Climate change is not only an issue of environmental conservation but also an issue of justice and human rights. More than temperature changes, climate change entails social, racial, and gender injustices that disproportionately affect the most vulnerable populations. While those most responsible for climate change are relatively insulated from its impacts, those who have contributed least are likely to feel the effects most significantly. Today, hundreds of millions suffer from an issue they did not ask for. Let’s dive into it.
What is Climate Justice?
When talking about climate justice, the most important notion to understand is that the notion is based on the idea that the climate crisis is unfair. The notion stipulates that climate change disproportionately affects the poor, marginalized, and younger communities instead of the rich, older majority. It underlines that those who have done the least to cause climate change end up suffering the most from its effects. As the United Nations writes: “The impacts of climate change will not be borne equally or fairly, between rich and poor, women and men, and older and younger generations.”
More than a concept, climate justice is a social movement rallying millions of people worldwide. Internationally, the movement calls on developed, rich countries to acknowledge their historical responsibility in emitting greenhouse gas emissions and assist vulnerable countries to adapt and fight the impacts of climate change. In other words, climate justice is a movement that calls for the countries responsible for this global crisis to accept their responsibility and pay up for the damages.
This assistance firstly calls for financial aid. At COP15 in 2009, developed countries committed to mobilizing USD 100 billion annually by 2020 to support climate action in developing countries. This goal has not been met. Indeed, the OECD found that in 2020 developed countries jointly mobilized USD 83.3 billion in climate finance, USD 16.7 billion short of the goal.
It also calls for technology transfer (equipment) and capacity building (learning methods, knowledge sharing) to ensure that developing countries pursue a sustainable development pathway and, on the same occasion, avoid repeating the same mistakes.
The Climate Justice movement is expanding worldwide, thanks to the fantastic work of climate activists like Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future organizations. And frankly, it makes sense. The movement is appealing, especially for the youth. The climate crisis is intersectional, meaning that, as of today, everyone in their field of work is at least conscious of the problem. In recent years, climate change has gone from a science-based issue to a social battle that has become the main fight of my generation. Wanting climate justice entails wanting social justice, racial justice, and gender equality. It’s genuinely a beautiful movement that aims for equal and fair treatment of our people.
The movement made waves in recent years in popular culture and high-level negotiation rooms. In 2015, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) endorsed the climate justice movement at COP21 in Paris. Thanks to their relentless advocacy on-and-off the negotiations, the SIDS successfully implemented the 1.5-degree threshold not to exceed. Influential youth leaders like Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate are getting more exposure on social media. They are invited to deliver keynote speeches in front of the world’s most influential presidents like Emmanuel Macron, Joe Biden, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In popular culture, festivals, like We Love Green and Power our Planet rally hundreds of thousands yearly. Dedicated Stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Bill Gates fully committed to the cause have launched respective foundations. Overall, the climate justice movement and climate consciousness are increasingly mainstreamed in popular culture, and we must be proud of it.
The rich keep
polluting, while the poorest keep
Unfortunately, the world is not all rose and sunshine. While the movement is rapidly progressing, the rich countries keep on polluting. Behind all the speeches preaching ‘collective action’ and false promises, fossil fuel drilling projects continue to get approved.
Six months ago, Biden approved the Willow Project, a major $8bn oil and gas drilling project in Alaska. On an annual basis, that would translate into 9.2 million metric tons of carbon pollution, equal to adding nearly two million cars to the roads each year. For reference, this project alone is equivalent to polluting 2x more than Mauritius, and 1000x more than Tuvalu, yearly.
The biggest oil project, and the most controversial one, is powered by France and the giant Total Energies. The East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) is a Uganda fossil-fuel drilling project. EACOP will increase the severity of the global climate emergency by transporting oil that will generate over 34 million tons of carbon emissions yearly. In addition, it is estimated that more than 40 million Ugandans will be affected by this project – and you can guess that the profit of EACOP will only enrich multinational corporations like Total Energies, who, by the way, made a massive profit of USD 38 billion in 2022.
What does it mean, for us, Mauritians?
Historically speaking, Mauritius has emitted 120.60 million tons of CO2 since 1750. To put it in perspective, this is 0.01% of the share of global cumulative CO2 emissions. On the other hand, the United States cumulated 421.91 billion tons, while the European Union (293.19 billion tons) and China (249.35 billion tons) are following close behind.
Yet, as a small island developing state, we are automatically considered one of the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change due to our geographical positioning and size. As a matter of fact, we are so much at risk that the 2018 World Risk Report ranked Mauritius 16th among the highest disaster-risk countries. This is not the only alarming statistic:
– Sea level rise has been observed to be accelerating in the last decade at an average rate of 5.6mm/ year, compared to the global value of 3.4mm/year.
– Since the 1960s, 10% of our beaches have been lost to coastal erosion.
– Mauritius is ranked 3rd country in the world after Hawaii and the Canary Islands to have the most threatened plant species.
It is because of these alarming results that what we can do, as Mauritians, is hold our government accountable. Last month, the 2023/2024 budget was released. The measures concerning climate change are, admittedly, incomplete but promising. Investing in drainage systems for floods, solar panels, and electric mobility is crucial to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change. The 1 million Tree Plantation Program is also an initiative to look out for. While these initiatives are encouraging, we must ensure that these proposed measures are not only words but followed-through actions with measured performance indicators and efficient monitoring processes.
Throughout the past decades, climate change has gradually evolved into a human rights issue encompassing a strikingly unfair treatment of the most marginalized. As Mauritians, as much as other small island nations, we are on the frontline of this crisis. Climate justice is inherently a movement that we relate to. It is crucial to push this agenda forward, locally, and internationally, and ensure our voice is heard.
* Yuv Sungkur is a Mauritian climate advocate and Research Analyst at Green Growth Solutions. He is passionate about climate change issues and fighting its impact on Small Islands Developing States. He delivered a TEDxTalk in 2022 and spoke alongside UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September 2022. He flew to COP 27 in Egypt to represent the interests of Mauritian youth on various climate-related issues (education, climate migration, loss of cultural heritage). He is currently part of the Youth Engagement Group of the Climate Overshoot Commission, where he advises former prime ministers, presidents, and United Nations’ Special Envoy on climate-related topics.