This post was co-written with Tara Shine, head of research and development at the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice.
It’s not every day that several former Heads of State, the leader of the global trade union movement, an organizer of urban slum dwellers, a business leader, and a number of other leaders and advocates all come together on the same page.
But last week it happened. And even more strikingly, it was their common concern about climate change that brought them together.
A diverse group of global leaders launched the Declaration on Climate Justice to highlight the impacts of climate change on world’s most vulnerable people and the urgent need to build a “just transition” to low-carbon and climate-resilient societies. The Declaration outlines the priority actions needed to achieve a climate-just society in the near- and long-terms. (See our backgrounder for more information on the issues raised in the Declaration.)
The Declaration is signed by members of the High Level Advisory Committee for the Climate Justice Dialogue, an initiative co-chaired by Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and President of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, and Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the World Resources Institute.
What Is Climate Justice?
For more on the issue of climate justice, check out our new working paper, Climate Justice: Equity and Justice Informing a New Climate Agreement. The paper explores the role of equity in the climate negotiations and establishes why climate change is an issue of injustice. It examines the environmental challenges posed by climate change and links those challenges to the socio-ecological and economic systems that undermine human rights--especially those of poor, marginalized, and vulnerable communities.
From Climate Injustice to a Just Transition
The Declaration is based on science and focuses on a people-centered approach to responding to the challenge of climate change. It calls for action that will address the growing injustice faced by those around the world who contributed least to the causes of climate change but are most vulnerable to its consequences.
The world’s poorest communities rely on natural resources such as forests, water, and fish—all of which are deeply affected by climate change. Increasingly unpredictable rainfall makes farming a gamble—the norms that governed when to sow and when to harvest no longer apply. And slum dwellers living on marginal land in poorly constructed houses are all too often on the front line of extreme storms and floods, resulting in hardship, ill health, and loss of life.
To avoid the worst of climate change’s effects, the Declaration stresses that the world must urgently shift away from fossil fuels and toward low-carbon development. According to the International Energy Agency, at least two-thirds of fossil fuel reserves will have to remain in the ground unused if the world is to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) above pre-industrial temperatures.
Importantly, the Declaration also points the way forward to low-carbon and climate-resilient societies that can benefit everyone. Climate action can and should be undertaken in ways that are fair, with the effort of reducing emissions shared equitably and the opportunities of a new climate economy available to all – sometimes referred to as a “just transition.” These opportunities can provide much greater societal benefit than is often commonly recognized, spurring development rather than hindering it. For example, renewable energy and energy-efficiency investments employ more workers than fossil fuel production and transmission. Off-grid renewable energy can provide access to sustainable energy to rural communities in developing countries.
Seizing the benefits of climate action and ensuring they are shared fairly is possible. It will require political, business, and civil society leaders to come together and recognize the vast potential in pursuing new low-carbon, climate-resilient, and equitable ways to grow. The Declaration on Climate Justice reminds us of the importance of this task—and of the global collaboration required to achieve it. It also shows that there are brave leaders out there who are ready to act. This is an inspiration to all of us working to combat climate change and the injustices it causes.