On March 31, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its report on the latest scientific understanding of climate change impacts.

The report’s findings draw our attention to the many reasons why the climate crisis is an environmental justice issue.

Climate change is hitting the poorest people and the poorest countries hardest, despite these being least responsible for causing it. These examples from the UN report exemplify why the climate crisis is an environmental justice issue:

  1. The poorest are already most affected by climate change
    Extreme weather can destroy homes and infrastructure, and changing weather patterns can reduce crop yields and make some conditions unworkable. While richer people and richer countries may be positioned to adapt to these new circumstances, poorer countries and poorer people are already struggling with higher food prices and reduced crop yields.
  2. Poverty and extreme weather
    Countries and districts lacking essential infrastructure and quality housing are simply less able to cope with extreme heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones and wildfires. Water scarcity and lack of access to food following extreme weather is also a greater problem for poorer countries and poorer people in richer countries.
  3. Access to food
    Essential crop yields, such as wheat and maize, have already been negatively affected by climate change. Further change could mean the breakdown of food systems and supply chains in vulnerable areas. Once again it is the urban and rural poor who are worst hit.
  4. Health impacts
    Delivery of basic medical services will suffer in some particularly vulnerable areas, exacerbating existing health complaints and leaving preventable conditions unchecked. As the twenty first century rolls on, climate change is expected to lead to increases in ill-health.
  5. Fishing and coastal communities
    As climate change causes the loss of marine ecosystems and damages others, the impact on already fragile fishing communities could be catastrophic. Changing marine migration patterns are vastly unpredictable. Meanwhile, storm surges, coastal flooding and rising sea-levels are likely to disrupt livelihoods and cause injury, ill-health and death in coastal regions.
  6. Poverty reduction efforts will be set back
    With the erosion in food security comes the likelihood that efforts to reduce existing inequalities will be scaled back. Economic growth is likely to decline. Poverty reduction will be more difficult and less effective.

The impacts of climate change are already being felt, particularly by the poorest. Further climate change brings substantial risks to human well being, again particularly the poorest, as well as to ecosystems.

Coping with the effects of climate change will require rapid and significant reductions in emissions from the wealthiest people across the world and from the wealthiest countries.

It will also require significant financial and technical assistance to help poorer countries and regions to adapt  and develop low-carbon economies.

But there is also an urgent  need to reduce vulnerability to climate change by reducing inequalities between and within countries.

Image: Mayeenul Islam, Cyclone Aila Climate Change Nijhum Dwip 2009 Bangladesh