedural, and recognitional justice—and shows how each relates to climate justice. A unique contribution of this essay is to identify and discuss the following three blind spots in the debates on climate justice: (1) the tendency to focus heavily on post hoc effects of climate change while ignoring the root causes of climate change that also contribute to injustices; (2) assuming incorrectly that all climate action contributes to climate justice, even though some types of climate responses can produce new climate injustices; and (3) although scholars have studied the causes of climate injustices extensively, the specific pathways to climate justice remain underdeveloped. This essay concludes by showcasing a few examples of the ongoing pursuits of climate justice, led by social justice groups, local governments, and some government agencies.
Climate Justice in the Global North: An Introduction
University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, USA
ABSTRACT This essay provides a broad-based and jargon-free introduction to climate justice to foster critical
thinking, engaged discussions, and profound reflections. It introduces the reader to three dimensions of justice—
distributional, procedural, and recognitional justice—and shows how each relates to climate justice. A unique
contribution of this essay is to identify and discuss the following three blind spots in the debates on climate
justice: (1) the tendency to focus heavily on post hoc effects of climate change while ignoring the root causes of
climate change that also contribute to injustices; (2) assuming incorrectly that all climate action contributes to
climate justice, even though some types of climate responses can produce new climate injustices; and
(3) although scholars have studied the causes of climate injustices extensively, the specific pathways to climate
justice remain underdeveloped. This essay concludes by showcasing a few examples of the ongoing pursuits of
climate justice, led by social justice groups, local governments, and some government
agencies. KEYWORDS birding while black,hiking while black,Black Lives Matter,social justice,climate action,
environmental justice,climate justice
Climate change is an existential threat to human civiliza-
tion. The increased frequency of climate-related disasters
has been responsible for the loss of hundreds of thousands
of lives in different parts of the world.
Yet climate change
does not affect everyone equally; its consequences are
distributed unequally between world regions, countries,
and social groups within countries.
Countries that make up the Global North, or the
“developed countries” (For a useful discussion of the
vocabulary of developing versus developed countries, see
what-should-you-call-it.), have benefited significantly
from the energy-intensive industrial development
responsible for warming the earth’s atmosphere. How-
ever, the poorest countries pay a steep price, especially
highly vulnerable small island nations (e.g., Kiribati, the
Bissau) contributing the least to the climate crisis.
Therefore, global policy experts often describe climate
justice as an international issue.
The rapidly increasing emissions from China, India,
and other middle-income countries cause concern, espe-
cially for the poor, who must bear the worst consequences
of deteriorating land, water, and air quality. However,
the climate crisis unfolding now is a result of the accu-
mulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the earth’s
atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, to which
middle-income countries have contributed very little. Ac-
cording to one estimate, the United States alone has con-
tributed nearly 35%of the total cumulative global CO
emissions since 1750.
Irrespective of where one stands on
this debate, nationality and international borders are only
two of several factors contributing to various types of
1. An additional 250,000 deaths a year are attributed to climate
change, though that number continues to be contested by others who argue
that the global death toll related to the ongoing climate crisis is likely to be
much higher.
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climate injustices. Differences in income and wealth, race,
gender, ethnicity, age, and sexual identities within coun-
tries also contribute significantly to climate injustices.
This essay’s primary goal is to introduce readers to cli-
mate justice questions within the Global North. Debating
these questions in our backyard is vital because a focus on
the poor people in the Global South detracts from a deeper
understanding of inequalities and injustice at home.
Equally important, a focus on the Global North allows for
a better understanding of the root causes and the here-and-
now nature of the currently unfolding climate crisis. The
socially discriminatory effects of climate change are evident
from the reportage of climate-related disasters in the
United States and elsewhere, especially beginning with
Hurricane Katrina [1]. Therefore, it is useful to think of
climate justice as a framework to recognize and redress the
unequal distribution of costs and burdens of climate
change and climate responses of various types. Moreover,
climate justice also requires ensuring that those affected
most severely by climate change participate in brainstorm-
ing, developing, and implementing climate responses.
Attaining a substantive and deep understanding first
requires recognizing three blind spots in climate justice
discussions. One, even though the leading cause of climate
change is related to energy-intensive lifestyles, most climate
change discussions, including those on climate justice,
often focus on the effects of climate change. A comprehen-
sive explanation of climate justice requires avoiding such
post hoc tendencies and centering our discussions on cli-
mate change’s root causes. Two, very often “radical” climate
response is equated with climate justice, which does not
hold in all circumstances. As the discussions below show,
some radical climate responses may contribute to new
kinds of injustices. Three, even though understanding the
sources and the effects of climate injustices is necessary,
such understanding does not translate easily into the spe-
cific actions needed to realize climate justice in practice.
Accordingly, this essay concludes with a brief discussion of
several ongoing pursuits of climate justice.
An in-depth inquiry into the historical trajectory of cli-
mate change and climate denialism of the past half cen-
tury shows that the concentration of political and
economic power has been a significant cause of the cur-
rent climate crisis. The distribution of power influences
how environmental amenities (e.g., clean air) and problems
(e.g., pollution) are valued and distributed within national
boundaries. The current economic system and the patterns
of consumption it promotes are responsible for environmen-
tal degradation and environmental injustices [2]. For exam-
ple, a select few multinational corporations control nearly all
the global food business and consume 75%of the entire food
sector’s energy requirements—but feed a much smaller pro-
portion of the world’s population[3]. More broadly, the
wealthiest 10%of the world’s population produces almost
as much GHG emissions as the bottom 90%combined [4].
The extent of income inequalities within the United States
and the UK shows that these inequalities are not merely due
to the differences in national economic growth, which ad-
vocates of the free market often present as a solution to
poverty and underdevelopment. For instance, income
growth over the last few decades has lowered the well-being
of large parts of the U.S. population while supporting prof-
ligate consumptionamong the wealthiest [5]. Such a lopsided
distribution of economic growth benefits is responsible for
increased precariousness among large sections of the Global
North population, the climate crisis, and the myriad climate
One manifestation of the imbalances in political and
economic power is corporate climate denialism, which
powerful corporations engineered to protect the status
quo’s benefits. Fossil fuel multinational corporations
based in the United States have known since the early
1970s that the burning of fossil fuels caused global warm-
ing and climate change. The documents made public dur-
ing the ongoing lawsuits against Exxon Mobil show that
instead of acting on their knowledge of global warming,
major fossil fuel corporations orchestrated a campaign of
climate denialism [6]. These campaigns sowed seeds of
doubt among the public and allowed the federal and state
governments to continue supporting the fossil fuel indus-
try’s expansion.
Data from the Washington-based Environmental and
Energy Study Institute suggest that as of the year 2019,
the U.S. government awarded approximately US$20 bil-
lion per year in direct subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.
Eighty percent of these subsidies went to the natural gas
and crude oil industries, while the coal industry received
the remaining 20%.
Similarly, the European Union sub-
sidizes the fossil fuel industry by an estimated 55 billion
euros (or approximately US$65 billion) annually. These
subsidies give fossil fuel corporations enormous power
over governments in economically underdeveloped coun-
tries, such as Nigeria and Angola, where fossil fuel extrac-
tion occurs. Therefore, fossil fuel subsidies exacerbate
international inequalities that date back to European col-
onization and continue to shape developmental dispari-
ties today [7].
The adverse environmental and public health impacts of
fossil fuel subsidies cost the global community an estimated
US$5.3trillion in 2015 alone [8]. The costs of environ-
mental toxicity burdens fall disproportionately on the poor
and marginalized community groups who lack the political
and economic power to hold the business and political
actors to account. The situation is especially problematic
in some of the poorest oil exporting countries, such as
Angola and Nigeria. However, as the vast scholarship on
environmental justice shows, the poor and racial minorities
in the United States also suffer the worst consequences of
environmental pollution from landfills, toxic waste dumps,
and petrochemical facilities [9]. One particularly hard-hit
area is a stretch of the Mississippi River between New
Orleans and Baton Rouge, which hosts many highly pol-
luting petrochemical facilities. Because of the pollution
caused by the petrochemical industries, residents there have
such high rates of cancer that the areas is known as the
“Cancer Alley” [10]. Cancer Alley has been a focal point of
the U.S. environmental justice movement for over three
decades [11]. However, there has been no perceptible
change in the extent of environmental injustices in the
Cancer Alley and other Petrochemical hubs. These toxic
hot spots create dangerous new hazards in the face of the
calamities linked to the climate crisis.
Hurricane Laura made landfall in Louisiana in August
2020 with a wind speed of 150 mph, which made it the
strongest Category 4hurricane on record since 1856.A
Yale University report suggested that climate change may
explain the rapid intensification of Atlantic hurricanes,
such as Laura, which caught the forecasters and the public
off guard.
That results in even more severe impacts on
the poor because they are least well prepared to confront
these crises. These calamities are especially dangerous for
communities living in areas such as Cancer Alley. Well
into the second day after the deadly winds from Laura had
died down, the residents of Mossville were grappling with
the effects of toxic gases released from a fire that erupted
during the storm in a chlorine plant owned by BioLab in
Westlake, Louisiana.
Mossville constitutes an archetypi-
cal case of the confluence of environmental and climate
injustices. Still, it is also a testimony to the deeply en-
trenched and ongoing effects of the history of slavery in
the United States.
Mossville was founded in 1790 by formerly enslaved
and free people of color, who sought refuge in a swamp
to escape the oppression of segregation. They made it
into a community that practiced agriculture, fishing, and
hunting for generations. However, successive rounds of
zoning decisions by White elected officials transformed
Mossville into the “ground zero of the chemical industry
Industry owners forced most residents to sell
off their properties. At the same time, those who stayed
had no choice but to suffer the consequences of pro-
longed exposure to industrial pollution and toxic con-
Mossville’s struggles are not just a domestic
issue either. The Lake Charles Chemical Complex
responsible for devastating effects on the local environ-
ment and the health and well-being of Mossville resi-
dents is under the management of the South African
Synthetic Oil Limited (SASOL). The apartheid-era
South African government, hamstrung by international
sanctions, established SASOL in 1950 to transform coal
into fuel and chemicals using a technology developed by
engineers in the Nazi-era Germany.
This environmen-
tally degrading technology is no longer in use, but SA-
SOL’s record of social and environmental impacts
remains appalling.
The fossil fuel industry is also tightly coupled with the
defense industry, which aids the U.S. foreign policy goal
extractive industries, and strategic shipping lanes crucial
for transportation.
It is common knowledge that the
7. The author owes the knowledge of these international connections
to the screening of the documentary Mossville: When Great Trees Fall as
part of Scalawag’s “Breathing While Black” virtual event on June 25,2020.
See; and http://www.
Climate Justice in the Global North 3
Bush administration’s desire to control oil supply was one
of the primary motivations for the 1991 Gulf War against
Iraq. The Department of Defense is the single largest
consumer of energy in the United States and the world’s
single largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels [12].
The so-called military-industrial complex
exists to influ-
ence political decisions to support state subsidies for the
fossil fuel and petrochemical industries. In other words,
political and administrative decisions, not some random
mistakes or unavoidable trade-offs, are responsible for
endangering the health of the planet and the lives of poor
racial minorities in areas like Cancer Alley and commu-
nities like Mossville.
Tragically, the Black communities who suffer the
most from these environmental injustices are also subject
to myriad other injustices, such as the police brutalities
that have catalyzed a global Black Lives Matter (BLM)
movement. Social scientists Lindsey Dillon and Julie Sze
argue that the phrase “I can’t breathe,” which became
a rallying cry for the BLM, points to the environmental
and social conditions through which “breath is con-
stricted or denied” [13]. The military-industrial complex
is responsible, in more than one ways, for producing the
“embodied insecurity of Black lives” [13]. For example,
a Department of Defense program called “1033” enables
local police departments to purchase “surplus” war zone
equipment, including the mine-resistant ambush-
protected vehicles.
The Ferguson Police Department
deployed some of this military-grade equipment on the
streets of Ferguson to suppress public protests against
the police shooting and killing of 18-year-old Michael
Investigations by the Public Accountability
Initiative, a nonprofit corporate and government
accountability research institute, show that police foun-
dations that support local police departments are par-
tially funded by fossil fuel corporations such as Chevron,
Shell and Wells Fargo. Their report concluded: “Many
powerful companies that drive environmental injustice
are also backers of the same police departments that
tyrannize the very communities these corporate actors
pollute” [14,15].
These complex links between social, environmental,
and climate injustices are reminders that it may not always
be useful to consider social, environmental, and climate
injustices in isolation from one another.
“Climate justice” is commonly thought of as the unfair
distribution of costs and burdens of climate change. How-
ever, two other dimensions of justice spelled out by justice
theorists are equally important: procedural and recogni-
tional justice. This section explains each of these three
dimensions and their relation to pursuits of climate
2.1. Distributional Effects of Climate Change
Distributional justice focuses on a fair distribution of
costs and burdens of climate change and the societal re-
sponses to climate change. Vulnerability to climate change
is a result of a lack of protection against risks linked to
natural events. If everyone in society were equally pro-
tected, the costs and burdens related to a disaster would
not fall disproportionately on some social groups. How-
ever, individuals and groups, such as racial minorities,
homeless people, people with disabilities, single moms,
and poor people, are more vulnerable to the effects of
disasters. These vulnerabilities are a result of policies and
programs that push racial minorities and other socially
marginalized groups into poverty and destitution. Exclu-
sionary zoning laws and redlining policies during the New
Deal era illustrate this point well. The term “redlining”
referred to the practice of drawing red lines on urban
planning maps to identify African American neighbor-
hoods as being “too risky to insure mortgages.”
maps informed the actions of the Federal Housing
Administration, the Veterans Administration, and Home
Owners Loan Corp., thereby depriving African American
towns and neighborhoods of public investments. The
members of minority communities could not buy prop-
erties in some areas because the administration “reserved”
these neighborhoods for affluent White families [16].
This history of urban segregation and racially preju-
diced urban and suburban developments is why inner-city
neighborhoods lack basic civic amenities and infrastruc-
ture that middle-class neighborhoods take for granted.
These historical legacies translate into increased vulner-
abilities in the context of the climate crisis. For example,
an estimated 400,000 New Yorkers who live in the New
York City Housing Authority’s public housing develop-
ments bore the worst effects of Hurricane Sandy in Octo-
ber–November 2012. The floods that occurred because of
Hurricane Sandy greatly exacerbated rampant mold pro-
blems in these projects, with far-reaching health impacts
for residents with respiratory illnesses [14]. The quality
and affordability of housing for minorities are also among
the causes of “energy poverty” or high energy burden,
which is the percentage of income a person or household
spends on energy [17,18]. Energy poverty makes it diffi-
cult to cope with the impacts of storms and floods while
also leaving the energy-poor families vulnerable to the
shocks related to increased energy prices that could result
from a transition to renewable energy.
The problem is equally or even more severe in the pre-
dominantly African American rural areas. For instance,
a2017 report in the American Journal of Tropical Med-
icine and Hygiene found that among 55 adults surveyed in
Lowndes County, Alabama, 34.5%tested positive for
hookworms. The presence of this intestinal parasite is a sign
of extreme poverty. Specifically, it results from an inade-
quate sewage system with cracked pipes of untreated waste
that contaminate drinking water. In some places, this re-
sults in open pools of raw sewage, which flush human feces
back into kitchen sinks and bathtubs during the rainy sea-
son [19]. Environmental and climate justice activist Cathe-
rine Flowers argues that the intensification of heavy rains
and floods because of the ongoing climate crisis is over-
whelming the broken sewer systems and undermining poor
African Americans’ lives and livelihoods [20].
The distributive injustices of the economic system have
become even more pronounced in the presence of large and
increasing wealth and income inequalities. These distribu-
tional inequalities affect entire regions and local juridisc-
tions, undermining their ability to provide civil amenities
in the aftermath of a natural disaster and ensure human
security. A stark reflection of these distributional conse-
quences is that the poor and the marginalized experience
the most devastating impacts of a climate disaster, that is,
the loss of human lives.
2.2. Procedural Rights
Another important dimension of climate justice is proce-
dural justice, which refers to whether and how the groups
most affected by climate change have meaningful oppor-
tunities to participate in brainstorming, designing, and
implementing climate responses. Historically, African
Americans and other racial minorities have been under-
represented in environmental and climate movements.
The U.S. environmental justice movement has been call-
ing attention to this issue for a quarter of a century, yet
the problem of a lack of diversity persists. Research on 191
conservation and preservation organizations, 74 govern-
ment environmental agencies, and 28 environmental
grant-making foundations shows that racial minorities
constitute 16%of staff and board members. Once re-
cruited, members of minority communities tend to con-
centrate in lower ranks, trapped beneath a glass ceiling
[21]. Although environmental institutions have made sig-
mostly accrued to White women [21]. Such an under-
representation in environmental movements leads to the
exclusion of minorities from policy-making processes,
which also creates the mistaken assumption that racial
minorities are too poor to care about the environment or
climate change. However, nationally representative surveys
show that people of color, including Hispanics/Latinos,
African Americans, and other non-White racial/ethnic
groups, are more concerned than Whites about climate
change [22]. Even so, higher levels of awareness are not
sufficient to foster meaningful participation, which requires
carefully designed processes that facilitate respectful engage-
ment between members of marginalized groups and decision
makers, such as city leaders [23].
The involvement of those affected most by climate
change is essential for two key reasons. First, there are
legal, statutory, political reasons for ensuring broad-
based participation. Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration
on Environment and Development sets out three funda-
mental access rights: access to information, access to pub-
lic participation, and access to justice as key pillars of
sound environmental governance [24]. Agenda 21 has
subsequently been integrated into various national, pro-
vincial, and local statutes and continues to be a source of
learning for the ongoing debates about just transition
[25]. The access rights are also in conformity with recog-
nizing political and civil rights as the essence of universal
rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human
Climate Justice in the Global North 5
Rights. A second reason for ensuring local participation
has to do with the substantive effects of an inclusive
process. Those most affected by the climate crisis are also
likely to contribute the most insightful ideas about how
best to address the vulnerabilities that produce climate
injustices in the first place. For example, the Office of
Sustainability in the city of Providence, RI, partnered
with the city’s Racial and Environmental Justice Com-
mittee to make sure that the city’s climate action plan
adhered to the Just Providence Framework developed
previously by the city residents and leaders.
This process
turned out to be so successful that the city’s Climate
Action Plan metamorphosed into a Climate Justice Plan.
Additionally, the city’s Office of Sustainability adopted
a system of governance that is based on collaborating
actively and routinely with community-based
2.3. “Recognitional” Justice
The promises of procedural justice remain unfulfilled in
many cases because people from all social groups are not
always recognized as legitimate actors, whose understand-
ing of a problem and whose interests and priorities should
inform the design and implementation of policies and
programs [26]. On the other hand, marginalized groups
are subject to misrecognition, which Nancy Fraser refers
to as an institutionalized pattern of cultural values that
“constitutes some social actors as less than full members of
society and prevents them from participating as peers”
[27]. Thus, the twin concepts of recognition and misre-
cognition are related to patterns of “privilege and op-
pression,” which manifest in the form of “cultural
domination, being rendered invisible, and routine stereo-
typing or maligning in public representations” [26]. In
a very profound way, recognition and misrecognition are
the foundational questions of climate justice with wide-
ranging consequences. As David Schlosberg has argued,
a lack of respect and recognition often leads to a decline
in a person’s or a group’s “membership and participation
in the greater community, including the political and
institutional order” [28]. Therefore, a lack of recognition
presents a formidable barrier against addressing proce-
dural and distributional concerns.
The following example illustrates how questions of
recognition manifest in climate policy contexts. Harvey,
a category 4hurricane, struck Houston in August 2017.
Maria, a category 5hurricane, struck Puerto Rico in Sep-
tember. A review of public records from the Federal
Emergency Management Agency and interviews with
more than 50 people involved with disaster response re-
vealed that the Trump administration’s response was far
more swift in Houston than Puerto Rico, which experi-
enced far greater destruction [29]. Many Puerto Ricans
believed that this was more evidence that the president
viewed them as “second-class American citizens” [30]. On
numerous occasions, President Trump criticized Puerto
Rico for being a “mess” and its leaders as “crazed and
incompetent,” which constitutes an instance of misrecog-
nition [31]. The Governor of Puerto Rico Tweeted, “Mr.
President, once again, we are not your adversaries, we are
your citizens” [31]. The Governor of Puerto Rico felt that
the Trump administration did not recognize their rights
as U.S. citizens, which influenced how the federal govern-
ment responded to the most devastating climate-related
disaster to date in the United States. Such lack of recog-
nition or misrecognition is not new; it did not start with
the Trump administration. Even though Puerto Ricans
are U.S. citizens, the national political process treats them
as subordinates. They do not have voting representation
in the U.S. Congress or the Presidential elections. Unfor-
tunately, a more detailed analysis is beyond the scope of
this essay. Still, other scholars show how the environmen-
tal and climate injustices experienced by the people of
Puerto Rico result from a long history of colonialism,
occupation of large parts of the island’s territory by the
U.S. Navy, and the neoliberal policies imposed on the
island [32,33].
African American citizens in the United States have
had very similar experiences, even though the political
process does not disadvantage them formally. The domi-
nant narratives used in media and political discourse,
which often describe African American men as aggressive,
angry, and prone to criminal violence, reinforce long-
standing prejudices against racial minorities. Such nega-
tive constructions of social identities lead some to perceive
the presence of African American men in the wilderness,
or even in parks, as suspicious or threatening. A May
2020 incident involving an African American birder in
New York’s Central Park illustrates the point. The birder
asked a White woman jogger to leash her dog, as the law
16. Anon. 2019. The City of Providence’s Climate Justice Plan.
required. However, instead of following the park rules, the
woman called the cops on the birder. A video recorded by
the birder and circulated widely on social media showed
the woman repeatedly telling the cops on the phone that
“there’s an African American man threatening my life”
[34]. Afterward, several other African American birders
and hikers shared similar racial profiling experiences on
social media with hashtags like #BirdingWhileBlack and
#HikingWhileBlack. A common theme evident in each of
these experiences is that many White people in the
United States do not perceive or recognize Black people
as birders, nature photographers, or hikers [35,36].
Other social groups, such as indigenous people and
Latinx, are also often subject to prejudices and profiling,
which contribute to the negative construction of their
identities and instances of misrecognition in society and
politics [37]. As Nancy Fraser argues, misrecognition and
negative stereotyping can contribute to the institutionali-
zation of prejudiced norms within public policies and
programs, for example, via the zoning and redlining prac-
tices that sacrifice the interests of negatively portrayed
groups. Notwithstanding the racialized histories of urban
development in the United States and elsewhere, some
commentators argue that the considerations of social jus-
tice will muddle the efforts to decarbonize the economy
“quickly and efficiently.”
This argument draws on the
perspective that there are significant trade-offs between
climate action and climate justice.
One relevant example is hydraulic fracturing, or frack-
ing, which many see as a boon for providing abundant
natural gas supplies crucial to the “transition” away from
the dirty fuel of coal. They argue that the relatively more
climate-friendly energy available from natural gas, coupled
with economic benefits that local communities gain in the
short term, must be weighed against the risks of adverse
public health and environmental consequences.
laws that protect the privacy of proprietary data hinder
public access to information about the health and ecolog-
ical consequences of the chemical cocktails used in frack-
ing, even though such information is vital to the goals of
public health and environmental protections. Overall,
a broader systems approach suggests a significantly more
extensive set of adverse consequences, including the
“impacts from the decline in water quality on soil, land,
and ecosystem productivity (crops/animal health); effects
of fracking-related air pollution on pollinators; effects on
the development of local, alternative food systems; and,
fracking-related boom-bust dynamics” [38]. The range of
these negative consequences raise questions about the nar-
ratives of trade-offs in fracking .
Some proponents of a speedy transition to renewable
energy also cite the supposed tradeoff between efficiency
and equity to argue for allowing competent energy com-
panies to develop, install, and own industrial-scale renew-
able energy grids. However, this view ignores the many
benefits of wide-ranging consultations and collaborations
with local communities that could enhance the public
acceptance and efficacy of renewable energy infrastructure
[39]. Somewhat ironically, some of the most challenging
trade-offs may be witnessed in communities most vulner-
able to climate change, for example, indigenous commu-
nities that seek to secure their “sovereignty by the barrel”
because the compulsions borne out of marginality con-
strain their choices for economic development.
a “take it or leave it” scenario of limited choices reflects
longstanding disadvantages, which the ongoing climate
crisis is likely to exacerbate. Overall, it is crucial to inves-
tigate the arguments about potential trade-offs in
a nuanced way so that some parties do not weaponize
these arguments [40].
Climateresponsehasthreecomponents: mitigation,
which refers to actions that help reduce emissions of
GHGs; adaptation, which refers to measures that reduce
vulnerability to the consequences of climate change; and
resilience, which refers to the properties that enable a so-
cioecological system to withstand the shocks of climate
change. Although adaptation and resilience are closely
intertwined, adaptation actions are generally thought of
as responses to climate change impacts, while resilience
actions are anticipatory. Each of these three types of
“climate responses” has important implications for justice.
Additionally, we briefly consider the importance of taking
an intersectional approach to understanding climate ac-
tion’s justice effects.
A central component of the efforts to mitigate climate
change is to curtail carbon emissions linked to energy-
Climate Justice in the Global North 7
intensive consumption. However, in democratic societies,
one cannot merely ban or arbitrarily restrict energy-
intensive activities, not least because many of these activ-
ities are a source of employment and other means of
economic wellbeing for many lower-income families. The
next best option is to put a price on carbon emissions,
commonly referred to as “carbon tax,” which many scho-
lars and practitioners see as one of the most effective
means of climate mitigation. If we lived in a world of
economic and wealth equality, a carbon tax would simply
realign economic incentives without imposing excessive
burdens on specific social groups. However, in the pres-
ence of massive economic and wealth inequalities, a car-
bon tax would affect poor and/or racial minority
households very differently compared to others. Unless
subsistence items, such as food, water, and energy were
protected from the inflationary effects of carbon taxes,
even a moderate level of the carbon tax could make these
items too expensive for the poor in the United States.
In Paris, the Yellow Vest protestors cited economic
inequalities and the unfairness of the gas tax that Presi-
dent Emmanuel Macron announced in 2019 as one of
the main reasons for the protests. The protestors felt that
it was unfair to ask low- and middle-income folks to
“make sacrifices while rich people aren’t paying taxes any-
more.” This feeling of unfairness contributed to “a sense
of despair, as well as a sense of social injustice” [41]. The
adverse effects of climate mitigation are not always con-
tained within the national borders, though.
Carbon offsets projects, including some that may be
funded by environmentally conscious consumers paying
an airline a little extra to offset the emissions linked to
their air travel, have been implicated in the dispossession
and displacements of indigenous groups in different parts
of the world.
Such projects may be less problematic
when implemented within the Global North, character-
ized by the security of property rights and a robust rule of
law. These conditions do not apply to most terrestrial
carbon offset projects in Africa or Asia. Over 95%of
forestlands are legally defined as public lands, even
though most of these lands have been used customarily
by indigenous peoples and other rural populations.
Under those conditions, the financial returns linked to
carbon offset projects incentivize powerful government
agencies and private actors to set aside these lands for
carbon offset projects, including in countries where cus-
tomary land tenures are protected under the statute.
The international community has developed social safe-
guards and other codes of conduct to regulate offset
projects. However, research by the Center for Interna-
tional Forestry Research, the Oakland Institute, and the
Rights & Resources Initiative shows that international
offset projects contribute to widespread human rights
violations [42,43].
Similarly, a large-scale switch to renewables, including
electric or hybrid batteries, windmills, and solar panels,
could lead to a sudden spike in demand for rare minerals,
such as copper and cobalt. The mining of these minerals
also often contributes to gross human rights abuses,
including child labor and the degradation and depletion
of natural resources, such as water, forests, and pastures
crucial for local livelihoods in the Global South [44]. For
these reasons, some scholars argue that industrial-scale
renewable energy infrastructure can be as exploitative as
the fossil fuel industry practices have been. Noticeably,
this argument applies to industrial-scale renewable infra-
structure. Renewable energy resources can also exist in the
form of “energy commons,” which give local communities
real stakes in making decisions about siting, pricing, and
profit-sharing [45]. Such democratization of energy infra-
structure is crucial for implementing a transition plan that
suits the site-specific requirements.
Some consider climate adaptation, that is, the measures
designed to deal with the climate crisis, to be synonymous
with climate justice. The argument is that if the worst
consequences of climate change fall on the poor and the
marginalized, any interventions meant to adapt to climate
change would necessarily help the poor. Yet not all
climate adaptation measures are created equal. For exam-
ple, coastal adaptation measures in response to sea-level
rise should help sustain rather than disrupt subsistence
and artisanal fishing, which are the mainstay of liveli-
hood strategies for many coastal frontline communities.
More broadly, as Dean Hardy and colleagues argue, “the
land facing inundation is racialized land ... that has
been appropriated, settled, cultivated, and distributed
through a long history of deeply racialized projects”
[46]. They argue that sea-level rise adaptation planning
must recognize the reality of such “racial coastal for-
mations” and must commit to “resist the reproduction
of and reinvestments in racial inequality in responses to
climate change” [46].
The failure to address racial inequalities means that
many urban climate adaptation interventions, such as
public transit systems, public parks, and improved civic
amenities, may increase property prices or rentals, which
makes some areas unaffordable to their current residents.
These changes lead to urban gentrification, which refers
to the changes in a neighborhood’s composition because
of changes in property values. It is called climate gentri-
fication when such changes are related to climate change
[47]. The framework of climate gentrification helps illu-
minate the social determinants of vulnerability. For exam-
ple, as the rising sea levels and frequent flooding threaten
expensive properties on Miami’s famed beaches, wealthy
people invest in properties inland. The flux of new invest-
ments and new wealthy residents makes the previously
low-income neighborhoods too costly to afford for low-
income groups [48]. As human geographer Jesse Ribot
has argued, “vulnerability does not fall from the sky” [49].
Considering that socioeconomic deprivations contribute
to climate change-related vulnerabilities, any efforts to
address climate injustice must address such disadvantages.
The discussions above demonstrate that climate injustices
are not just about the “climate system” or “global
warming” but are rooted firmly in the unequal patterns
of vulnerabilities shaped by the distribution of social and
political power and economic inequalities. Climate
change’s social consequences manifest in outcomes related
to urban development patterns, energy prices, urban
transportation, food production, and food markets. By
implication, the pursuit of climate justice also requires
addressing these various sectors of the economy and soci-
ety. The following are some examples of how local gov-
ernments, civic groups, academic institutions, and social
movements seek to pursue climate justice.
The fossil-fuel divestment movement popularized by has grown to secure commitments to divest more
than US$14 trillion worth of investments made by more
than 1,230 institutions, including religious institutions,
pension funds, university endowments, and large charita-
ble foundations. College students from several universities
in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere have made
significant contributions to the global fossil fuel divest-
ment movement’s ongoing success [50]. The decline of
the fossil fuel industry, including the state-owned oil cor-
porations in some of the largest oil producing countries,
will undoubtedly lower environmental pollution and con-
tribute to environmental and climate justice. Another
example from the energy sector is the 2019 Tennessee
Valley Energy Democracy Tour, which focused on build-
ing a collective grassroots vision for an egalitarian energy
future in the communities impacted by the New Deal era
projects of the Tennessee Valley Authority.
This tour
served as a good reminder of why we need to pay atten-
tion to the historical legacies of unequal development and
socioeconomic marginalization. Transformative reforms
in state-level energy policies and programs are other cru-
cial elements necessary for fostering an inclusive clean
energy action. The Washington-based Institute for Local
Self-Reliance scores and ranks states on their energy pol-
icies, specifically their devolution and inclusiveness [51].
Such rankings create useful resources for grassroots actors
and could help foster healthy competition among states.
Climate justice interventions related to urban areas
include the Miami City Commission’s resolution direct-
ing the city managers to research urban gentrification and
ways of stabilizing property tax rates in lower income
areas located further inland [52]. City governments can
act to institutionalize other means of fostering a healthy
urban ecosystem. In 2019, the Boston City Council voted
unanimously to enact a Good Food Purchasing Program
(GFPP) for a more equitable food purchasing system at
public institutions. Seven other cities, including Los An-
geles, Chicago, and Cincinnati, have also adopted GFPP
policies [53]. These initiatives help urban populations cut
down on their reliance on imported food items that leave
a significant carbon footprint. In doing so, they also
undercut the stronghold of industrial agriculture, which
is a large consumer of fossil fuels and one of the major
causes of global climate change [54]. Equally important,
food ordinances can help improve the profitability of
urban and peri-urban agro-ecological farming, which is
associated with multiple social, economic, environmental,
and climate-related benefits [55]. More broadly, instead of
privatizing urban infrastructure or having monopolistic
state control, reimagining the city as a “commons” gives
urban residents a collective stake in a city’s resources [56].
Democratizing urban governance—that is, allowing
21. The tour was co-organized by Appalachian Voices, Science for the
People, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM),
Working Films, and a group of community members and organizers in the
greater Knoxville area.
Climate Justice in the Global North 9
urban residents a meaningful say in the conduct of the
ongoing affairs in a city—is an important prerequisite for
incorporating concerns of ecology and environment into
our urban imaginations.
La Via Campesina, a transnational social movement,
promotes agroecology and food sovereignty by engaging
with all relevant actors, including the United Nations at
the global level and peasant federations at the subnational
level. They have been instrumental in the successful enact-
ment of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of
Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. La
Via Campesina engages with 182 organizations represent-
ing an estimated 200 million farmers from 81 countries
throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
Another example of a grassroots network that has made
a global impact is the Indigenous Environmental Net-
work (IEN), founded in 1990 in Bemidji, MN, to address
environmental and economic justice issues. IEN has also
been one of the key actors in the global climate justice
movement, mainly via its participation in the annual
United Nations Climate Change meetings. The IEN
has recently launched a People’s Orientation to a Regen-
erative Economy: Protect, Repair, Invest and Transform
to put indigenous sovereignty and values at the front
and center of collective efforts toward a sustainable
future [57].
These are some examples of interventions from various
actors and agencies invested in the pursuits of climate
justice. Each of the examples cited above addresses a spe-
cific policy and programmatic area relevant to the daily
lives of the people at the frontlines of climate change.
However, the energy-intensive luxury consumption in the
Global North and in some sections of the Global South
that contribute significantly to the climate crisis does not
receive adequate attention from policy makers. Our col-
lective efforts to address climate change are unlikely to
succeed if we fail to reduce consumption, especially the
consumption of goods and services linked to “luxury
emissions,” such as privately owned planes. The average
carbon footprint of the wealthiest 1%of people globally
could be 175 times that of the poorest 10%[58]. On the
other hand, large sections of populations in the global
South are still grappling with the provision of necessities
such as nutritious food, safe drinking water, and a reliable
supply of clean energy. Hundreds of millions also lack
access to amenities such as sanitation systems, schools,
and hospitals, as reflected in the United Nations 2030
Agenda for Sustainable Development. The emissions
related to these activities are called “survival emissions”
[59]. Some climate policy discussions tend to obfuscate
these distinctions using the language of “human
footprint” and “population problem” [60]. Such framings
create a false equivalence between luxury consumption
and survival emissions, while accounting for these distinc-
tions provides policy guidance for climate policies that
can be both just and efficient.
As the discussion on fossil fuel subsidies demonstrates,
the patterns of consumption and deprivation are products
of political and economic structures. National policies
and the actions of powerful state and non-state corporate
actors have severe consequences for what happens at the
local level. Any high-level reforms would not necessarily
translate into a realization of climate justice without social
and political mobilization at the grassroots level. For over
three decades, environmental and social justice move-
ments have struggled to bring these issues to the public
agenda both in the United States and globally. Advocates
of climate justice would benefit from building on the
insights and lessons from these movements [61]. Addi-
tionally, transformative reforms in the economy and soci-
ety, executed via the federal or state-level agencies, are also
equally important. We must seek to address the limits of
liberal state, which are responsible for the entrenchment
of racial capitalism and the climate crisis [62]. Climate
justice calls for wide-ranging reforms and concerted ac-
tions in the cultural, social, economic, and political
1. What separates climate action advocacy from
climate justice advocacy?
2. Is it too much to expect climate justice advo-
cates to also address questions of social injus-
tices of race, gender, and sexual identity, among
3. In your assessment, are links between the
military-industrial complex, the Black Lives
Matter movement, and the outcomes of envi-
ronmental and climate justice that this essay
suggest a bit “over the top”? Why or why not?
4. Do the simultaneous pursuits of climate
response and climate justice necessarily entail
trade-offs? What factors must be considered in
assessing the extent of a trade-off in any given
5. How does the consideration of a plurality of
values to define human well-being affect our
assessment of trade-offs in climate action/cli-
mate justice debates?
6. How could we reorient our food systems to
promote socially just climate responses?
7. What role can municipal governments play in
promoting climate justice?
8. Are the arguments about “city as a commons”
or “energy commons” part of utopian thinking
that cannot be translated into pragmatic policy
9. What roles do consumers and citizens play in
advancing the goals of climate justice?
10. Could you think of examples of policies and
programs not discussed above that might also
contribute to climate justice? For each example,
please explain the specific contribution to cli-
mate justice.
The author acknowledges the generous and insightful
comments by Sikina Jinnah on the first two drafts and
comments by Betty Hanson on the penultimate draft.
The original impetus for this pedagogical note came from
a new course I developed at the University of Connecti-
cut, Storrs. I am thankful to the students who took the
class in spring 2019, who engaged vigorously with the
note and contributed to its expansion to its present form.
The author has declared that no competing interests exist.
The author received no financial support for the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
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Climate Justice in the Global North 13
... The third dimension of climate justice concerns recognitional (in)equalities. This means failure to recognize some groups or individuals as legitimate actors who can contribute meaningfully to the climate change discourse or as stakeholders whose needs and interests should be accorded priority in responses to climate change 3 . This form of climate injustice is typically visited on socioeconomically marginalized groups and those without a political voice 9 . ...
... For example, lack of recognition is implicated in the violent eviction of poor fishing communities from a coastal area in Lagos, Nigeria to create a defence against rising sea-levels that also doubles as a luxury housing development for the city's wealthiest residents 10 . Inattention to recognitional inequalities often reinforces distributional and procedural injustices by exacerbating vulnerability among marginal groups and reducing their willingness to participate in formal adaptation processes 3 . ...
Climate justice has become prominent in academia, policy circles, and among climate activists. Yet, the notion of justice is highly subjective and climate justice is often invoked without a clear definition of the concept. To achieve climate justice, it is necessary to clarify what it means in specific contexts. The problem of climate (in)justice in the Global South arises from a broader story of social injustices. In this context, I argue that climate justice means social justice.
... It does not mean that climate justice practices based at a community level are not taking place. Here, it is essential to note a statement by Kashwan (2021) for whom it is necessary to differentiate the "Climate Action Movements" that should not be understood to be synonymous with "Climate Justice Movements." In the specificities of the heterogeneous Global South, this difference is relatively straightforward, and the chapters that have been assembled and that invoke an approach for environmental justice reinforce this understanding. ...
... Kashwan argues that "Climate Action Movements" should not be understood to be synonymous with "Climate Justice Movements". (Kashwan, 2021), which makes perfect sense for the case of Latin America and probably for much of the Global South. Despite climate injusticeslocal or global-for the Brazilian case, the existence of two agendas is quite noticeable-one related to the "Climate Action Movements", here leveraged by international organizations and global networks, and the "Climate Justice Movements", originating from grassroots social groups, linked to the agenda of environmental justice. ...
“This collection of studies fills a glaring gap in research on climate justice in that richly diverse social-ecological landscape that has come to be called the Global South. While acknowledging the stark and inequitable realities of climate vulnerability across countries in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America, the authors nonetheless highlight the tremendous capacities for agency among local communities, organizations, and peoples.” — Debra J. Davidson, Professor, Environmental Sociology, Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology, University of Alberta, Canada. This book provides an accessible overview of how efforts to combat climate change and social inequalities should be tackled simultaneously. In the context of the climate emergency, the impacts of extreme events can already be felt around the world. The book centres on five case studies from the Global South, Latin America, Pacific Islands, Africa, and Asia with each one focused on climate justice, resilience, and community responses towards a just transition. The book will be an invaluable reference for advanced undergraduates and postgraduate students, researchers, policymakers, and practitioners in environmental studies, urban planning, geography, social science, international development, and disciplines that focus on the social dimensions of climate change. Pedro Henrique Campello Torres is a Researcher at the Institute of Energy and Environment, University of São Paulo, Brazil. He is currently a Research Fellow of the Earth System Project and IPCC Expert Review. His research focuses on climate change inequalities, climate and environmental justice with a particular emphasis on urban planning, decoloniality and participatory approaches. Pedro Roberto Jacobi is Full Professor in Institute of Energy and Environment, and coordinates the Environment and Society working group at the Institute of Advanced Studies, University of São Paulo, Brazil. Professor Jacobi is currently President of the Board of ICLEI South America and integrates the Advisory Board of the South American Institute for Resilience and Sustainability Studies. His research centres on social learning and environmental governance focusing on issues related to water and solid waste management.
... In this sense, accounts based on general descriptions of the global North or South, or of countries as a whole, fail to afford more precise understandings of agency and responsibility which often relate to particular social groups, regions or sectors of the economy and are unevenly distributed among them. Instead, we need to be more attentive to social agency and identifying responsibility in more precise ways than general categories of North/South or developed/less developed countries allow (Kashwan, 2021). As work by Heede (2014) shows, just 90 companies have caused two-thirds of anthropogenic global warming emissions including companies such as Chevron, Exxon, Shell and BP and half of the estimated emissions were produced in the past 25 years when the scale of the climate threat was clear. ...
... There are interesting questions about how climate justice concerns can provide the basis for broader social mobilizations that cut across regional, class, race and gender divides. New international alliances among disparate actors and social movements engaged in struggles over human rights, labor, gender, health and economic justice will be key to delivering more transformative versions of climate justice, and research with and for those movements aimed at exploring this potential would be valuable (Kashwan, 2021). ...
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Calls for climate justice abound as evidence accumulates of the growing social and environmental injustices aggravated or driven by climate change. There is now a considerable and diverse literature on procedural, distributional and intergenerational dimensions, including questions of recognition in climate justice. Yet its meaning, scope and practical implications are still contested. Importantly, the broader landscape within which climate justice is situated is rapidly changing, bringing new challenges to the understanding and practice of climate justice. This review takes stock of climate justice literature in view of this new context. We find several disconnects and tensions between more philosophical and academic treatments of the subject on the one hand, and “activist”‐oriented approaches to climate justice on the other. Scholarship often falls into silos around scales from global and local, between mitigation and adaptation or draws distinctions between climate justice and other forms of (in)justice. This inhibits an understanding of climate justice that can address more directly its underlying root causes in an historically constituted global economic system and intersecting set of social inequalities. We propose a research agenda centered on a transformative approach to climate justice, placing analysis of power in its various guises at the center of its enquiry, and subverting and moving beyond existing distinctions by focusing on the social and institutional relations and inequalities that both produce climate change and profoundly shape responses to it. We elaborate on three key strands of such an approach: inclusive climate justice, deepening climate justice and governance for climate justice. This article is categorized under: Climate, Nature, and Ethics > Ethics and Climate Change Climate, Nature, and Ethics > Climate Change and Global Justice
... O fato que parece claro é que não há definição única de justiça climática, menos ainda de sua tradução ou captura para agenda de governos ou movimentos. Nesse sentido, perceber as diferenças entre os "Movimentos de Ação Climática" que não devem ser entendidos como sinônimos de "Movimentos por Justiça Climática" como sugere Kashwan (2021), é crucial para um olhar crítico sobre a trajetória dessas noções e suas possibilidades como práxis realmente transformadora face aos desafios planetários contemporâneos. resumo -Políticas, planos e estratégias de adaptação às mudanças climáticas têm ganhado agenda de governos em todo planeta e em diversas escalas. ...
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Policies, plans and strategies for adapting to climate change are now in the agenda of governments across the planet and at different scales. Are the current instruments addressing issues of justice, the reduction of inequality, and demands for rights? The first part of the research analyzes scientific production on climate justice in Brazil and Portugal. The second part discusses how current adaptation strategies and policies in both countries contain components related to justice. -- Políticas, planos e estratégias de adaptação às mudanças climáticas têm ganhado agenda de governos em todo planeta e em diversas escalas. Estariam os atuais instrumentos endereçando a redução de desigualdades, justiça e demanda por direitos? A primeira parte da pesquisa analisa a produção científica no Brasil e em Portugal sobre justiça climática. A segunda parte discute como as estratégias e políticas atuais de adaptação nos dois países contêm componentes relacionados à justiça.
The reign of the fossil fuel empire must come to an end if the average global temperature rise is to be meaningfully capped. Accordingly, a myriad of financial and non‐financial stranded assets will be generated in the process. Ample research has explored the implications for a South African fossil transition from a domestic perspective, but a lacuna persists in linking South Africa’s fossil regime to broader international finance flows, and particularly the role that actors from the “global North” should play in phasing out South African fossil fuels. This research finds that such institutions have exacerbated South Africa’s prospective stranded asset exposure, and by doing so, have accrued a Stranded Asset Debt (SAD)—as a supply‐side counterpart to the demand‐side climate debt, which they have also accumulated—perhaps to the tune of at least several dozens of billions of dollars. Although the Paris Agreement is flawed, it embodies language that can be leveraged to settle the SAD “bill”.
Air pollution has become the focus of social attention, and the development of the steel industry has caused serious pollution problems. Currently, air pollution control is inefficient, and the Chinese government encourages steel enterprises to jointly control regional air pollution. An evolutionary game model regarding the inter-steel enterprises under the government subsidy mechanism was developed to determine the optimal synergistic air pollution management strategy between large steel enterprises and medium and small-sized steel enterprises under the government subsidy policy. Subsequently, a carbon quota trading mechanism is introduced to the base model to reduce the possibility of enterprises choosing not to carry out air pollution control investment strategies and mutual free-riding behavior among enterprises. Results suggest that government subsidies and input-output ratios are critical for enterprises to collaborate on air pollution control investments. Threshold of the input-output ratios can be lowered by reducing the benefits of free-riding behavior and input costs and increasing the benefits of government subsidies and common products. Enhancing the input-output ratios, benefits of common products, input costs, government subsidies, and benefits of free-riding behavior can lead enterprises to converge to the best choice. Furthermore, carbon quota trading mechanism can take effect only when carbon quotas sold by both enterprises are greater than the threshold value of the carbon quotas given by the government. At this time, enterprises obtain carbon trading revenue and government subsidies much more than input costs, and they invest in air pollution with no free-riding behavior. Moreover, increasing the price of carbon trading helps in the promotion of the improvement of carbon trading profits and the tendency to choose the best strategy for both enterprises.
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Most fossil fuel resources must remain unused to comply with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Scholars and policymakers debate which approaches should be undertaken to Leave Fossil Fuels Underground (LFFU). However, existing scholarship has not yet inventoried and evaluated the array of approaches to LFFU based on their effectiveness, equity, or feasibility. Hence, this review article asks: What lessons can we learn from reviewing scholarship on proposed approaches to leaving fossil fuels underground (LFFU)? We identify 28 unique LFFU approaches, of which only 12 are deemed environmentally effective (e.g., fossil fuel extraction taxes, bans and moratoria, and financial swaps); eight involve moderate‐to‐high (non‐)monetary costs, and only four are deemed entirely just and equitable. Of the 12 environmentally effective approaches: only three were deemed cost‐effective (regulating financial capital for fossil fuel projects, removing existing fossil fuel subsidies, and bans & moratoria); merely four were deemed equitable (asset write‐offs, retiring existing fossil infrastructure, pursuing court cases/litigation, and financial swaps); and all were deemed institutionally problematic in terms of their feasibility (six were challenging to implement as they threatened the vested interests of powerful stakeholder groups). Moreover, the reviewed scholarship draws heavily on empirical studies of how these LFFU approaches can be optimized in European, North American, and Chinese contexts; fewer studies have explored the effectiveness and fairness of LFFU approaches in the South and/or in a North–South context. Future research should particularly focus on North–South fossil fuel financial flows, which have received comparatively little attention. This article is categorized under: The Carbon Economy and Climate Mitigation > Decarbonizing Energy and/or Reducing Demand
This chapter questions how climate justice is—if it is—present in the Brazilian climate change debate and praxis. For this purpose, three climate change plans are analyzed concerning how categories related to justice, poverty and right issues are inserted or not inserted in current local planning practices. The chapter is illustrated by analysing three cities, Fortaleza, Rio de Janeiro and Santos. The Plans demonstrate progress regarding science and policy dialogue but still severe gaps concerning community participation. The authors warn that the absence of social participation, not only business as usual but also breaking paradigms and including the most vulnerable, ends up reinforcing unequal historical processes—the opposite direction towards equity and just a sustainable future.
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The United States is having a long-overdue national reckoning with racism. From criminal justice to pro sports to pop culture, Americans increasingly are recognizing how racist ideas have influenced virtually every sphere of life in this country. This includes the environmental movement. Recently the Sierra Club – one of the oldest and largest U.S. conservation organizations – acknowledged racist views held by its founder, author and conservationist John Muir. In some of his writing, Muir described Native Americans and Black people as dirty, lazy and uncivilized. In an essay collection published in 1901 to promote national parks, he assured prospective tourists that “As to Indians, most of them are dead or civilized into useless innocence.” Acknowledging this record, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune wrote in July 2020: “As defenders of Black life pull down Confederate monuments across the country, we must…reexamine our past and our substantial role in perpetuating white supremacy.” This is a salutary gesture. However, I know from my research on conservation policy in places like India, Tanzania and Mexico that the problem isn’t just the Sierra Club. American environmentalism’s racist roots have influenced global conservation practices. Most notably, they are embedded in longstanding prejudices against local communities and a focus on protecting pristine wildernesses. This dominant narrative pays little thought to indigenous and other poor people who rely on these lands – even when they are its most effective stewards.
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A household is energy poor when they cannot meet energy needs. Despite its prevalence, the US has not formally recognized energy poverty as a problem distinct from general poverty at the federal level, which limits effective responses. In this Review, we examine the measurement and evaluative metrics used by the two federally-funded energy programs focused on reducing high energy bills to understand how program eligibility requirements and congressional funding appropriations have shaped the national understanding and implementation of energy poverty assistance. We find that current measurement and evaluative metrics hinge on the distribution of government resources and the number of vulnerable households assisted, rather than improving household well-being and reducing overall energy poverty. We suggest that comparisons to formal food insecurity and fuel poverty recognition and national responses in the US and UK, respectively, can help inform the development of more comprehensive US responses to energy poverty going forward. Despite its prevalence, energy poverty is not formally recognized in the US as a problem distinct from general poverty. This Review of two federally-funded programs focused on reducing high energy bills highlights the limitations of this approach for effectively responding to energy poverty.
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Intersections of food, energy, and water systems (also termed as the FEW nexus) pose many sustainability and governance challenges for urban areas, including risks to ecosystems, inequitable distribution of benefits and harms across populations, and reliance on distant sources for food, energy, and water. This case study provides an integrated assessment of the FEW nexus at the city and regional scale in ten contiguous counties encompassing the rapidly growing Denver region in the United States. Spatial patterns in FEW consumption, production, trans-boundary flows, embodied FEW inputs, and impacts on FEW systems were assessed using an urban systems framework for the trans-boundary food-energy-water nexus. The Denver region is an instructive case study of the FEW nexus for multiple reasons: it is rapidly growing, is semi-arid, faces a large projected water shortfall, and is a major fossil fuel and agricultural producer. The rapid uptake of high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) combined with horizontal drilling in populated areas poses ongoing risks to regional water quality. Through this case study, fracking is identified as a major topic for FEW nexus inquiry, with intensifying impacts on water quantity and quality that reflect nationwide trends. Key data gaps are also identified, including energy for water use and food preparation. This case study is relevant to water and sustainability planners, energy regulators, communities impacted by hydraulic fracturing, and consumers of energy and food produced in the Denver region. It is applicable beyond Denver to dry areas with growing populations, agricultural activity, and the potential for shale development.
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This paper explores the recognitional dimensions of urban climate change justice in a development context. Through the lens of migrants in the Indian cities of Bengaluru and Surat, we highlight how experiences of environmental marginality can be attributed to a lack of recognition of citizenship rights and informal livelihood strategies. Specifically, the drivers of non-recognition in this situation relate to broken social networks and a lack of political voice, as well as heightened exposure to emerging climate risks and economic precariousness. We find that migrants experience extreme forms of climate injustice as they are often invisible to the official state apparatus, or worse, are actively erased from cities through force or discriminatory development policies. Current theories must therefore engage more seriously with issues of recognition to enable more radical climate justice in cities.
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As the Trump administration tries to roll back environmental protections, a new report from the Center for American Progress and the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy shows how U.S. mayors can fight climate change by redesigning cities in ways that reduce the risk of floods, pollution, and the damage caused by extreme weather and sea level rise. These issues are front and center for cities in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and as communities prepare for the new normal of more severe weather events and other threats fueled by climate change. These new climate plans can cut carbon pollution, prepare cities for the effects of rising temperatures, lower energy bills, expand economic opportunities, and improve air quality. At the same time, these changes must address legacy social, racial, economic, and environmental inequality that can often make weather damage worse for areas where families struggle to make ends meet and for communities of color. Urban improvements include upgrading aging energy and water systems, increasing the energy efficiency of buildings, supporting solar installations, job training, and improving access to public transit and affordable housing.
This article, a reprint of a seminal 1991 paper, argues that developing countries like India were being burdened unfairly with the responsibility of addressing climate change. The authors discuss how allocating responsibility for climate change involved juggling with numbers. It argues for a fair allocation of natural sinks as an important part of any use of the global commons.
Due to a lack of adequate water and sanitation infrastructure, growing, unplanned urban settlements in South Africa and elsewhere have been linked to pollution of critical river systems. The same dynamics undermine local resilience, understood as the capacity to adapt and develop in response to changes, persistent social and ecological risks, and disasters. Water and sanitation challenges undermine resilience by causing and compounding risks to individuals, and to household and community health and livelihoods, in a complex context in which communities and local governments have limited capacity and resources to respond appropriately. Household and community resilience in informal settlements is drawing increasing policy focus, given the persistence of these kinds of neighbourhoods in cities and towns in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa, in particular. This case considers whether bottom-up responses that combine public and private sector resources, including community participation, and use an interdisciplinary approach can support the production of novel resilience-fostering solutions. This article presents an analysis of the case of Genius of Space waste and wastewater management infrastructure in the Western Cape, South Africa. While the process has been imperfect and slow to show results, this analysis reflects on the gains, lessons and potential for replication that this work has produced. The Genius of Space approach adds to a growing area of practice-based experimentation focussed on incrementalism and adaptive development practices in urban environments, particularly in developing countries.
In this article, we rethink the spatial and racial politics of the environmental justice movement in the United States by linking it to abolitionist theories that have emerged from the Black Radical Tradition, to critical theories of urban ecology, and to decolonial epistemologies rooted in the geopolitics of Las Americas. More specifically, we argue that environmental justice organizing among multi-racial groups is an extension of the Black Radical Tradition's epistemic legacy and historical commitment to racial justice. The article is divided into two parts. First, we review how this remapping of environmental justice through the lens of the Black Radical Tradition and decolonial border thinking reshapes our understanding of anti-racist organizing. Part of our remapping includes an examination of African American and Latinx social movement organizing to reveal how such geographies of interracial solidarity can reframe abolitionist politics to take nature and space seriously. In the second part of the article, we present a series of maps that illustrate the geography, temporality, and inter-racial solidarity between Chicanx social movement organizations and the Black Radical Tradition. Our mapping includes identifying sites of interracial convergence that have explicitly and implicitly deployed abolitionist imaginaries to combat the production of racialized capitalist space. We use environmental justice to argue for a model of abolitionist social movement organizing that invites interracial convergence by imagining urban political ecologies that are free of the death-dealing spaces necessary for racial capitalism to thrive.