The Fight for Climate Justice

Apr 7, 2021

Climate justice is a term used to frame climate change as an ethical and political issue rather than purely environmental one. Climate justice covers a myriad of themes such as equality, human rights, collective rights, and equity based on  countries’ historical emissions contributions. Climate justice  also includes the growing legal action on climate change issues.

In December 2020,  the School of Sustainability held a session titled  “The Fight for Climate Justice,” to build participants’ understanding of the key principles of climate justice as well as campaigns by Friends of the Earth (FoE) member groups in the Asia Pacific. 

For the participants, who were climate justice campaigners and activists, the term ‘climate justice’ was interpreted and experienced differently across the region. To some, climate justice meant considering conservation values and practices linked to climate change.  It could also mean centering  socio-economic justice issues, such as indigenous rights, when working on issues related to climate change. Environmental justice and climate justice were also seen to be inextricably linked, highlighted through the example of lobbying for fair compensation for the destruction and pollution of a biodiversity-rich area.

Dipti Bhatnagar, Friends of the Earth International Program Coordinator for Climate Justice and Energy, spoke to the School about the climate crisis as a web of  interconnected crises. For example, the climate crisis negatively impacts countries and peoples contributing the least to climate change. Their displacement, health, and loss of livelihoods are all interrelated issues linked to the fight for climate justice. The participants learned that it would be unjust to focus on the physical cause of the climate crisis alone and that the issues around,  caste,  gender, race,  and economic justice must be addressed at the same time.

Yuri Onodera, Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific Climate and Energy Justice campaigner, explained to the group the idea of historical responsibility for climate change. He also shared how the fight for climate justice has been progressing through the years, including in the international climate negotiations.

The participants also learned more about the concept of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), which originated in  the First Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. CBDR means that different countries have different capabilities and historical responsibilities to address cross-border environmental issues such as climate change. Dipti shared that CBDR is being weakened by Annex 1 countries, or rich countries most responsible for climate change. 

Rich nations in the Global North have shied away from accepting full responsibility of the climate crisis and are slow to reduce their carbon emissions. These countries are avoiding accountability and are thus subverting the just transition of the Global South.

Discussions were held in smaller groups to unpack the interconnected crises affecting communities in member group countries and the historical responsibilities of each country. Participants became aware of how common their experiences were and were able to situate their climate work in l the broader Asia Pacific context. 


Written by Samantha Kuman, Center for Environmental Law and Community Rights Inc. (CELCOR)