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Sheri Levy




Climate Injustices

Sheri R. Levy, Professor of Psychology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York, USA, and SPSSI UN NGO Representative

Climate change is taking a far-ranging, devastating, and ever-growing toll around the world. Humans and other life forms are increasingly exposed to extreme heat, droughts, floods, polluted air, contaminated water, toxic soil, extreme storms, and wildfires. While climate change is affecting everything and everyone everywhere, climate change does not evenly affect everyone. Climate change is a “crisis multiplier,” which compounds existing vulnerabilities and inequalities such as the discrimination individuals face in the climate crisis. “Climate injustices” capture the stratifying nature of climate change - that some regions, countries, island states, and some communities within these environments – are shouldering the disproportionate brunt of the negative consequences of climate change while often being the least responsible for climate change. Climate injustices are multifaceted and are interconnected with historic and contemporary economic, educational, health, political, and social inequalities.

The worldwide communities most vulnerable to climate injustices tend to be children, communities of color, Indigenous Peoples, individuals facing poverty, individuals identifying as LGBTQI+, individuals living with disabilities, older persons, women, and individuals having more than one of these identities. In this piece, it is not possible to adequately review the numerous different types of worldwide climate injustices. Drilling for and burning fossil fuels (coal, gas, and oil), which result in toxic fumes, spills, and destruction of land, are core aspects of climate injustices with far-reaching and cascading negative effects on vulnerable and marginalized communities, who tend to benefit the least from consuming these fuels and face the worst consequences of others’ consumption of them. Climate injustice captures that the most negatively affected communities often were ignored and excluded from decisions about the risks and location of polluting power plants, drilling for fossil fuels (through sacred and protected Indigenous lands), and toxic dumping as well as from decisions about how to reduce and combat the harms to their health and community from the extraction of fossil fuels, pollution, and toxic dumping. The emitted carbon dioxide in the atmosphere affects weather patterns including droughts, flooding, and wildfires with often the most devastating effects in the most vulnerable communities worldwide who live in areas facing the worst heatwaves and droughts, coastal communities prone to flooding and storms, wooded communities susceptible to wildfires, and/or agricultural communities that rely on their land. Moreover, climate injustice captures that the most negatively affected communities often have less political power and community resources to escape and recover from environmental harms to body and land such as vacating the affected area and rebuilding in the aftermath of climate disasters; members of these communities are more likely to be displaced and become climate refugees. Yet another aspect of climate injustice is that vulnerable and marginalized communities who are the least responsible for industrial pollution have less access to industrial products and technologies such as air conditioning, heating, and transportation that improve others’ living conditions, survival in the face of climate extremes, and ability to travel to safety or to earn better wages.

In the aforementioned ways, climate injustices reflect both insufficient distributive justice (distribution of environmental burdens and environmental goods) and procedural justice (degree of participation in environmental issues). These two justice principles are closely aligned with two of the main types of universal human rights – the right to protection of life (from environmental harms) and the right to participation (in environmental issues). Indeed, the climate crisis is threatening and violating the full range of fundamental human rights to development, education, food, health, housing, life, meaningful and informed participation, self-determination, and water.

Meroona Gopang, Luisa Ramírez, Allan B.I. Bernardo, Martin D. Ruck, Anni Sternisko, and I recently aimed to summarize a human rights-based approach to describing and providing policy recommendations for reducing climate injustices. A human rights-based approach can be a useful conceptual framework to accelerate action, prevention, and intervention along fundamentally, globally agreed upon human rights. Our paper highlighted a few policy recommendations such as increasing climate change education, mental health services, and the collection of disaggregated data regarding climate risks and exposures. Collective action is essential with an inclusive wide circle of diverse, international, and interdisciplinary perspectives that is centered on and safeguards the voices, vantage points, lived experiences, leadership, and insights of individuals who are most affected by climate change and who are also often the least responsible for it.

Levy, S. R., Gopang, M., Ramírez, L., Bernardo, A. B. I., Ruck, M. D., & Sternisko, A. (2024). A human rights?based approach to climate injustices at the local, national, and international levels: Program and policy recommendations. Social Issues and Policy Review, 18(1), 3–30.


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