How Scotland is setting the pace on climate justice

Climate justice is an unfamiliar idea to many, but that might change in the run up to the United Nations climate negotiations in 2015.

The concept of climate justice brings together issues of climate change and social justice, asserting that the consequences and causes of increased CO2 emissions reflect and reinforce inequalities globally and within nations. In the UK, the Scottish Government is putting the idea on the political agenda.

So it was appropriate that Glasgow was the setting this week for the first of three 'dialogues' on climate justice, hosted by Glasgow Caledonian University and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation with the participation of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice.

The timing was apt too. Global leaders and diplomats are already looking nervously towards the 2015 United Nations climate negotiations in Paris, which for the first time will seek to agree a universal and binding international deal to curb carbon emissions.

The year 2015 is also the deadline for agreement on the global sustainable development goals, which will replace the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. What happens in 2015 will determine the scale and pace of any worldwide transition to a low-carbon economy and society and the equity of the approach taken.

Scotland already has carbon reduction targets that are more ambitious than those of the Westminster government and an explicit ambition to link climate issues with social justice. It has passed legislation to reduce emissions by 42 per cent by 2020, and has set up a climate justice fund to help developing nations adapt to climate change.

Humza Yousaf MSP, minister for external affairs and international development in the Scottish Government, stressed that the use of the term ‘climate justice’ is significant. “The Scottish Government recognises that it’s a justice issue: there’s a moral imperative to ensure the rest of the world doesn’t suffer because of our excesses,” he said.

The event supplied plenty of evidence of the case for climate justice both internationally and within the UK. Katherine Trebeck of Oxfam GB’s global research team highlighted how 11 per cent of the world’s population produce half the world’s carbon emissions.

Tahseen Jafry, director of Glasgow Caledonian University’s Centre for Climate Justice, said climate change disproportionately affects the most vulnerable. Women and girls who own little land and have few property rights, and who are frequently disadvantaged in terms of education, are less able to recover from environmental shocks and setbacks.

The same principle is true of the UK. John O’Neill, professor of political economy at Manchester University, said the wealthiest 10 per cent of people in the UK are responsible for three times as many carbon emissions as the poorest 10 per cent. The poorest people in society are both more vulnerable to the immediate impacts of climate change and are paying proportionately more towards emerging policy responses, including carbon reduction measures paid for through energy bills.

But to put climate justice firmly on the international and Westminster agendas, the evidence must be effectively gathered and articulated. The Centre for Climate Justice intends to take a lead in this respect.

Humza Yousaf said there was a need to tell positive stories of change as well as demanding justice. He described projects in Malawi financed through the Scottish Government’s climate justice fund. “When you see people whose lives have been changed it blows your mind,” he said.

The second dialogue will be held at Glasgow Caledonian University on 18 June and tickets can be booked via Eventbrite.