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Climate Crisis Reinforces Inequalities

The issue of climate justice is fundamental, as the least responsible for climate change are those to suffer its worst consequences.

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What exactly is inequality? “Inequality is a means of ordering the human and non-human worlds for the relative benefit of some and to the detriment of others.” For example, for almost four decades, it is well-known that exposure to pollution in The United States is spread unequally among people (race, class, and gender).

Environmental justice examines the historical and ongoing institutional practices that generate environmental inequalities at the local, regional, national, and transnational scales/levels. Technological advance in the energy sector and industrial production produces new environmental inequalities and problems between the privileged and the disadvantaged in exposure to climate-related hazards and risks associated with increasing emissions. In a recent study published in the Journal Environmental Research, researchers from Harvard University, in collaboration with the University of Birmingham and the University of Leicester and University College London, found that more than 8 million people around the world die each year as a result of breathing polluted air that contains particles from fossil fuels.


Inequality deteriorates the tense social cohesion and blunts the citizens’ willingness to act collectively. Specifically, it abates the sense of social responsibility that is so crucial to stimulate the demand for pro-environmental policies. To what extent the vulnerability of the impacts of climate change interact is associated with the existing patterns of income inequality. Individual and societal inequality to the hazards of climate change is correlated to developed and developing countries, as well as to the different groups within a country (poor-rich, women-men, white-colored, etc.) The two groups that suffer most from this climate injustice are, actually, those who have contributed least to the climate crisis; the world’s poorest and marginalized people (already experiencing the impacts of a world that is 1C hotter) and the future generations (who will inherit a depleted carbon budget and an even more dangerous climate.)


Climate change has crucial inequality dimension due to three reasons;1) its causes are forced by social inequalities (politically, economically), 2) the rich and poor perceive its impacts unequally (locally, nationally, and globally), and 3) policies that have been decided to tackle the climate change will have had unequal impacts within
and across societies.


We need to change the current development paradigm, to address the social and
environmental/ climate inequalities.


Dasgupta Review -“We have collectively failed to engage with Nature sustainably”,“Our unsustainable engagement with Nature is endangering the prosperity of current and future generations”. These are some of the phrases from the latest ‘Economics of Biodiversity’ University of Cambridge report, known as the ‘Dasgupta Review’, which the UK Department of Economic Affairs approved in February. The report highlights the need for a new way of valuing progress, instead of the one-dimensional focus on GDP.


Recent Researches – The European Commission, already since August 2009, was stressing the need to move “beyond GDP”. A recent research perspective from the PARIS REINFORCE research and innovation project makes a similar case for this in academia.The authors of the paper (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2020.101780) argue that scientific support to climate action is not only about exploring capacity of “what”, in terms of policy and outcome, but also about assessing feasibility and desirability, in terms of “when”, “where” and especially for “whom”.  Relevant studies from OECD and the World Bank corroborate this myopic growth contributing to deepening and exacerbating inequalities (0.8% of the population owns 45% of global wealth), to new monopolies (Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon own over USD1-trillion capital), and to new ways of amassing wealth (Bitcoin cryptocurrency value has surpassed USD900 billion).


Guardian-Overconsumption in the global north and the south elites, as well as an “extravagant” way of living, have had significant implications for human life and planetary health, the consequences of which have been passed onto the poor. Recently, the Guardian revealed that more than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka have died in Qatar in a decade, that is since the country was awarded the right to host World Cup 2022. New inequalities emerge from the climate crisis. While a wealthy US citizen can move anywhere in their SUV—a vehicle class found to be the one with the second-largest CO2 emissions increase after the power sector—another person in Bangladesh may be losing their home to sea level rise and floods. And, while large city residents are responsible for the largest part of pollutant emissions, it is mostly parts outside urban centers that are most prone to extreme weather events.


The issue of climate justice is fundamental, as the least responsible for climate change are those to suffer its worst consequences.

OXFAM & SEI RESEARCH-A research that has been conducted by Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) in 2020 is imprinting the extreme inequalities that have driven the world to the climate brink. From 1990 to 2015( annual emissions came up to 60% while cumulative emissions doubled) the research came to the conclusion that :• The richest 10% of the world’s population were responsible for 52% of the cumulative carbon emissions –depleting the global carbon budget by nearly a third (31%) in those 25 years alone ,• The poorest 50% were responsible for just 7% of cumulative emissions, and used just 4% of the available carbon budget ,• The richest 1% alone were responsible for 15% of cumulative emissions, and 9% of the carbon budget – twice as much as the poorest half of the world’s population,• The richest 5% were responsible for over a third (37%) of the total growth in emissions , while the total growth in emissions of the richest 1% was three times that of the poorest 50% .


Financing flows are equally critical: while we have become more efficient in production, we have not become sufficient in consumption: we produce larger quantities, instead of higher quality and more just products and services. Just think how much capital flows into economies just to pay off debts and interests, as a result of this odd growth paradigm. In a more sustainable growth model, financing should flow towards actual needs, like actions for adapting to climate change, reinforcing infrastructure and networks, health and care systems, etc. This is why, especially today, we need to demystify these obsolete ideas about economic growth that essentially got us here.


Another public agenda awaits, for a new narrative of growth, one that includes the vulnerability of human life to environmental and climate decay. In other words, one that holds new ethos and political motivation to design alternative scenarios and actions for improving planetary balance and integrity; instead of degrading it, against
the existing regime of power and inequality.


Thus, governments must urgently deal with the systemic crisis of climate and inequality, placing them at the heart of their recovery packages from the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, they have their lifetime opportunity to build fairer societies with fairer economies, which implies the creation of more jobs and the resilience of the most vulnerable and all these together can contribute to safeguard our climate not only for future generations but also for ourselves.

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