What is Climate Justice? And what can we do achieve it?
Recap and reflections from UNICEF's Climate Justice Roundtable
7 minute read
Young people have historically led the charge against environmental, social and racial injustice. However, in the last several years, they have mobilized like never before on the issue of climate justice. Spurred on by the speeches and marches of Greta Thunberg, millions of children and young people globally voiced their concerns and demanded that their governments take action on climate change. Their voices have demonstrated the urgency they are feeling that time is running out and that they, as the younger generation, will suffer the consequences of climate change more greatly than their parents and grandparents.
According to the World Bank, by the time many of the teenage climate activists of today are in their late 20s, climate change could force an additional 100 million people into extreme poverty. In addition, by 2050, the International Food Policy Research institute estimates a 20% increase in malnourished children compared to what we would see without climate change.
In order to better understand the youth perspective of climate justice, UNICEF gathered a small group of experts and activists for a roundtable discussion about the following questions:
- What do we know about climate justice? What does it mean to children and young people? What are they asking for?
- What are the elements needed and what are the gaps and barriers to achieving climate justice for and with children and young people? How does it relate to racial and social justice?
- How can UNICEF and others support and help bridge these gaps, including knowledge gaps and translate it to effective policy?
What do we mean by climate justice?
Development cannot be delinked from climate action and vice versa. Throughout, a human rights base approach is necessary. For example, with the rapid pace of urbanization, a rights-based approach is crucial for addressing water, sanitation and health, challenges which are exacerbated by climate change in the formalizing of informal settlements.
This entails ensuring representation, inclusion, and protection of the rights of those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Solutions must promote equity, assure access to basic resources, and ensure that young people can live, learn, play and work in healthy and clean environments.
While everyone must do their part to address climate change, the burden should not be borne by those that have contributed the least. The world’s richest 10% are responsible for 50% of GHG emissions and the poorest 50% are only responsible for 10% despite population and energy consumption increasing.
Combatting social injustice, gender injustice, economic injustice, intergenerational injustice and environmental injustice
The intersectionality of these challenges must be acknowledged in order to address them holistically. For example, some climate projects inadvertently create climate injustices when local communities are displaced for a conservation or renewable energy initiative.
The climate crisis is the result of a system which prioritizes profit over sustainability. As such, solutions will require a transformative systems lens and approach. Approaches that address the unequal burdens in certain communities and which realigns the economy with natural systems. The new green learning agenda proposes such an approach for an education system that develops and nurtures sustainable mindsets, as well as green skills in order to achieve this transformation.
What do young people want?
Representation is crucial for getting concerns heard and addressed. Youth and civil society need to be given a seat at the decision-making table so that those asking for climate justice can influence decisions around climate policies and programming, including climate finance flows. Unfortunately, decision making processes are currently dominated by northern and corporate interests. Youth representation, when included, is perceived by young people to be tokenistic and used as a public relations exercise, and young people’s voices are not considered and taken into account when decisions are made.
While representation at official conferences is important, climate talks are not the only forums to influence decisions and processes related to climate (in)action. Other avenues for participation may be even more powerful, for example, influencing international trade agreements. The World Trade Organization (WTO) has far more legally binding power over countries than the United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC), as they affect and potentially often prevent the right of countries to pursue low carbon development, through their trade agreements.
Marginalized and poor communities are disproportionately exposed to and affected by climate change impacts, but often face structural barriers to participating in the fight for climate justice. When people are unable to meet their basic needs for income, food and other necessities, it is difficult to get involved in climate action. Therefore, it is important to focus on education, livelihood and employment opportunities while working with marginalized and poor communities and these need to be tackled at the policy level.
"It is well acknowledged that across the globe, people who have the least role in causing the climate crisis are bearing the brunt of it, and unfortunately, climate justice is not talked about enough."
What do young people need?
Capacity and skills building: Supporting skills development and addressing structural constraints are key to empowering children and youth to claim their seat at the table
Support can include sharing knowledge and resources including information that donors/programming entities develop, so that grantees can succeed in their own initiatives. Knowledge exchange and knowledge transfer are important and accessibility of information for everyone is key. In addition, it is important to highlight the work of climate justice organizations, especially young organizations, to support their fundraising efforts and track history.
In order for their seat at the table to be effective, children and youth need to be supported to develop skills, knowledge and competencies to have the ability to meaningfully advocate for and provide solutions on climate justice. Support can be provided through capacity and skills building (technical competencies, as well as soft skills) and by addressing structural barriers to participation (job creation, meeting of basic livelihood needs).
In addition, young people can be supported to use and challenge national laws in the countries where they live and work. There has been a marked increase in climate litigation over the last 10 years and this trend is set to increase over the next few years.
Financing: Consistent and reliable financing for operational and programmatic expenses are instrumental for allowing young climate activists to achieve their vision.
Supporting youth is an investment that achieves more than short-term results. In the long run, it is investment in leadership and action on initiatives for climate equity and justice. Consistent and reliable funding is indispensable for supporting the climate justice movement, and for allowing young climate justice organizations to build their organizational and leadership capacities. To this end, longer-term operational funding which provides ongoing financial backing and security for climate justice activists, groups and their organizations needs to increase.
Young people also need support to gain knowledge on how to apply for funding and benefit from the available climate funding sources. Obtaining funding is a highly competitive process, and crucial to the ability to develop initiatives for climate justice activism. Young people often lack the know-how on developing successful grant application.
Partnerships: Non-monetary forms of support are equally important for helping climate justice action to flourish
Donors and programming entities can do more than just provide or enable the transfer of money. They can facilitate connections, networking opportunities, provide spaces to meet, share lessons and experiences, and discuss ideas, so that youth and their organizations can accumulate expertise and establish partnerships to develop and successfully implement their projects and plans.
Programming entities should also respect the expertise and lived experiences of the youth grantees and see them as equal partners. Funders should support and trust the vision and ideas of the youth activists and their understanding of the policy landscape. This trust means allowing grantees to work in the way they judge best for developing their ideas and initiatives.
What can UNICEF and others do?
Acknowledge children and young people’s quest for climate justice; support their meaningful participation and facilitate partnership opportunities
Utilizing a climate justice approach for UNICEF would include integrating children’s perspective and rights into actions, recognizing children as the most vulnerable group in the face of climate change, and reducing their vulnerability to the climate crisis. It would mean supporting full participation of young people and children to seek equity across and contribute to decisions on climate policies. UNICEF and others’ youth engagements strategies should include youth participants who represent marginalized and most vulnerable communities affected by the climate crisis.
Additionally, facilitating networking opportunities and capacity building workshops to share knowledge and opportunities for collaboration.
UNICEF as a programming entity could act as an intermediary between donors and grantees to minimize inequalities. They can lessen constraints to funding and absorb some of the burden that comes with managing funds. UNICEF could play an important role in lessening the burden of accountability for grantees to donors, by providing support in monitoring and evaluation. In addition, UNICEF could support youth in developing effective, bankable proposals as well as including them in funding decision-making processes.
Effort should be made to prevent children’s health, well-being and rights from being impacted by climate (in)actions that create injustices. While there is consensus and acknowledgment on how not addressing climate change impacts on children’s rights, there is less attention paid to how some activities meant to alleviate climate change, can create injustices. For example, particular issues of concern around unjust climate actions include renewable energy projects which impact on indigenous people’s land rights, use of child labor in mining minerals (e.g. cobalt) for renewable batteries, etc.
A reflection of the toll that the climate change crisis is causing, eco-anxiety (a chronic fear that climate destruction is inevitable) is becoming more common among youth and is an issue worth focusing on. As part of its mental health work, UNICEF could explore ways to navigate this anxiety among children and youth.