The Six Pillars of Climate Justice

What is Climate Justice?

Climate Justice recognizes the disproportionate impacts of climate change on low-income communities and communities of color around the world, the people and places least responsible for the problem.

It seeks solutions that address the root causes of climate change and in doing so, simultaneously address a broad range of social, racial, and environmental injustices. These solutions can be organized into Six Pillars of Climate Justice.

Just Transition

At its core, a just transition represents the transition of fossil fuel-based economies to equitable, regenerative, renewable energy-based systems. However, a just transition is not only centered around technological change. It emphasizes employment in renewable energy and other green sectors, sustainable land use practices, and broader political economic transformations.

Proposals for just transitions are being considered in diverse spaces including cities, suburban and peri-urban environments, and rural areas around the world. The Green New Deal, for example, is an innovative proposal that tackles both climate change and inequality and is therefore very much aligned with climate justice.

At the Center for Climate Justice, we support policies that advocate and plan for a just transition and an equitable and sustainable future.

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Social, Racial and Environmental Justice

Climate justice connects the climate crisis to the social, racial and environmental issues in which it is deeply entangled. It recognizes the disproportionate impacts of climate change on low-income and BIPOC communities around the world, the people and places least responsible for the problem.

For example, in refineries located in California’s Bay Area Oil Corridor low-income communities and communities of color are the most impacted by the presence of the petrochemical industry. Emissions from these facilities degrade air quality in this region, putting residents at higher risk for cancer, heart disease, respiratory problems such as asthma, and other life threatening health impacts.

The fate of these marginalized communities in California can be linked to impacts on Indigenous and local communities in western Amazon countries. In the Amazon, the legacy of oil development has also resulted in severe ecological damage and negative impacts on the health and livelihoods of Indigenous communities, producing waves of local resistance.

This example is not unique. There are many other instances of interconnected marginalizations all across the globe. The power of a climate justice approach is that by addressing the root causes of climate change, we simultaneously address a broad range of social, racial, and environmental injustices.

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Indigenous Climate Action

Indigenous communities around the world are facing some of the most severe climate impacts. Indigneous communities are not only reliant on their surrounding ecosystems for their lives and livelihoods; their identities are also deeply interwoven with the land and water. As a result, Indigenous Peoples are leading efforts in climate change mitigation and adaptation across the globe.

At the Center for Climate Justice, we nurture relationships with Indigenous communities by partnering with Indigenous Peoples in ways that respect and support their diverse ways of being and knowing in an effort to amplify their voices and promote Indigenous sovereignty. We know that some of the most effective climate solutions are created at the convergence of Indigenous knowledge and western science, so these collaborations are essential if we hope to address the climate crisis.

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Community Resilience and Adaptation

The impacts of climate change are being experienced every day around the world. The most marginalized communities, who are least responsible for the climate crisis, are facing the most severe consequences of climate change.

Resilience measures a community’s capacity to recover from a climate impact such as a hurricane, drought, or flood. Adaptation means reducing the ongoing and intensifying negative impacts of climate change within a community.

Low-income countries and communities often have lower capacity to adapt, and conventional models of economic development have been promoted as a strategy for increasing adaptive capacity. However, these models are based on the inequitable systems responsible for creating the problem in the first place.

Instead, we must view community resilience and adaptation from a social justice and equity perspective. This would inspire models such as food sovereignty, common property forest management, and energy democracy. It would support local communities in developing their own solutions and allow them to benefit directly from local climate action.

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Natural Climate Solutions

Natural climate solutions recognize the importance of forests and agricultural lands as critical ecosystems for equitable climate action. From a climate justice perspective, natural climate solutions take a systems approach and include regenerative farming, agroforestry, permaculture, urban gardens, and forest restoration.

Forests represent a particularly important climate change mitigation strategy. Most solutions focus solely on preventing future emissions, but forests have the ability to draw down and store atmospheric carbon. Tropical forests are important for biodiversity as well as to local and Indigenous communities who derive livelihood, cultural, and sacred value from these ecosystems.

Regenerative farming that is based on sustainable agricultural practices has the capacity to store more carbon in the soil. Climate justice calls for these practices to be in the hands of small and medium sized farmers as well as local and Indigenous communities.

A climate justice approach to natural climate solutions considers not just how the land is managed but who has access to it. It is critical that those who live on and steward the land have the autonomy and support to make decisions that generate social and ecological benefits for themselves, their communities, and the environment.

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Climate Education and Engagement

Given the amount of denial and misunderstanding surrounding the climate crisis, widespread climate education and engagement is fundamental to addressing the root causes of climate change. We need education not only on climate science but also the ways in which climate change is deeply intertwined with a range of other social, racial and environmental issues that define our daily lived experiences.

A populace better educated about climate justice will more fully understand why viewing climate change from a social justice and equity perspective is our best hope for solving the climate crisis.

With a widespread perspective that centers equity, we can build civic engagement to support candidates who recognize climate change as an urgent existential crisis, unite countries with science and a systems thinking approach, and take bold steps toward deep decarbonization that do not further inequities. This approach, which unites people around equity, has the power to make real and lasting system-wide change.

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