Posted on 23 November 2020
As we respond to the global health and climate crises, we must ensure we rebuild more resilient, fair societies and create the #WorldWeWant.
There are clear parallels between the climate emergency and the COVID-19 pandemic. Both are global crises. Both require unprecedented society-wide efforts. No-one can fully insulate themselves from their effects. And the impacts of both those crises are much more keenly felt by the poor than the rich – whether countries, communities or individuals.
It is clear that our responses to the two crises must also take place in parallel. The response to the economic disruption caused by the pandemic provides an opportunity to build back better, to build economies and societies that are more resilient to the effects of a changing climate – although this is an opportunity that, so far, is only being grasped by a handful of countries, most in the Global North.
Building back better also provides an opportunity to tackle the injustices created by climate change, while avoiding potentially new injustices as we transition to a net-zero economy.
The new #WorldWeWant campaign from Climate Action Network International seeks to highlight this, by showcasing on-the-ground stories of communities experiencing the impacts of climate change. It calls for governments to take immediate action to secure a safe and resilient future for all. Whether the #WorldWeWant becomes a reality or not depends on countries adopting the principles of climate justice.
What do we mean by climate justice?
Climate justice manifests itself in a number of ways. In terms of relations between countries, it is enshrined in the global climate negotiations, in the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’.
That principle acknowledges that, while we all share responsibility for mitigating climate change, the burdens imposed by mitigation should be borne mostly by those countries that have done the most to cause the climate crisis, and which have profited enormously from fossil fuel-powered industrialization. That means the rich world has the responsibility to cut emissions faster and to provide financial and technological support to developing countries to enable them to follow a low-carbon path to development.
It also means that rich countries have an obligation to support those poor countries as they are battered by the rising sea-levels and extreme weather events inflicted upon them by a destabilized climate. These devastating impacts are being felt now, by vulnerable communities that did the least to cause this crisis. The rich world must compensate least-developed countries for the loss and damage they face from climate change and help them adapt to a less climate-secure world.
A Just Transition for all
Climate justice also means taking care of those who will be disadvantaged as we decarbonize the global economy. The fossil fuel industry employs millions of people around the world, often in well-paying, highly skilled jobs. They face, through no fault of their own, the loss of livelihoods that support them and their families. Entire communities face economic distress and social disintegration when coal mines shut down, or when oil wells are plugged.
The Paris Agreement enshrines the concept, stating that parties must take into account the “imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities”. Governments must stand ready to help affected communities with job creation, retraining and, where necessary, social security to prevent stranded fossil fuel assets creating stranded communities.
There are also sound political reasons to ensure a just transition: workers in carbon-intensive industries facing the loss of employment will, understandably, be opposed to progressive climate policies. They must be reassured that they also have a place in a sustainable, net-zero economy.
But there is another constituency that is no less important, but which has no political voice: the generations yet to come. There is an intergenerational aspect to climate justice that must not be overlooked.
We have a responsibility to today’s children, and their children, to bequeath a liveable planet with a stable climate and healthy, diverse natural ecosystems - a #WorldWeWant.
We must not let them down.
Manuel Pulgar-Vidal is WWF’s Global Lead for Climate & Energy.