Following COP27, as the World’s Nations Enter 2023, SPSSI Urges Tangible Progress to Remedy Climate Injustice
The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) has been represented as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) and has held consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council since 1991. This statement was approved by SPSSI’s Executive Committee on December 20, 2022.
From November 6-18, 2022, Egypt hosted the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheikh. With the theme “Delivery for People and the Planet,” world leaders spoke at COP27 of the urgent need for solidarity today, not tomorrow. The United Nations (UN) Secretary General, António Guterres, began the conference by urging that without collective action, “we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.” Yet, not every country is driving at the same speed, or with the same safety features. Climate Injustice captures the reality that some countries and some groups within countries are shouldering a disproportionate burden of climate change and without intervention, will continue to bear the brunt of the catastrophic effects of climate change.
Calls for Climate Justice are often sidelined, but at COP27, Climate Justice for the first time was elevated to the formal agenda of the conference. First, there was a spotlight on Climate Justice at the country level with repeated rallying calls and negotiations toward wealthier “high-polluting” countries who disproportionately caused climate change to make good on long-standing commitments to “loss and damage” (climate reparation) payments to climate vulnerable countries who disproportionately face climate-fueled extreme weather consequences. Second, the rarely heard voices, experiences, and policy needs of vulnerable communities within countries who have been disproportionately impacted by environmental injustices were spotlighted in the Climate Justice Pavilion and the Children and Youth Pavilion. Both pavilions were situated for the first time in the main conference area reserved for garnering attention from leaders, diplomats, advocates, and policymakers.
Climate Justice is aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Agenda promising to “leave no one behind” (UN, 2015, 2017). A call for Climate Justice is a call to tackle inequalities and inequities in (1) exposure to environmental harms (e.g., droughts, floods, pollution, toxic dumping), (2) access to environmental goods, benefits, and information, and (3) participation in environmental decision-making (Bullard, 1993; Laituri & Kirby, 1994; Opotow & Clayton, 1994).
COP27 ended with an agreement to establish a landmark “loss and damage” fund for poor, vulnerable countries. As UN Secretary General António Guterres concluded: “This COP has taken an important step towards justice. I welcome the decision to establish a loss and damage fund and to operationalize it in the coming period. Clearly this will not be enough, but it is a much-needed political signal to rebuild broken trust. The voices of those on the frontlines of the climate crisis must be heard.” As other leaders and advocates have also urged, immediate steps must be taken to make tangible progress on Climate Justice within and across countries.
Aligned with rallying calls from COP27 for Climate Justice and with the UN SDG Agenda, this statement from the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) briefly summarizes international findings from a variety of fields including psychology on climate injustices and their wide-ranging effects on individuals locally, nationally, and globally along with recommendations for making tangible progress on remedying these injustices and realizing the UN SDGs.
Climate Injustices and Their Serious, Far-Reaching Effects
Climate changes cause food shortages, damage or loss of housing and infrastructure, destruction of agricultural land, decline in mental health and an increase in traumatic stress, injuries and death, thus threatening human existence and rights of many people worldwide (Burger & Wentz, 2015; Clayton et al., 2021; Levy et al., 2022; Nielsen et al., 2021; Pellow, 2000; Toussaint & Blanco, 2020; Swim & Clayton, 2010). The poorest and most marginalized individuals are more likely to live in hazardous areas susceptible to droughts, flooding, and other climate disasters; They also face a disproportionate burden of and have little voice in climate displacement vis-a-vis deforestation and mining, and are forced to the worst fishing and pasture areas (IPCC, 2022; Rambaree et al., 2022; UN CEB, 2017).
The poorest and most marginalized individuals in societies are also most likely to live in communities with little say in being overburdened with waste facilities, toxic dumping, and environmentally polluting power plants, leading to disproportionate exposure to life-threatening toxins and pollutants in their air, food, soil, and water (Bullard, 1993; Chavis & Lee, 1987; Opotow, 2012). Inequitable environmental vulnerability exposure and distribution of climate change costs compound existing vulnerabilities and inequalities faced by children, communities of African descent and color, indigenous individuals, individuals identifying as LGBTQ+, individuals living with disabilities, and women (Bullard, 1993; Bell, 2016; Chavis & Lee, 1987; Collins et al., 2017; Kosanic et al., 2022; Levy et al., 2022; Opotow, 2012; Rambaree et al., 2022).
Such environmental injustices set in motion short-term and longer-term effects on the physical and psychological health and well-being (e.g., anxiety, depression, traumatic stress) of individuals and communities. For example, older persons experience greater health consequences and mortality during climate disasters and world crises (IPCC, 2022; Levy et al., 2022). As highlighted at COP27—which convened in Africa—another glaring example is that individuals living in African countries are particularly at risk for climate change-related water scarcity and its profound consequences (IPCC, 2022).
The Children and Youth Pavilion at COP27 drew attention to children and youth experiencing climate disasters, who are more susceptible to poverty, malnutrition, respiratory problems, toxic substances, and poor cognitive outcomes, along with experiencing heightened senses of abandonment, eco-anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and uncertainty about their futures, often with little opportunity to have their rightful say in climate action (Hickman et al., 2021; Levy et al., 2022). As spotlighted in the Climate Justice Pavilion at COP27, communities of color in the United States face environmental racism with disproportionate experiences of violations to their human rights to participate in climate action planning and policies and to clean air, healthy food, safe water, and toxic-free environments, resulting in higher rates of asthma, cancers, other illnesses, psychological trauma, and dramatic effects on all aspects of their communities (Bullard, 1990, 1993).
There is also increasing attention to intersecting or interlocking systems of oppression (Crenshaw, 1991; Overstreet et al., 2020; Rosenthal, 2016) as individuals are experiencing environmental injustices through multiple identities (Alvarez & Evans, 2021; Bullard, 1990; Kaijser & Kronsell, 2014; Malin & Ryder, 2018). As a few examples, children living with disabilities, indigenous children, and young girls experience among the highest vulnerability for environmental risks and harms from climate change (UN HRC, 2021; UNICEF, 2022).
Recommendations for Urgent, Tangible Progress to Remedy Climate Injustices
We call upon policy makers and other stakeholders to make immediate and urgent progress with tangible results toward identifying and reducing climate injustices at the local, national, and global levels. We offer the following interconnected recommendations:
- Scale up efforts to collect and report reliable disaggregated data on environmental risks, exposures, and harms of poor, vulnerable, marginalized, and the hardest to reach communities, including adolescents, children, indigenous peoples, migrants, older persons, persons living with HIV/AIDS, persons living with disabilities, persons of African descent and color, persons with marginalized gender and sexual identities, refugees, women, stateless people, and all people facing discrimination.
- Use data identifying vulnerable groups to effectively invest in climate emergency responses as well as crisis interventions, policies, and programs to successfully mitigate climate injustices and restore human rights.
- Further invest in short-term and long-term planning that incorporates environmental justice goals. Establish policies and programs that can prevent future environmental injustices and human rights violations in local communities in environmental hazard zones.
- Use an inclusive human rights-based approach toward climate injustices that focuses on restoring the protection and participation rights of all groups affected by climate events.
- Increase the participation of individuals who are the most vulnerable, marginalized, and facing climate injustices in all aspects and stages of climate action planning and policy-making such that they are equal and valued partners.
- Increase honest, transparent, and inclusive collaboration on climate issues with a wide circle of interdisciplinary local, national, and global stakeholders centered on listening to and consulting with local individuals who have faced, are facing, and are at risk for facing climate injustices.
- Utilize a restorative justice approach to recognize historical and contemporary acts of climate injustice with apologies, investment in mitigation and adaptation, as well as reparations at the local community level and country level.
- Scale up local mental health services to individuals and communities facing climate injustices and the uncertainties, anxieties, and traumas of environmental risks, exposures, and harms in the short and long term.
Acknowledgements: This statement was prepared by members of the SPSSI UN/NGO team, including Sheri R. Levy, Anni Sternisko, Peter Walker, Corann Okorodudu, Deborah Fish Ragin, Harold Cook, and David Livert, as well as Meagan Ryan and SPSSI Policy Director Sarah Mancoll.
How to Cite this Statement: Levy, S.R., Sternisko, A., Walker, P., Okorodudu, C., Ragin, D.F., Cook, H., Livert, D., Ryan, M., and Mancoll, S. (2022). Following COP 27, as the World’s Nations Enter 2023, SPSSI Urges Tangible Progress to Remedy Climate Injustice. Retrieved from http://www.spssi.org/cop27
Disclaimer: This statement is intended to represent the members of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI), Division 9 of the American Psychological Association. It does not necessarily represent the American Psychological Association as a whole or any of its other subsidiary groups.
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