Climate Justice has rightfully become the centre of movement to stop climate change, but without climate restoration, this vision of justice is dead. The vision is climate justice is noble and correct, so we cannot allow it to go unfulfilled.
What is Climate Justice?
Climate Justice takes a human-focused approach to the climate crisis. Rather than chiefly viewing the climate crisis as an ecological problem that needs solving, it views it as also an economic and social catastrophe that chiefly although not exclusively impacts the world's most vulnerable: the poor, the young, the Global South, indigenous peoples, discriminated against minorities, women. This may at the surface seem like a simplified picture. Climate Justice breaks down that simplicity by also recognising the unique way that climate change impacts each and every individual which may fit, or break, from the expected way the climate crisis will effect them. And climate justice says we need to recognise these differences, and work together in solidarity to solve the climate crisis.
Essentially, climate justice opens up the climate crisis to a plethora of stories, and a plethora of perspectives, and urges us to work for each one. Urges us to a just transition, where we support those the transition to renewables will effect as a matter of economic justice. Urges us to enfranchise indigenous people's and listen to their unique perspective as a matter of social justice. Urges us to hear the voices of youth, and support young people who will have to bear this burden as a matter of intergenerational justice.
Climate justice urges us to go beyond the simple message of either "we are all in this equally together" or "it only effects the other (whoever they may be)". Instead it says that we are all in this together, not because it equally effects us all, but because it effects us all differently, but if we want justice for all, we have to solve the crisis by being sensitive to the different effects the climate crisis has on different people.
Climate Justice at 1.5 Degrees
According to the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC), at 1.5 degrees there will be "warming of extreme temperatures in many regions" "increases in frequency, intensity, and/or amount of heavy precipitation in several regions", "Sea level rise will continue beyond 2100" causing "increased saltwater intrusion, flooding and damage to infrastructure." "Some vulnerable regions, including small islands and Least Developed Countries, are projected to experience high multiple interrelated climate risks at 1.5 degrees"
In layman's terms, even at 1.5 degrees, the situation is dire and unacceptable.
Millions will suffer and die from direct climate impacts, and millions more because of the knock on economic and political implications of the increased risk. Even if we limit warming to 1.5 degrees, we have to live in that unsafe climate for centuries to come.
Millions will suffer and die from direct climate impacts, such as drought, famine, diseases, natural disasters and more, and millions more because of the knock on economic and political implications of the increased risk, from wars to increased poverty to starvation. Even if we limit warming to 1.5 degrees, we have to live in that unsafe climate for centuries to come.
In that unsafe climate, natural disasters will be more and more common, making it harder and harder for areas to develop. How can you develop economically if every few years your country is devastated by floods and storms? Extreme temperatures will cause huge amounts of deaths if people don't have access to air conditioning, which many of the poorest in the world don't have. And all this will lead to social and political unrest, which generally hits the most vulnerable the hardest.
Natural disasters, destruction of infrastructure by sea level rise, the huge health burden of climate change and other climate effects also has a huge economic effect, and that combined with the social effect makes climate change the single biggest threat to the extraordinary progress we have made in human development in the last 50 years. Of course, that threat is more at 2 degrees or 3 degrees, but at 1.5 degrees development is effected, hugely.
How can you call it climate justice if millions of people, for generations are condemned to suffer and die? How can it be intergenerational justice if future generations are burdened with an unsafe climate? How can it be economic justice if we aren't actively reversing the single biggest threat to economic development? How can it be social justice if we are accepting unprecedent levels of disease, natural disasters and heightened temperature, all leading to huge amounts of suffering?
The answer is it can't.
Climate restoration is the only way
Just because we stop emitting doesn't do anything about the huge amount of CO2 we have emitted in the past just sitting their in the atmosphere. Cutting emissions stops us making it worse- a vital first step, but doesn't make it better. For that, we need to remove the CO2 built up in the atmosphere, because, quite frankly, we have already put too much up there for climate justice to be truly achievable. Cutting emissions will not manage to avoid the effects put above- just below 1.5 degrees is all we can hope for if we just cut emissions alone, but if we remove the CO2 we historically put in, then we could achieve complete restoration back to a safe and stable climate.
Climate restoration is the only way to make it better. Not only should we reduce our emissions to net zero as soon as possible, not only should we adapt to the changing climate and provide support for a changing system, but we have to actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere as well. CO2 builds up- just because we stop putting it in won't reverse what we have done in the past. The only way to achieve justice is to also clean up our past actions by literally removing the CO2 from the atmosphere. Anything less is giving up on the vision of restoration. Anything less is not climate justice.
The climate today is unacceptable if we want to justice. We need to work, and work hard, on restoring the climate back to a safe state so we can achieve climate justice. And it all starts with stating, explicitly, our ambition and resolve to achieve climate justice, and to achieve restoration for that end.
But its not as simple as just planting trees, even just planting the right trees. Nature can play a role, a really big role, but doesn't have enough storage for removing all the CO2 we need to. We got the CO2 we put into the atmosphere originally not from nature, but from underground in rocks. And as hard as it must be, if we are to truly solve this problem, to rocks the CO2 must return.
We can do this in many ways, which will be explained in more depth in later articles, each with their own opportunities and threats to justice These include growing crops, burning them, capturing and carbon and storing the CO2 underground, to directly capturing CO2 from the air, to crushing up rocks that then react with CO2 in the air. None are perfect, nor perfectly scalable, so we need research, we need funding, we need ambition and desire to make it work. Then, as long as we keep one eye on justice, we will succeed.
None of these solutions are perfect. There is no silver bullet. Restoration has its problems, and these need to be ironed out, discussed and resolved in the most just way possible. But without restoration, justice is not possible. Of course, we also need mitigation and adaptation as key parts of this plan, or justice cannot be achieved, but without restoration the dream is dead.
The dream of a world where everyone has the right to live a good life, a safe life, a healthy life should never be given up on. Without restoration we condemn such a dream to the rubbish heap of history. If we believe in climate justice, we cannot give up on this dream. Or we have failed. And when the stakes are so high, failure is not an option. Therefore we must mitigate, we must adapt and we must restore.