Equity & Equality
What is a just transition to a net zero world?
Pathways to achieving global net zero emissions must be framed by questions of equity and justice. A just transition to a net zero future needs to be inclusive not just of a range of actors, and their priorities, but also of a range of views, including in particular those relating to moral and ethical arguments on climate justice. It is crucial that international emissions policy distinguish between the differential contributions of states – developed, developing and least developed among them – in contributing to climate change. It is also crucial that all people and communities be valued, and that the differential impacts of climate change on diverse people and communities across the world be acknowledged and addressed. It is only such sensitivity to differences that can ensure a just transition to an equitable, inclusive net zero world.
Framing Emissions Responsibilities
The central and enduring questions in contemporary climate policy are how the burden for reducing emissions should be shared, specifically who should bear responsibility for reducing emissions, by how much and when. Different approaches to global emissions produce different answers to these questions:
Historical vs. Contemporary Emissions
- Emissions and economic development. In an equitable world, each country would have a share of possible global emissions proportional to their population to develop at an equal rate to other nations. This has not happened, leading to economic inequality across the world.
- Developed countries have historically emitted a larger share of emissions, allowing them to develop at a greater rate. While developing countries have begun to rapidly increase their emissions, historical emissions of developed nations far outweigh these increases.
- Time matters. Efforts to reduce emissions now are essential, but obfuscating the reality of historical emissions exacerbates the reality of global economic inequality. Including the costs of adaptation (along with emissions reductions) within the responsibility of developed countries helps establish a just accounting of historical emissions.
Luxury vs. Survival Emissions
- Survival emissions: emissions necessary for the pursuit of subsistence and the activities required to live a healthy life.
- Luxury emissions: emissions generated from non-essential activities, such as driving high-emitting cars or frequently flying.
- In an equitable transition to net zero, luxury emissions would be tackled first, so that survival emissions make up the remaining share of ongoing emissions in a low-carbon world. This would allow poorer regions to develop, while also ensuring that luxury emissions are decarbonised among the wealthy classes across the world.
Equitable Concerns on the Pathways to Global Net Zero
Displacement and Exclusion of Indigenous Communities
While the rapid development of global renewable infrastructure is necessary for achieving net zero, it has raised concerns relating to community displacement. There are a growing number of examples of the displacement of indigenous communities as a result of “green development” projects, particularly in South Asia and Africa.
The exclusion of indigenous knowledge and perspectives has also been witnessed in a number of carbon offsetting ventures. Quick carbon sequestration solutions that fail to consult indigenous communities or environmental experts (such as monoculture plantations) weaken biodiversity and lead to unintended psychological, social and economic consequences on local communities.
Climate justice intersects with other major systems of inequality and injustice in our world, including global racism. Access to environmental resources, environmental health outcomes, and experiences of environmental change are all affected by one’s identity. “Environmental racism” exists within pathways to global net zero when indigenous peoples and people in the Global South are forced from their communities in the name of a crisis for which they are largely not responsible.
The Unequal Effects of the Climate Crisis
Negative impacts of the climate crisis have been shown to disproportionately affect developing countries, indigenous communities, people of colour, and women. Vulnerable populations overall are expected to suffer more severe consequences and sooner than those with greater access to resources.
The greatest degree of warming is projected to be in developing countries located in the Global South, but such countries generally have poorer infrastructure, and less capacity to adapt and cope with the effects due to their limited economic capabilities than their northern counterparts.
Rising sea levels and changing marine ecosystems have also been shown to highly effect indigenous communities in both coastal and mountainous locations.
Decades of unjust, racist environmental policies have seen some communities of colour become dumping ground for toxic chemicals. In the US, air pollution disproportionately harms individuals of colour, with more than 57% of people of color living in counties with a failing grade for air quality measures (compared to 37% of whites).
Women are more likely to be negatively affected by the climate crisis than men. More likely to live in extreme poverty than men, women have lower access to basic human rights and resources, making adaptation to changing environmental conditions more difficult. Women also deal with systemic systems of gendered violence, which are often exacerbated by instability, such climate-induced migration.