Climate change will affect different people and places unevenly, and so is likely to lead to inequalities within and across nations, and between current and future generations, so creating injustice.


Internationally, climate justice is linked with an agenda for human rights and international development, and sharing the benefits and burdens associated with climate stabilisation, as well as concerns about the impacts of climate change (see the work of the Mary Robinson Foundation).


In the UK, climate justice relates to concerns about the inequitable outcomes for different people and places associated with vulnerability to climate impacts and the fairness of policy and practice responses to address climate change and its consequences. It has been defined as:


Ensuring that collectively and individually we have the ability to prepare for, respond to and recover from climate change impacts – and the policies to mitigate or adapt to them – by considering existing vulnerabilities, resources and capabilities1.


 By ‘just’ we mean: some chance of a safe climate for future generations; an equal distribution of the remaining global carbon budget between countries; and a transition in the UK in which the costs are distributed progressively, and where everyone’s essential needs for housing, transport and energy use are met2.


Climate change has been described as the biggest threat to public health this century3. Some people and places will be more exposed than others to the direct impacts of climate change, such as sea level rise, or extreme weather, due to where they live. Within these places, some people will be more vulnerable to the impacts, as they will be more sensitive to negative effects on their health or wellbeing or may have less capacity to respond. However, vulnerability is not inherent in particular groups – it is determined by a mix of social, economic, environmental and cultural factors, as well as institutional practices.


Policy and practice responses, such as energy policies linked to carbon reduction, or flood resilience measures, could exacerbate inequalities or be used to address different forms of disadvantage, and hence will also add to the uneven consequences of climate change, raising concerns over distributional justice.


Climate justice also involves considering relative roles and responsibilities for causing the problem of global warming and for associated action. This is a critical issue in considering the fairness of global emissions reduction targets, and the respective roles (and costs) for different nations to reduce emissions, set through international climate change negotiations. Arguably, it is also relevant to the development of responses within countries. Questions of procedural justice – or who has most voice in decisions is critical here.



  1. Banks. N et al (2014) Climate change and social justice: An evidence review. JRF, York. 
  2. Childs, M. (2011) Just transition: is a just transition to a low-carbon economy possible within safe global carbon limits? London: Friends of the Earth 
  3. Anthony Costello, Mustafa Abbas, Adriana Allen, Sarah Ball, Sarah Bell, Richard Bellamy, Sharon Friel, Nora Groce, Anne Johnson, Maria Kett, Maria Lee, Caren Levy, Mark Maslin, David McCoy, Bill McGuire, Hugh Montgomery, David Napier, Christina Pagel, Jinesh Patel, Jose Antonio Puppim de Oliveira, Nanneke Redclift, Hannah Rees, Daniel Rogger, Joanne Scott, Judith Stephenson, John Twigg, Jonathan Wolff, Craig Patterson (2009) Managing the health effects of climate change: Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission. The Lancet 373: 1693–733