Climate Change Justice: The Issue
Climate change injustice is the imbalance between individuals who directly suffer the damage done by climate change and the policy makers who hold the power to control the rate of climate change. Although policy makers have attempted to rectify climate change injustice through money and aid, these injustices, especially the loss of the right to a homeland, cannot be substituted -- especially for the Indigenous communities. Therefore, in order to achieve climate change justice, Indigenous individuals must mobilize themselves to establish a larger force of advocacy on the international level. The following article will describe the severity of loss of homeland for the Indigenous community, followed by the description of the current reality of the legal framework and conclude with possible solutions and successful examples.
According to the Summary for Policymakers (SPM), scientific findings conclude that global warming due to human influence has been the main driver of landscape changes in the last 50 years (IPCC 2021). Human influence is “very likely” the main driver of global retreat of glaciers, global mean sea level increase, global surface temperature increases and extreme changes in the land biosphere (IPCC 2021, 6). Not only has the landscape and biosphere changed drastically, but extreme natural disasters have also increased in frequency and intensity. In addition, the increase of frequency and intensity of heavy participation, monsoon precipitation, cold extremes and hot extremes demonstrate with “high confidence” that “human-induced climate change is the main driver of those changes” (IPCC 2021, 10).
Extreme natural disaster induced landscape change is variable by region. For example, heavy precipitation and flooding are more intense and frequent in the Pacific Islands but extreme agricultural and ecological droughts are more intense and frequent in Africa, South America and Europe (IPCC 2021, 33). However, there is a unilateral pattern of injustice that lies beneath the regional variabilities. The low-income countries are most often the victims of the high-income countries’ consumption habits. When Jorgenson modeled the interactions between the economic growth of a country and the “carbon intensity of human well-being” (CIWB), findings suggested that “the effect of GDP per capita on CIWB is relatively large, positive and stable in magnitude” (Jorgenson, 2014). With the rise of GDP, high income countries often develop a pattern of “income, infrastructure, social organization and culture” that affect “expenditure patterns and investment” and in turn have a direct effect on the production of carbon emissions that affect global warming (Leichenko & Solecki, 2005). Therefore, regions with the most developed and comfortable modern lifestyles cause the destruction of landscape of the regions with natural lifestyles with minimal infrastructure and consumption habits.
Global warming has made the homelands of many communities, especially in low income regions, inhabitable in multiple dimensions. “Environmental displacement,” a term coined by de Shalit (2011), refers to the phenomena where global warming yields and exaggerates natural disasters such as desertification, floods, and a rise in sea level that causes communities to “be evacuated from their homes and never return to them” (de Shalit 2011, 310). Although there are multiple levels of environmental displacement, extreme cases involve the creation of “environmental refugees” who lose their homes forever because the damage that has been done to their homeland is irreversible (de Shalit 2011, 311). These extreme cases of environmental displacements are forced as there is no other viable option because the land has become physically inhabitable and there are no remaining natural resources for the human beings.
Although forced environmental displacement is a tragedy for all environmental refugees, there is a special need to focus on the destruction of Indigenous homeland caused by climate change. Besides the obvious monetary and physical losses that come from losing Indigenous homelands due to natural disasters, and the humane psychological fear of moving to a new place with no previous exposure, environmental displacement is often followed by a larger problem for the Indigenous communities. The loss of homeland is not only a loss of place but also a loss of functioning identity. To further expand on the term “functioning identity”, Amartya Sen describes “functioning” as an individual’s abilities to perform activities, ranging from basic activities such as being healthy to leisure activities such as swimming (Sen 1999). When Indigenous environmental refugees are forcefully displaced due to global warming, they lose a specific functioning that is crucial to an Indigenous individual’s sense of security. The refugee’s functioning of self-identity, especially the part that relates to the sense of ‘place’ becomes lost along with the physical space itself (de Shalit 2011).
The idea of sense of place is especially crucial to the Indigenous communities because their culture and beliefs are deeply rooted in the “connectedness to land” (Brown 2018). The “aboriginality” of the Indigenous communities emphasizes their connection to nature as these communities have managed different types of agrosilvipastoral systems, agrisilvicultural systems and woodlot plantations for their survival for decades (Rahman 2012). The survival and culture of the Indigenous communities are heavily dependent on their natural resources.
Brown, Lilly. “Indigenous Young People, Disadvantage and the Violence of Settler Colonial Education Policy and Curriculum.” Journal of Sociology, vol. 55, no. 1, 2018, pp. 54–71., https://doi.org/10.1177/1440783318794295.
de-Shalit, Avner. 2011. "Climate Change Refugees, Compensation and Rectification." The Monist 94, 3: 310-328.
IPCC. 2021. "Press Release: Climate Change Widespread, Rapid, and Intensifying – IPCC."
Jorgenson, Andrew K., Shirley Fiske, Klaus Hubacek, Jia Li, Tom Mcgovern, Torben Rick, Juliet B. Schor, William Solecki, Richard York, and Ariela Zycherman. 2019. "Social Science Perspectives on Drivers of and Responses to Global Climate Change." WIREs Climate Change 10, 1: e554.
Leichenko, Robin, and William Solecki. “Critical Surveys Edited by Stephen Roper.” Regional Studies, vol. 39, no. 2, 2005, pp. 241–253., https://doi.org/10.1080/003434005200060080.
Sen, Amartya Kumar. Development as Freedom. Oxford University Press, 2001.
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