Climate Justice – what does it mean?

A blog by Pat Black

“In 2015 everyone celebrated when all the UN Member States signed up to the ‘Paris Agreement’ on climate change. It made international news headlines, unusual for a UN Agreement.

When President Donald Trump announced last year he would withdraw the USA from the agreement he caused outrage across the globe, especially to those who have fought for so long to gain acceptance and understanding of the impact of climate change and the consequences of global warming.

Why? What was so important about the Paris Agreement which made the withdrawal of a major player so important.

Speakers at a recent conference organised by UNA House, Edinburgh, Scotland looked at some of these questions, endeavouring to demonstrate why it is so important for every country and every individual to play their part in mitigating the effects of climate change, especially global warming (

Teresa Anderson, Policy Officer, Climate and Resilience, for ActionAid International, urged participants to look at how the celebrated Paris Agreement and the subsequent actions by Governments mean that very little is going to be achieved to mitigate climate change, especially with regard to continued carbon emissions way above agreed levels. “With current climate pledges heading us on a path for nearly 3°C, they need to do far, far more” she says (

Action Aid International has similar aims to Soroptimist International, focusing on the issues such as – poverty, education, food and land rights and women’s rights. Tessa explained that internationally, Action Aid is focused on climate change and resilience, trying to work through projects that support women and children, particularly those in rural areas where they are most likely to be affected by climate change or natural disasters resulting from climate change. Action Aid views this whole debate as a climate justice issue, with the need for developed and industrialised countries to take responsibility for past actions which have contributed heavily to the increase in global warming through heavy carbon pollution.

Teresa pointed out that there has been a lot of denial of climate change but scientific studies show quite clearly the changes taking place point to increases in global temperatures as the cause. The consequences seem to be clear. In 2015 30% of earth’s land mass suffered drought, and this continues.  There is massive impact on agriculture and economies, with women and children particularly affected in rural areas. This often leads to extensive migration with all the consequent challenges and traumas.

The UNDP report ‘A Climate Resilient, Zero Carbon Future’ ( gives details for every country

The Paris Agreement set the target of 1.5 degrees Celsius as the maximum increase in global warming which the planet could sustain, however, many countries have not settled for this target and will not contribute, saying that if it exists this is a historical problem created by developed countries in the past. To overcome this, scientists have developed a method of calculating a carbon budget for every country.  The climate justice approach provides for a per capita system per historical context. This means that it is now payback time for those countries which historically have contributed huge amounts of carbon emissions.  There are also calculations which can take account of the increasing amounts of carbon emissions which developing countries are increasingly adding to the problem.

SDG 13 urges the world to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. Other SDGs urge action on a range of environmental issues, from protecting the oceans to protecting the land, and ensuring the maintenance of the biodiversity of the planet. So much depends on countries achieving the ambitious targets set across all the SDGs, however, very few are willing to make the efforts required.

Maurice Golden and Claudia Beamish, both Members of the Scottish Parliament but from different political parties, told delegates to the Conference that Governments had to take action.  The Scottish Government introduced the Climate Change Bill earlier this year which is currently undergoing committee scrutiny.  However, everyone supporting the need for action agrees that the proposals contained in the Bill do not go far enough, and will not meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement.  Since the Conference, the Scottish Government has announced disappointingly, proposals for the Bill which pull back even further from achieving the targets originally set out for Scotland.

Matthieu Munsch, an academic at Strathclyde University, has been working on the scientific models which demonstrate that very little is being done to reduce carbon emissions.  Frighteningly he indicated that globally the world will probably reach a point of no return within the next 20 years, even with the actions currently being taken.  He campaigns for fossil free investment, arguing that it will take more than just the individual actions we commit to, to reduce the levels of carbon emissions to those which will enable the planet to survive.  We have to convince the global corporations, and more importantly, the financial institutions backing them, that the 1.5 target has to be achieved in a very short time frame (  Matthieu Munsch demonstrated how far not just Scotland, but countries around the world are from making significant reductions in their carbon emissions.

If a country such as Scotland, which probably has more awareness across its general population than many, cannot achieve reductions in carbon emissions to meet the 1.5 degree Celsius target, then how will many of the other countries achieve it, even supposing they wish to?”


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