Equitable climate action is the key to unlocking the most benefit for people and planet

Week of 29 November 2021

Equitable climate action is the key to unlocking the most benefit for people and planet

Our key takeaway: Action on climate mitigation and adaptation will be unsuccessful if it  fails to take into account the ways that policies and interventions may positively or negatively impact the people most vulnerable to climate change. “Fairer climate action” relies on prioritising equity, empowering marginalised people, taking a people-centered approach to assessment, improving climate measures using a social equity lens, directing resources to underserved groups, and continually monitoring impacts.  

The World Resources Institute has published a working paper on achieving social equity in climate action:

    • Large but Untapped Opportunities to Tackle the Climate and Inequality Crises Together”: A key finding is that climate measures offer “massive opportunities to reduce social inequalities,” but that these have been largely overlooked or sidelined. WRI refers to this as the “dual imperative”—that is, reducing social and economic inequality while also tackling climate change. A key driver behind this dual imperative is that climate adaptation and carbon reduction have impacts (whether positive or negative) on people’s basic needs and standard of living. Other drivers include the fact that “[l]ow-income and disadvantaged groups [such as women, children, indigenous peoples, migrants, displaced populations, etc.] can benefit the most from the protection and opportunities offered by climate actions—but they also face the greatest barriers to accessing these gains.” WRI points out that “climate interventions are conceived in the framework of current power, economic, and social structures, which tend to maintain inequality and put the least well-off at higher risk of being harmed and left behind.” The result of this dynamic is a “triple injustice” for disadvantaged groups: they often contribute the least to GHG emissions and are most vulnerable to climate impacts, but bear more costs from climate adaptation strategies and benefit less than other groups.
    • Seven Pitfalls That Can Lead to Regressive Impacts”: (1) “Win-win” narratives around climate action may “overlook the distribution of benefits across society.” (2) There are existing biases embedded in policymaking that fail to prioritise the most vulnerable groups—for example, policymakers may see consideration for social equity as a barrier to moving at speed and at scale on climate action. (3) A “lack of voice of affected communities in decision-making is a major factor leading to the unequal distribution of risks and benefits,” including ignoring local knowledge in favor of the views of more influential actors and failing to engage vulnerable people altogether. (4) Existing inequalities are compounded by “insufficient impact assessments and consideration of factors” that contribute to those inequalities—core among these is the failure to identify and consult with the most vulnerable people. (5) A “lack of data on those left behind” means that climate interventions may fail to address their impacts on marginalised groups. (6) A lack of funding for “historically underserved neighborhoods and remote rural areas,” which is exacerbated by (7) a failure to coordinate with other policy areas: like fiscal policy, social policy and poverty-reduction strategies.
    • “Building Blocks for Equitable Climate Actions”: WRI proposes six approaches to rebalance climate action inequities: “1. Prioritize: move beyond a social co-benefit approach to proactive planning for equity; 2. Empower: enable ongoing dialogue and people-centered climate planning; 3. Assess: perform a thorough social equity impact assessment; 4. Improve: select, revise, and complement climate measures using a social equity lens; 5. Finance: target resources at underserved groups; and 6. Adjust: monitor equity impacts to enhance progressive outcomes.”

For more, see Mathilde Bouyé, David O’Connor, Alexander Tankou, Delfina Grinspan, David Waskow, Soumya Chattopadhyay and Andrew Scott, World Resources Institute (WRI), Achieving Social Equity in Climate Action: Untapped Opportunities and Building Blocks for Leaving No One Behind (November 2021)