Over recent years, the noise around ‘climate action’ and ‘climate justice’ has been ramping up. One consequence has been the proliferation of various terms prefixed with ‘climate’, ‘environment’ or ‘eco’, and so on. Despite the good intentions behind making the discussion more precise yet inclusive, the resulting confusion for everyday people poses its own challenge.

When you’re working tiring hours and are just getting through your days, how likely are you to hear other people use unfamiliar language and think “I know, I’ll give this an aul’ google”? Hopefully, this article offers a good starting point for the typical confused person.

While there is no 100% agreed-upon definition  for ‘climate justice’, the one outlined by Friends of the Earth Europe is helpful for getting your head around the concept and the goals of its proponents:

Climate justice means addressing the climate crisis whilst also making progress towards equity and the protection and realisation of human rights.

In other words, it’s about making meaningful progress to protecting everyone on the local-level and beyond, while not abandoning the same ordinary people who are just living their lives and muddling through. This meaningful progress is the Just Transition you may also hear about.

This might give some context to the outcries you hear around a wide variety of problems ordinary people face every day. Examples include environmental damage and the impacts on people’s livelihoods dependent on ‘the land’, and ‘climate migrants’ forced to relocate from their homes due to issues like drought or rising sea levels, trends which have been accentuated over recent decades by human activity.

These issues sometimes seem very abstract or distant, but climate justice is actually pretty relevant to the average person, whether living in urban or rural contexts. Climate justice highlights how we all should look at our decisions and behaviours and reflect on whether the impacts we (usually unintentionally) have on others are fair or just. Such reflections are often difficult as it involves confronting even the most routine of our activities.

One may recall when Extinction Rebellion Ireland (XRI) protesters stormed the fashion franchises Brown Thomas and Penneys in Dublin in early October 2019. The goal was to highlight how fast fashion and cheap clothes production drive many environmental as well as social problems in the world, most heavily felt in poorer communities. If you’re interested in exploring the topic further, you might start here to explore all that fun stuff.

A lot of backlash came from people arguing that one major reason franchises like Penneys are so popular is the affordability of their clotheslines, and to simply shut down such stores would burden households living week-to-week with tight budgets. So how would such a thing be ‘just’ for these people?

XRI representatives later responded to these concerns to say their intentions were more to increase pressure on the businesses to ensure their clothes are ethically made (perhaps with workers receiving adequate wages), and with better materials (perhaps recycled or upcycled, whatever those mean). This would be just one part of a larger transition from business-as-usual living to a more sustainable and fairer society.

However, this incident highlights a key challenge for climate justice activists – how to pursue justice for the most vulnerable without creating more victims in the process. It’s a worthy endeavour, but clearly there are a lot of complexities which deserve close attention from everyone involved.

If you’re interested in reading further on the subject, the book Climate Justice by Mary Robinson, former President of the Republic of Ireland, and former UN Commissioner for Human Rights, is a good starting point. It is comprised of 10 chapters, each dedicated to telling the story of an individual who has been directly impacted by climate crises and injustice and is now taking meaningful action to make the world a better place. If fetching a book doesn’t suit, perhaps this TED Talk by Robinson would be helpful.

The most important thing is to keep on talking to people and researching what’s going on in the world around you, though it’s important to be cautious to ensure you’re getting good information from reputable sources. And maybe you can make some changes to help secure justice for everybody, local and on the other side of the world.


Photo by Markus Spiske


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