climate change equality human rights race

Understanding climate justice

One of the major problems that could emerge in Copenhagen this week is the division between developed and developing countries. It is the wealthy, industrialised countries that have caused the damage, and it is right that they should bear the brunt of the costs and the cuts. They have a point.

Here’s a map of the world, resized to show carbon emissions:

And here’s a second map, showing per capita mortality estimates – the places that will be hit hardest by climate change:

See how lightly we get off in the North? North America and Europe get off scot free, while Africa and Asia picks up the tab for our emissions. It is a geographic, economic and racial dividing line.

First we plundered Africa for slaves, then for resources, and then for its share of the atmosphere. We owe it to them to cut a genuinely fair deal at Copenhagen.


  1. I wonder Jeremy if most people including ourseleves are a good and consistent understanding of justice/fairness climate or otherwise. I think you have talked about a book concerning why the developed world is rich and a good part of it is due the the exploitation of other peoples and their resources.

    So while you may in fact find many eco minded people wanting climate justice, you will find many thinking it is just about comsuming in a greener way and not about past exploitation issues.

    If we were really serious about morality and justice issue we in the West woulk owe the developing would trillions for past wrongs let alone for climate damage.

    1. That’s certainly true, and I’ve posted very similar maps before that show things like wood use and deforestation. The ratios are the same – the wood is cut in the developing world and used in the west. It’s like that with oil, metal ores, and even with water, if you look at the amounts arid African countries use growing coffee, beans, or flowers for export. And as you say, that’s before you even get to the historical injustices.

      So yes, in short, we’re not really serious about righting those injustices. Not yet, anyway.

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