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What is "climate justice"?

We hear the term more and more, but what exactly does climate justice mean? The University of California defines climate justice as seeking to end “the disproportionate impacts of climate change on low-income communities and communities of color around the world, the people and places least responsible for the problem.” Simply put, the poorest countries are facing the majority of negative effects of climate change despite being the least responsible for it.

An essential element of climate justice includes implementing solutions that address the root causes of climate change, such as fossil fuel powered electricity and land use practices. Empowered By Light focuses on these tactics by helping communities leapfrog or displace fossil fuels with renewable energy solutions.

What Climate Injustice Can Look Like in Poorer Countries

If we look at this from the perspective of climate injustice, we see just how disproportionately some communities are impacted by the effects of climate change compared to others. India has 18 percent of the world’s population but has emitted just 3 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. India’s geography—more specifically its proximity to the equator, similar to the geography of many poor countries, makes it more susceptible to the effects of climate change. As you might have seen in recent news, India saw temperatures reach 116 degrees Fahrenheit (46.7 Celsius) in New Delhi, and Jacobabad, Pakistan hit 123.8 degrees Fahrenheit (51 Celsius) around the same time. These temperatures along with other climate change effects, such as drought and flooding, destroy crops and kill people and livestock.

The poverty of countries like India and Pakistan means they have fewer resources to adapt to the effects of climate change. So in effect, these countries haven’t industrialized to the same extent as nations like the US and EU countries, which means they haven’t emitted as much carbon, but because they haven’t industrialized to the same extent, they have fewer resources to adapt.

How Renewable Energy Can Promote Climate Justice

Renewable energy is energy derived from natural sources that are replenished at a higher rate than they are consumed, addressing the impacts of climate change. Solar and wind, for example, allow countries such as India and Pakistan the opportunity to industrialize without contributing more pollution to our already precarious state of climate health. The silver lining? Because many poor countries sit close to the equator, they’re also well suited for maximum solar generation.

Why Climate Justice Matters

A serious side-effect of climate change is climate migration. We have already seen instances of climate migration on a small scale due to climate change effects, such as sea-level rise, but most experts agree we can expect to see climate migration on a much larger scale where whole communities will need to relocate due to extreme fire, heat and flooding risks. Once again, forced migration will disproportionately affect those with the fewest resources.

We all know what a critical role the rainforests of the Amazon play in stabilizing our global weather. Consider this. Research shows indigenous peoples—most often some of the poorest communities lacking basic infrastructure, represent only 5 percent of the world’s population, yet they hold influence over 25 percent of the Earth’s land surface and 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity for which they play a critical role in defending and protecting. For this reason, we believe climate justice simply is not possible without respecting and supporting the sovereignty and leadership of indigenous peoples. Two examples of Empowered by Light supporting indigenous peoples are Brazil and USA.

We have to also consider air pollution when debating what is climate justice. A recent study by the Lancet Commission on pollution and health determined that pollution caused one in six deaths worldwide in 2019, more than the annual global death tolls attributed to malaria, war, drugs or alcohol, HIV, and tuberculosis. The study found pollution kills an estimated 9 million people every year--nearly three-fourths of them due to dangerous, polluted air. And where can you find the worst air pollution? Bangladesh, Pakistan and India represent the top three.

How We Can Achieve Climate Justice

Climate justice on an international scale involves the wealthiest nations investing in non-carbon infrastructure in poorer, less-developed nations. Whether that’s by direct investment in large-scale solar and wind production, sharing of renewable energy technologies or other means of helping poorer nations displace and/or leapfrog fossil fuel infrastructure development, the commitment and work remains critical. Climate justice also means ensuring everyone—regardless of race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, etc. has access to clean air, water and food. Explore some examples of how EBL is helping marginalized communities displace or leapfrog fossil fuels in Nepal and Zambia.

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