7 min read

Climate change as a question of justice

Can the climate emergency help us to make the world a little fairer?
Climate change as a question of justice

Hello, grownups!

Wanna see something unfair? Here are the countries who have contributed the most to climate change:*

  1. The United States (25% of the world's emissions since 1751)

2. The EU + UK (22%)

3. China (13%)

And here's a map of places in the world where it will be so hot that people could die just by being outside in the year 2050, if we keep emitting as much as we have been:**

map of the world showing the worst climate impacts around the equator
This map was created by researchers at the University of Hawaii Manoa. You can play with other scenarios here: https://maps.esri.com/globalriskofdeadlyheat/#

On top of being scary, climate change is also deeply unfair. Burning coal, oil and gas (+ colonisation + exploitation + slavery) is a big part of how rich countries got rich. And now poor countries will suffer the worst impacts of global warming***. It's kind of like if your neighbour got rich making banana cream pies and just threw all the banana peels into your garden, so now you're slipping on banana peels all the time. Only instead of banana peels, it's droughts and flooding and mass deaths.

The whole thing kinda makes you want to throw a banana cream pie in somebody's face, doesn't it?

You can't talk about the climate emergency without discussing justice.

This is about really immediate and practical questions: climate impacts cost money. If it gets too hot to grow staple crops, you need to import more food. If your city starts flooding, you have to build flood barriers and rebuild damage. If there's a decade-long drought, you have to build desalination plants or dig dams deeper. We have to adapt to the changing climate, and that costs a lot of money.

So, how do we account for those costs fairly? How do we make sure that the people who created the problem bear the costs of what they did? How do you make your neighbour come and clean up the pile of banana peels that's now stinking up your trampoline?

Here's the good news: there's already an international framework to do this. It's called the Green Climate Fund****, and it was created by the 2009 Copenhagen accord and then strengthened by the 2015 Paris Agreement. You've probably heard of these agreements but might not know much about them (I didn't); but basically, they're international agreements about how the world should tackle climate change. The truly gorgeous thing about them is that almost every nation on earth agreed to them (America briefly got cold feet, but they're back in now). I can't even get my whole family to agree what takeout to get, but somehow, these negotiators got the entire world to agree on a plan to tackle climate change, and that's pretty phenomenal.

The Green Climate Fund is the part of the Paris Agreement that interests me the most. The plan is that rich countries should contribute to a central fund, that uses that money to help poor countries cope with the climate emergency. It can also be used to help countries grow their economies in a way that doesn't emit more pollution; for instance, a lot of villages in India rely on diesel generators for their (unreliable) energy, so building more renewable energy sources is good for the climate and also decreases poverty in those places. It's in rich countries' own interest to share their green technology and invest in renewable energy production in poor countries.

There are two sides to reducing (mitigating) the amount that the climate will change over the coming century: putting less pollution INTO the atmosphere, and taking more of the pollutants OUT of it. It's the rich countries who are putting most of the pollution IN, still. But poor countries have a powerful role to play in taking it OUT.

Infographic showing current emissions sources as electricity production 25%, food agriculture and land use 24% and industry 21%, and current sinks as land 24, coastal and ocean sinks 17%

The two main ways carbon gets out of the atmosphere is by plants eating it (thanks, plants!) and the ocean and soil absorbing it. Healthy natural ecosystems (like the Amazon rainforest) literally keep us alive. And people living in poor countries are the custodians of most of these ecosystems. There's something powerful about this: the opportunity for power relationships to be rebalanced around the recognition of how much humanity relies on the natural world, and how much people in rich countries rely on people in poor countries to protect it.

Justice is a byproduct of addressing the climate emergency, because the climate is the ultimate reminder of how interconnected our world really is.

If we do it right, solutions like the Green Climate Fund have the potential to be a transformative tool for international justice. A lot of things that are good for people are good for the planet too. Public transport systems are good for the planet. Empowering women is good for the planet. Better healthcare is good for the planet. Creating jobs building public infrastructure is good for the planet. Education is good for the planet.

And "good for the planet" means "good for people in rich countries". And this fact gives my cynical little heart hope! There's the "you should pay for the damage you did to us" part of the argument, but there's also a "you need to invest in us for your own self interest" part of the argument. The rotting banana peels are stinking up your garden as much as mine, bucko, so come help me clean them up.

There are two big problems with the Green Climate Fund, right now:

  1. The Paris Agreement doesn't legally bind countries to contribute. It just, kinda, asks them nicely. So far, rich countries haven't contributed nearly as much as they promised. Surprise, surprise.
  2. We're still figuring out exactly how the fund should work. There are controversial questions like the role of private finance and who owns the infrastructure that's invested in.

But both of these problems seem solvable, to me. I'm cheered by the thought that the framework for the fund already exists, and there's already international buy-in to the concept. Yes, we need to work through the details, and establish stronger legal commitments and consequences. But we don't need to imagine something from scratch: the blueprint is there, now we just need to build the house.

We need people in rich countries to demonstrate, join climate justice movements, show your leaders that they have your mandate to increase their contributions to the Green Climate Fund, and do more to reduce their own carbon emissions. Do it now, because the next big climate change meeting is this November, in Glasgow.

Do it because it's right, and do it because your own prosperity depends on it.

Wishing you justice and banana cream pies,


Disclaimers and digressions

Want to learn more about this issue? Kurzgesagt has a great video about it.

*Per person, the picture is a bit different, with the oil countries taking up most of the top 10 - Qatar, Trinidad and Tobago, Kuwait - and then Australia, the United States and Canada as the worst offenders. Per person, China is only slightly above the world's average emissions. However, the rich countries vs. poor countries point otherwise mostly stands.

Here's a full graph and the data source:

** Heat isn't the only awful consequence of climate change. We will also see an increase in floods, droughts, fires, hurricanes, disease, as well as sea-level rise. Many of these effects WILL be felt in richer countries, too.

*** I'm going to refer to "rich countries" and "poor countries" here. It's imperfect, but I find alternatives ("developed/developing", "Global North/South", "decolonising", "industrialising") inaccurate or academicy. Also, it's not always fair to talk about whole nation states as being "responsible" for climate change. There's inequality within countries as well as between countries, and it's usually the super-rich who are responsible for most of the consumption, and specific corporations who've played an outsized role in polluting.

**** The Green Climate Fund isn't the only global climate fund, just the biggest. I'm referring to it throughout for simplicity.

Thanks to Project Drawdown for the infographic about carbon sources and sinks.

Questions about debt review

Last month, I wrote a guide to getting out of debt, which mentioned debt review. I received a couple of follow-up questions:

  • If one applies for debt review does it not affect your chances of getting a new job of ones prospective employer does a credit check?
  • If I'm under review and I get a lump sum of cash am I allowed to pay it off quicker without the “interest”?
  • Can one rent a new flat or will the agent also do a credit check and not approve my application?

I've added the answers to the bottom of that article.

Updates from Sam-Land

This is the EXTREMELY HAPPY FACE of a girl taking a sip of a beer IN A BEER GARDEN for the first time in many, many months. 

Oh man, it's been a wild few weeks. The UK has finally started opening up, which has been bloody wonderful. It's been a struggle to juggle the seven billion projects I'm working on with my constant desire to just be hanging out in beer gardens with my friends, honestly! Also, what a relief to finally be able to start making friends!

  • I'm hosting a money workshop online with the JSE this evening. Register here.
  • WANT SOME FREE SHIT?! Tag @greenham_sam on Instagram in a photo/story with you and your Like a Fucking Grownup book, and stand a chance to win a LAFG hat and sticker pack. Winner will be announced on 30 April.
  • Currently reading: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, The Wave in the Mind by Ursula LeGuin, and the surreal 1905-1911 cartoon strip Little Nemo in Slumberland (read all of them here)
  • Currently watching: It's a Sin, the brilliant/heartbreaking show about the HIV/AIDS crisis in late 80s London
  • Current obsession: Alice Diamond, a criminal mastermind from the early 1900s who mostly shoplifted fancy fur coats (what a queen)
  • If you missed it, here's my guide to building a cold weather wardrobe from scratch, without breaking the bank