Jargon Briefing: What do we mean by Climate Justice?

The term ‘Climate Justice’ is often mentioned in discussions of state responses and protests related to climate change. But what does it actually mean? Our Climate Team share their perspective in this blog.

Climate change has been driven primarily by emissions from countries in the global North, whose effects are disproportionately felt in countries in the global South. Meanwhile on a smaller but more local scale, those facing the worst impact of climate change in our country and our city are those with the least power and wealth.

For instance, if you live in a more deprived area of Glasgow, your building will probably be less able to deal with heat waves and sudden extreme rain; the two major ways climate change affects Scotland right now. Something Drumchapel residents will attest to following flash flooding last year. Less deprived areas often have more tree cover and other features that protect the infrastructure from these effects. Similarly, flood risk is worse in deprived parts of a city. Meanwhile, other parts of the world experienced far more extreme temperatures and higher rainfall than cold temperate regions in 2022, as documented by Greenpeace.

In other words, those most responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions don’t face the repercussions, and those who have contributed least to the problem, those with a smaller carbon footprint, face worse far consequences than anyone else.

Climate justice refers to the principle that those which have produced the pollution causing climate change should do their fair share of the work to reverse it. Wealthy countries like the UK are not facing the rapid desertification that Sudan is for instance, but there is a moral imperative to work to support them. Also, while the USA is responsible for more than a quarter of all carbon emissions to date, it’s important to remember that the UK has a huge historical footprint. Until 1882, the UK was responsible for over half of all global carbon emissions.

This is also not about blame – it’s about power.

Richer nations and large institutions have the power to fix this problem, and therefore, they must.

Climate Justice is relevant to all discussions around climate change. We have seen, since environmental movements began, an occasional twisting of ‘personal responsibility’ into the narrative, as though the individual had done as much to harm the environment as an oil company executive. There are greater gains from millions of people making small changes to their lives than for a small number to live ‘perfectly’. Fear and shame do not lower carbon emissions, or encourage us to look at our own: hope and empowerment do.


Do you want to take action in your organisation?

If you would like to know how Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector can support your organisation to improve your environmental practice, please visit climate friendly practice for more information. We run regular events and share the latest news and advice through our newsletters; which you can sign up to here.

Please also check out this month’s Directory of environmental grants complied by our team and visit this page for more on support available.

Contact our climate change coordinators Bob and Gazelle directly on Climate@gcvs.org.uk

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