Climate justice is not only a matter of international cooperation, but first of all of social equality and shared responsibility
The latest IPCC report (AR6) from 2022 provides policymakers with specific adaptations and mitigations solutions to face the climate crisis which are effective, feasible, and, they continue to emphasis, „conform to principles of justice“.
What is climate justice? According to the AR6, it includes three principles: „distributive justice which refers to the allocation of burdens and benefits among individuals, nations and generations; procedural justice which refers to who decides and participates in decision-making; and recognition which entails basic respect and robust engagement with and fair consideration of diverse cultures and perspectives.“ The AR6 names this process of implementation of adaptations and mitigations climate resilient development.
The climate resilient development envisioned by the AR6 to prevent the worst case scenarios involve “questions of equity and system transitions in land, ocean and ecosystems; urban and infrastructure; energy; industry; and society and includes adaptations for human, ecosystem and planetary health. Pursuing climate resilient development focuses on both where people and ecosystems are co-located as well as the protection and maintenance of ecosystem function at the planetary scale.“
It implies that „governments, civil society and the private sector make inclusive development choices that prioritise risk reduction, equity and justice, and when decision-making processes, finance and actions are integrated across governance levels, sectors and timeframes (very high confidence). Climate resilient devel-opment is facilitated by international cooperation and by governments at all levels working with communities, civil society, educational bodies, scientific and other institutions, media, investors and businesses; and by developing partnerships with traditionally marginalised groups, including women, youth, Indigenous Peoples, local communities and ethnic minorities.“
Climate justice remains essential for averting the worst impacts of the climate crisis – without them neither the short-term pledges nor the the long-term targets can be achieved, upon which our common future depends.
Graph a. below shows the 1,5°C pathway against a moderate business-as-usual emissions projection representing the inevitable global mitigation. Graph b. visualizes the national shares as part of this global mitigation:
The negotiating nations at COP27 are to comply that pathway by applying the three principles of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): They need to be aware of a precautionary approach to adequacy, the common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) and respective capability (RC) as well as all nations’ right to sustainable development.
Regarding the latter, Sunita Narain, Director-General of the Indian Centre for Science and Environment, said after COP26, that – although the world had run out of carbon budget – some 70 per cent of the world’s people still needed the right to development. The Glasgow Pact didn’t even recognize the overall importance of climate justice, stating only on the first page, that “it notes the importance for some of the concept of climate justice”.
„We no longer need to count the disasters; instead we need numbers on the losses and damages“, Narain wrote in her blog in July this year, pointing at the importance of the Glasgow Dialogue. For the EU this dialogue could be THE possibility to demonstrate the global climate action leadership it postulates in the European Green Deal. The Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) puts it to the point when stating: „Making progress on the EU’s climate commitments is paramount to sustaining the EU’s credibility in climate action and to building trust with vulnerable countries (Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States, G77) in multilateral climate governance.“ Integrated approaches to climate risk governance and finance need to be designed, otherwise Loss and Damage will not be better addressed and the technical assistance provided by the Santiago Network will not succeed.
One proposal is made by the IPCC Working Group II, urging the EU to reconsider its climate change policy agenda and approach towards Loss and Damage (European Green Deal, EU Adaptation Strategy). A close cooperation with vulnerable developing country partners is essential for a more balanced approach to mitigation and adaptation in multilateral climate governance. In preparation of COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh the EU could thus reinforce collective ambition forward on policy and financing by putting adaptation and Loss and Damage on top of the agenda.
But the power of the human mind to rationalize its way out of reality should never be underestimated. How else could we explain that climate change is after all not permanently grabbing headlines? Why don’t we put faces on these crises around us? We listen to catastrophic news about flooding and drought events, sitting comfortably in our perfectly tempered houses.
We all have become inured to the crises around us no matter if it is called climate, biodiversity or energy crises. The human cost needs to be talked about. With each disaster, people lose more of their ability to cope. How to start again when none of the livelihood is left? There is no alternative than to find another place – maybe less exposed to nature, maybe not. Soon, there will be hardly any safe ground to escape to, as Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative shows: their Country Index summarizes a country’s vulnerability to climate change and other global challenges in combination with its readiness to improve resilience. A country’s ND-GAIN index score is composed of a vulnerability score and a readiness score. Vulnerability measures a country’s exposure, sensitivity and ability to adapt to the negative impact of climate change. ND-GAIN measures the overall vulnerability by considering six life-supporting sectors – food, water, health, ecosystem service, human habitat, and infrastructure. With a vulnerability rank of 8 and a readiness rank of 17 Luxembourg’s overall score of 68,6 puts it rank 12, compared to Burkina Faso at rank 161 indicating a high vulnerability and a low readiness to improve resilience.
That’s where the question of global solidarity and cooperation comes in again. Only holistic approaches, based on each country’s responsibility and capability will address the global threat of climate change.
Climate justice is not a privilege of the Global North – it is high time to honour our climate debt and create a livelihood for all based on sustainability and equity. As long as the Common but Differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) keep on asking poor nations with minuscule per capita carbon footprint to constrain their developmental health in trying to abide by the Paris Agreement, the Global North is still far from understanding the basic principles of democracy and sustainable development.
It requires both, a UN-level response that goes beyond the negotiating table of a world climate conference and concerted action on local level. One example of how to combine both is the Vanuatu case: In order to advance the currently woefully inadequate action by the international community to address climate change, the government of the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu announced in September 2021 its intention to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on climate change and human rights, an “advisory opinion on the rights of present and future generations to be protected from the adverse consequences of climate change”. Vanuatu calls on all UN member states to support this request, as only then can the ICJ be invoked. So the local level can also support this campaign by addressing their respective governments to vote in favour of the request in the UN plenary.
Apart from Loss and Damage, three other themes are key to COP27 and beyond: Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), Climate Finance and Global Stocktake (GST), with 2023 being the first GST reporting year. The key purpose of GST is to inform all the Parties for updating and enhancing their National Determined Contributions (NDCs). As far as Climate Finance is concerned, the Standing Finance Committee under the UNFCCC estimated that developing countries would need USD 5.8-5.9 trillion every year until 2030 to achieve less than half of their climate goals under the Paris Agreement.
Under the GGA, Parties to the UNFCCC hope to work out metrics which will help evaluate adaptation action. As there are varied degrees of vulnerability faced by communities across the world there is ‘no one size fits all’ solution to adaptation action, which renders the evaluation complicated.
According to Sunita Narain “(…) this disaster accounting is now crucial. It is important that governments across the world are held to account for such not-so-natural and definitely human-made devastations. We need a weekly bulletin – block, district, state and then country by country. We no longer need to count the disasters; instead we need numbers on the losses and damages.”
But COP27 has to find more answers: What are important issues to be factored in for the Global Stocktake in 2024 from a Global South perspective? How to tackle the differences between Global North and Global South Loss and Damage, including a compensatory mechanism? What metrics and instruments can be used for the global goal on adaptation? How can the new collective quantifiable objective (NCQG) and long-term finance (LTF) be achieved? Which national mitigation measures haven’t been exploited so far?
If countries are not able to bring down their GHG emissions and limit warming to less than 1.5 degree celsius according to the Paris Agreement, four global tipping points become likely while five become possible, according to DownToEarth magazine.
To express it with Goethe’s words: „It is not enough to know – you also have to apply it. It is not enough to want to do it – you have to do it.“
- IPCC report AR6, 2022, summary for policymakers. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_SPM.pdf
- Down to earth, 12.09.2022: „Tipping Points – What happens if we breach them? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzZZhDqF1-4