IPCC’s Timely Reminder on the Need for Climate Justice: A Quantum Leap in Global Climate Change Talks
Heena Samant, Research Assistant, VIF
Introduction

Climate change as a concept has evolved over the years. To reaffirm, climate change is one of the most pertinent issues of our time with serious consequences. It has been declared that climate change acts as a “threat multiplier” which further and in simple terms means that it makes the existing bad situation worse.[1] For instance, extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, cyclones, heat waves, etc are becoming much more severe and frequent having devastating impacts on people and the planet. In order to solve or rather minimise the effects of this changing climate the world unites once a year for the Conference of the Parties (COP) for negotiations in order to gradually bring down the carbon footprint with the ultimate goal of making the planet carbon free. Having said that, these negotiations have also led to the emergence of two very significant notions of ‘climate finance’ and ‘climate justice’. The developing world, have long been stressing for a ‘just’ and ‘fair’ approach towards tackling the issue of climate change which often seems to go unheard.

At COP 26, India, the flagbearer of this movement, had asserted that the past promises made by the developed world regarding finance had proved to be hollow and how it expected the developed world to provide a finance of $1 trillion at the earliest. [2] The development of this claim needs to be left for COP 27 which is supposed to be held in Egypt in November 2022. In a surprise move however, the IPCC Working Group II Contribution report titled Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability which was published on 28th February 2022, acknowledged and mentioned about the subject of climate justice. This step taken by the UN organization will enhance the global climate talks as the reports presented by them forms the basis of these negotiations. Before divulging further into what the report has specified about the subject, it is better to understand the concept itself.

The Notion of Climate Justice

The concept of ‘climate justice’ is used for framing global warming as an ethical and political issue, rather than one that is purely environmental and physical in nature.[3] It has emerged from the idea that historical responsibility for climate change lies with wealthy and powerful people and yet it disproportionately impacts the poorest and most vulnerable.[4] Additionally, the concept has primarily been used to frame the contrast between industrialised nations that have been burning large volumes of fossil fuels freely for centuries and the poorer nations that are most susceptible to rising temperature.[5] This further signifies that the people and nations who have contributed the least to global carbon emissions will suffer the most to the effects of climate change. Yet when it comes to addressing this divide, the world unfortunately has made little to no progress at all.

To give a bit of background, climate justice has been a part of discussions since the foundational UN Climate Convention in the early 1990s and it is argued that the Paris Agreement does mention it directly but in rather vague terms.[6] At COP 26 as well, which was held in Glasgow in November 2021, the low-income countries had pushed for an establishment of a dedicated new loss and damages fund which saw resistance from many Western countries.[7] Additionally, another conception which is deeply connected with the concept of climate justice is that of ‘climate finance’ which refers to local, national or transnational financing drawn from public, private and alternative sources of financing that seeks to support mitigation and adaptation actions that will address climate change.[8] The UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement call for financial assistance from parties with more financial resources to those that are less endowed and more vulnerable.[9] Due to this, the wealthy nations had pledged to deliver $100 billion per year to the developing world by 2020 which seems to have not been fulfilled till date. [10] These incidences so far depict a complete failure in addressing the issue of climate justice at the global level. Therefore, the acknowledgment of climate justicein the recent IPCC second part of the Sixth Assessment Report is a breakthrough moment as these reports form the basis of the global response to climate change.

The Notion of Climate Justice in the recent IPCC Report

The recent IPCC report brought the subject of justice into focus simultaneously giving hope for future equitable negotiations. According to the report, the term climate justice generally includes three principles which are:

  • Distributive justice- it refers to the allocation of burdens and benefits among individuals, nations and generations;[11]
  • Procedural justice- it refers to who decides and participates in decision-making; [12] and
  • Recognition- it entails basic respect and robust engagement with and fair consideration of diverse cultures and perspectives.[13]

Additionally, the report very clearly advocates that the concept of climate justice comprises justice that links development and human rights to achieve a rights-based approach to addressing climate change.[14] It has been argued that in the report, the IPCC for the first time has authoritatively stated that climate justice from now onwards needs to be at the centre of global policy making.[15] This is indeed what India has been advocating for at various international platforms and hencewelcomed the release of this contribution made by Working Group II (WG2) by the IPCC.[16] It further stated that the released report had once again re-affirmed India’s position for equity and climate justice and that the Developed world must take the lead in urgent mitigation and providing finance for adaptation, loss and damage.[17] India at COP 26 had clearly stated that it expected the developed countries to provide climate finance of $1 trillion at the earliest.[18] It stood its ground to proclaim that a proper justice would be that the countries which do not live up to their promises made on climate finance, must be pressured too.[19]

Another valid point raised in the report is that vulnerability reduction and adaptation to climate change should also be seen as an issue of climate justice and climate-just development considering how there is disproportionate impacts of climate change on the most vulnerable groups and regions despite their minimal contribution towards it.[20] To understand this aspect further, it is important to take an example of India and its water sector. India at present is facing the worst water crisis in its history.[21] The country’s urban areas and its groundwater resources have been hit the hardest. The situation is expected to get worse with time due to climate change. Incidences of cyclones and floods have also been increasing and are expected to become more frequent in the coming years. Furthermore, the report identified India as one of the vulnerable hotspots with several regions and important cities facing very high risk of climate disasters such as flooding and sea level rise.[22] These facts compel India to often raise the issue of climate finance and climate justice at different global forums. By doing this, New Delhi brings into focus the concerns of the developing world as well. Hence, reacting to the report, it suggested that the future reports should strengthen the “solution space” and more comprehensively assess knowledge regarding effectiveness, costs and benefits.[23]

Additionally, the report has highly emphasized on adaptation as it plays a key role in reducing exposure and vulnerability to climate change.[24] Adaptation as per the report, is urgently needed just as crucial actionsare neededfor mitigation.[25] Along with this, the report represents many ‘firsts’ which includes focus on health impacts and more granular assessment of regional and sectoral impacts of climate change.[26]

Nevertheless, to bring the concept of climate justice by IPCC in the reportand acknowledging the fact that it should be the central focus of global climate negotiations is a huge step forward. The world cannot be successful in dealing with climate crisis until and unless this divide is addressed.

Conclusion

Climate change in recent years has a grabbed a lot of attention which was indeed needed. If not success, the world has definitely made progress in order to tackle this issue. But at a time when the world has already warmed up 1.01 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial levels only pushing towards much greater warming levels, the world needs to be successful to deal with the impacts of climate change. This can be done when an important aspect such as that of climate justice can be addressed. This would mean that the richer nations should take on more responsibility to make the world carbon free and provide finance to the less privileged low-income countries to deal with the effects of climate change. While India, a country, which has repeatedly reminded the developed world about its duties and responsibilities, it is rather fascinating to see IPCC joining the league. With this development we hope to see prudent discussions at COP 27 with climate justice being the central point.

End Notes

[1]United Nations, ‘Climate change recognized as ‘threat multiplier’, UN Security Council debates its impact on peace’, [Online] Available at: https://www.un.org/peacebuilding/news/climate-change-recognized-%E2%80%98threat-multiplier%E2%80%99-un-security-council-debates-its-impact-peace
[2]Press Information Bureau 2021. ‘National Statement by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi at COP26 Summit in Glasgow’, Prime Minister’s Office, [Online] Available at: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1768712
[3]United Nations environment program, ‘Climate Justice’, Law and Environment Assistance Platform, [Online] Available at:
https://leap.unep.org/knowledge/glossary/climate-justice. https://leap.unep.org/knowledge/glossary/climate-justice
[4]Carbon Brief 2021, ‘In-depth Q&A: What is Climate Justice’, [Online] Available at: https://www.carbonbrief.org/in-depth-qa-what-is-climate-justice
[5]Ibid.
[6]Jocelyn Timperley 2021. ‘Some of the world’s poorest and lowest carbon-emitting countries are suffering the most from climate change’, BBC, [Online] Available at: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20211103-the-countries-calling-for-climate-justice.
[7]Megan Rowling 2021. ‘Climate ‘loss and damage’ earns recognition but little action in COP 26 deal’, Reuters, [Online] Available at: https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/climate-loss-damage-earns-recognition-little-action-cop26-deal-2021-11-13/
[8]United Nations Climate Change, ‘Introduction to Climate Finance’, [Online] Available at: https://unfccc.int/topics/climate-finance/the-big-picture/introduction-to-climate-finance
[9]Ibid.
[10]Brad Plumer and Raymond Zhong 2022. ‘Climate Change Is Harming the Planet Faster Than We Can Adapt, U.N. Warns’, The New York Times, [Online] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/28/climate/climate-change-ipcc-report.html.
[11]Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2022, ‘Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’, Summary for Policymakers, [Online] Available at: https://report.ipcc.ch/ar6wg2/pdf/IPCC_AR6_WGII_SummaryForPolicymakers.pdf.
[12]Ibid.
[13]Ibid.
[14]Ibid.
[15]Snigdha Das 2022. ‘Climate Justice, now: Latest IPCC report just told us why we need that’, DownToEarth, [Online] Available at: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/climate-change/climate-justice-now-latest-ipcc-report-just-told-us-why-we-need-that-81910.
[16]Press Information Bureau 2022. ‘India welcomes the IPCC Working Group II contribution to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) on climate change: Impacts, Adaptation and vulnerability’, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’, [Online] Available at:
https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1801942.
[17]Ibid.
[18]No 2.
[19]Ibid.
[20]No 7.
[21]NitiAayog 2018. ‘Composite Water Management Index: A TOOL FOR WATER MANAGEMENT’, [Online] Available at:
https://www.niti.gov.in/sites/default/files/2019-06/Final%20Report%20of%20the%20Research%20Study%20on%20%20Composite%20Water%20Resources%20Management%20Index%20for%20Indian%20States%20conducted%20by%20Dalberg%20Global%20Development%20Advisors%20Pvt.%20Ltd_New%20Delhi.pdf.
[22]Amitabh Sinha 2022. ‘Explained: Reading new climate report’, The Indian Express, [Online] Available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/intergovernmental-panel-on-climate-change-report-global-warming-7795268/.
[23]No 16.
[24] NO 11.
[25]No 16.

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