UNited for Climate Justice: Background paper

Ahead of the New York Climate Summit, the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS) and its partners are hosting a side event in New York on September 19-21. As one of the partners, IEEP drafted a background paper on climate justice in the build-up to the event.

Climate change, both in its impacts and in the need for mitigation action to address it, creates a broad range of distributional issues, which could all be considered for discussion under the United for Climate Justice process. This discussion paper looks at a number of different dimensions, grouped under three broad headings:

  • Inter-country equity: The main focus of climate justice considerations in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Paris process, focused as it is on relations between, and mutual commitments of, countries. This addresses questions such as the differential impacts among countries of current and future climate change; the allocation of responsibility for mitigation, and for financing adaptation efforts; and, as a factor in discussions on both of these questions, the attribution of responsibility for the problem of climate change, and for historic emissions.
  • Intra-country equity: Within states (or, for parties like the EU which have made joint commitments under the UNFCCC and Paris processes, within groups of countries) further justice questions arise when considering how mitigation efforts will be organised. Different groups are affected in different ways by the degree of commitment to decarbonisation, and by decisions on how targets will be met. Some groups are more affected by energy and transport costs than others; the geographical impact of mitigation commitments can vary significantly, particularly where regional economies have been focused on hydrocarbon extraction or other high emissions activities; and the impacts of climate change (and the costs of Government commitments to addressing them, for example through land-use planning or through insurance subsidies) can also create differing impacts.
  • Inter-generational equity: Differences in impacts between generations underlie many of the inter-country and intra-country issues; but creates challenges which are specific to the climate issue, and deserve to be separately addressed. The key issue is that while older generations are generally responsible for, and face the costs of, mitigation action now, younger generations and future generations face the impacts of climate change, and will bear the main costs of any failure to take adequate action. This is an increasingly prominent framing of the climate question, driven by legal action in a number of countries, and by the growing youth climate movement.

Each of these issues matters in its own right; and needs to be properly understood and addressed in developing and implementing climate policies and action. The challenge, and one which the United for Climate Justice initiative will focus on, is finding ways of addressing justice and equity issues which help to galvanise action. Identifying an objectively right answer on justice and equity issues is not feasible; differing views on the need to feed into the political process. Addressing them effectively and appropriately can help societies, and the global community, coalesce around agreed programmes of action. But a focus on them can also risk delaying action, by lengthening the process of debate because groups and parties do not want to compromise on their interests or the assertion of their rights. We cannot address climate change without addressing climate justice issues. But we cannot wait to fully resolve climate justice questions before we take action.

The background paper addresses our three categories of topics in turn; section 2 briefly addresses some of the impacts equity and justice issues have had on the speed and adequacy of policy responses at national and international level. Section 3 then identifies a number of existing and initial concepts or proposals for addressing equity and justice issues in ways which drive forward mitigation and adaptation policy. Debate and discussion in the preparation of the United for Climate Justice conference will help to further flesh out these ideas, and identify those which look most promising.

Downloads