Tatik Eryati (38) walks through part of her community's preserved forest to collect vegetables and traditional medicines in Tembak hamlet, Sintang District, Indonesia, 2018. Caritas Australia partner Karina and Caritas Sintang run the Strengthening Resilient Communities program to strengthen the capacity of the Dayak community through eco-tourism and income generating activities to enable them to conserve their customary forest and safeguard access to land and land rights. Photo credit: Richard Wainwright/Caritas Australia.

Promoting Climate Justice

What is climate justice?

From extreme weather events to rising sea levels, environmental changes often have disproportionate effects on vulnerable, marginalised communities. 

Since many of the communities we work with depend on environmental regularity for food and water security, to support their livelihoods, economy, health and wellbeing, a changing climate poses one of the greatest threats to their lives - and risks driving them further into poverty. 

Climate justice is a term that acknowledges that environmental changes can have differing social, economic, public health, and other adverse impacts on vulnerable populations.  

According to the United Nations, “The impacts of climate change will not be borne equally or fairly, between rich and poor, women and men, and older and younger generations.” 

“Climate change is happening now and to all of us. No country or community is immuneAnd, as is always the case, the poor and vulnerable are the first to suffer and the worst hit," says UN Secretary-General António Guterres. 

As a result, there is a growing focus on climate justice, which looks at environmental changes through a human rights lens, striving to address these inequities through long-term strategies. 

Climate change is happening now and to all of us. No country or community is immune. And, as is always the case, the poor and vulnerable are the first to suffer and the worst hit.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres

Climate impacts can exacerbate inequitable social conditions

Low-income communities, indigenous people, people with disabilities, older people, women and children – are often more susceptible to the risks posed by climate impacts, including cyclones, floods and earthquakes. These communities may have fewer existing resources to help them to deal with these impacts, such as limited access to food and water. 

2020 World Bank paper estimates that between 32 to 132 million additional people will be pushed into extreme poverty by 2030 due to climate change.  

Existing social conditions that put vulnerable communities at increased risk of climate-related shocks include: 

  • Poor housing or makeshift shelters which are unable to withstand floods, typhoons, or rising sea levels 
  • Limited resources to prepare for future disasters or to afford items like drought-resilient seedlings 
  • Prolonged drought and flooding may also affect food supply or distribution, making it harder for people to access affordable, nutritious food 
  • Low incomes, limited resources and a poor local economy mean that rebuilding and recovery in the wake of natural disasters is challenging and may take years 
  • Increasing natural disasters and environmental changes can also affect the health of populations, including the spread of water and airborne diseases and limit access to medicine and health care. 
Photo credit: Richard Wainwright/Caritas Australia.
Photo credit: Richard Wainwright/Caritas Australia.

Why climate justice is important 

Natural disasters cost about US$18 billion a year in low and middle-income countries through damage to power and transport infrastructure alone. They also trigger wider disruptions for households and firms costing at least US$390 billion a year.  

They force people to evacuate their homes, drive populations deeper into food and water insecurityand exacerbate health, social and economic problems. These challenges are further compounded by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Significant effort is needed to help people living in vulnerable communities in low-income countries, to adapt to environmental changes to ensure that progress made in poverty reduction globally is not reversed.  

What are we doing to promote climate justice? 

We are working with our local partner organisations on the ground around the world to develop programs to assist vulnerable communities who are struggling to adapt to the effects of environmental changes and natural disasters. 

One such program is the Sustainable Livelihoods for Indigenous People in Dinajpur in Bangladesh, which focuses on strengthening strategies to deal with climate-relaed impacts and raising awareness of ways to adapt to environmental changes, through Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) strategies. 

This program involves training participants in 60 villages and preparing response plans to deal with climate-related disasters. The training involved teaching participants how to secure their livestock and poultry in the event of flooding, and also shows families how to protect their personal documents from disasters. 

Catholic Earthcare Australia, the ecological advisory agency to the Catholic Church is another program aimed at tackling climate change. Its mission is to help to promote the understanding that creation is sacred and endangered, and must be protected and preserved for present and future generations. It aims to provide a voice for communities and victims of environmental degradation, injustice and pollution. 

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