Historically, the world has talked about climate change primarily as an environmental issue. We focus on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, rising seas, climbing temperatures, and other hard data. While this narrative is important, it’s missing a critical component — people.

After all, communities everywhere will be affected by climate change’s impacts. Those in impoverished, developing nations will likely be hit hardest. That’s why it’s necessary to talk about climate change not just as an environmental issue, but also as an issue of climate justice focused on the way in which people, especially the most vulnerable, are being affected.

It’s encouraging to see some global leaders start to talk about climate change in this way. Ricardo Lagos, the former president of Chile, says that the international climate negotiations “need a new narrative that engages people and presents the issue as a social and economic story rather than as just an environmental one.” Monica Araya, a thought leader and former UNFCCC negotiator for Costa Rica, recently discussed people as the new “why” for climate action. President Obama even suggested a similar perspective in his announcement of a national Climate Action Plan, saying that “It’s not an either/or; it’s a both/and. We’ve got to look after our children; we have to look after our future; and we have to grow the economy and create jobs. We can do all of that as long as we don’t fear the future; instead we seize it.” WRI and the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice aim to continue to build this people-focused narrative through our ongoing project, the Climate Justice Dialogue (CJD). Several climate negotiators and other experts on international climate policy participated in the CJD’s first workshop in Santiago, Chile in April. These experts, gathered from several Latin American countries, share their thoughts on why climate change should be seen as a justice issue and how framing it that way leads them to demand bolder action by all countries. Watch the video to hear more.

  • What about you: Do you think climate justice is important? How can it change the way society thinks about climate change?