Climate Action

Explainer: What is climate justice?

Climate justice globally prioritizes the needs and rights of the most vulnerable, ensuring fairness and equity for all as we address climate change.

Climate justice globally prioritizes the needs and rights of the most vulnerable, ensuring fairness and equity for all as we address climate change. Image: Unsplash/Markus Spiske

Ewan Thomson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Climate Crisis

  • The climate crisis is already creating even more inequality between rich and developing countries.
  • But there are initiatives that seek to solve this problem, by building funds that help developing nations deal with the effects of the climate crisis.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report lays out the challenges of a just and equitable energy transition that leaves no one behind.

COP28 started with a boost for climate justice. On day one of the UN’s climate summit in the UAE, hundreds of millions of dollars were pledged to help developing countries as part of the ‘Loss and Damage Fund’.

World Bank president Ajay Banga said it’s “a good sign”, but that the money pledged represents a tiny amount of what is required every year.

The problem is that many of the communities who will be most affected by the climate crisis are the most vulnerable, and the least prepared, to combat the effects of rising temperatures.

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Here’s what climate justice is, why it matters, and what is being done to protect the most impacted groups from the climate crisis.

What is climate justice?

Essentially, climate justice is a global effort that prioritizes the needs and rights of the most vulnerable, ensuring that as we tackle climate change, we do so in a way that's fair and just for everyone.

Climate justice recognizes that certain groups suffer the most from the impacts of climate change, even though they've contributed the least to the problem.

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What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

The idea is to correct past and ongoing inequalities by providing funding to close the gap, and include those affected communities in decision-making. This approach seeks to create a balanced and inclusive response to climate challenges.

Graphs showcasing the share of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry.
Richer nations produce the most emissions, but lower-income countries will face the worst effects of the climate crisis. Image: Our World in Data

Why is climate justice important?

By 2030, the climate crisis could push hundreds of millions more people into living on less than $2.15 a day – many of them women, girls and marginalized communities.

Worse, extreme weather events in Africa have led to the deaths of at least 15,000 people so far this year, and natural disasters continue to get more intense, and happen more often.

To protect those who are often least able to protect themselves against the effects of a changing climate, leaders, policymakers and governments need to act. And not just because of the moral imperative – it’s also a vital component of reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and to build wider social resilience.

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What is the progress on climate justice?

An international fund that addresses damage caused by the climate crisis was launched on day one of the UN’s COP28 summit, after being agreed during last year’s COP27 in Egypt.

The ‘loss and damage’ fund saw $100 million pledges from COP28 host UAE and Germany, with the EU, UK, US, Canada and Japan also pledging, bringing the total so far to over $650m.

While the initial amount is low, compared with the $387 billion that a recent UN report says is needed every year to help finance developing countries adapt to climate change, early responses to the pledges were broadly positive.

Graphs showcasing the comparison of adaptation financing needs.
There is a huge gap between what developing countries need to adapt to the climate crisis and what funding is available today. Image: UNEP

“This is the kind of leadership we expect from the host country,” said Ghiwa Nakat, Greenpeace executive director for the Middle East and North Africa, “and we urge other countries to follow suit. Rich developed countries must step up with major contributions to the new fund, and polluting industries must also be made to pay.”

What needs to happen next

Whether or not the fund will produce the required amount needed is not yet known, but previous climate change funding initiatives like the Green Climate Fund have only reached a fraction of their targets. The 2009 pledge of rich countries sending $100 billion annually to developing nations was potentially only met last year for the first time, according to the OECD.

The issue of financing adaptation measures is a feature of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2023, which says there is a danger of insurers backing away from areas of natural catastrophe coverage.

To avoid leaving people behind in the energy transition, a justice-based approach is needed. And financing is at the heart of a successful, just and equal global transition.

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Related topics:
Climate ActionNature and BiodiversityEnergy Transition
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