What links climate change and inequality?
News From the world
19 september '22
Reading time: 4 minutes
We know that climate change has hazardous effects on human life, but did you know that it unequally affects poor countries and communities the most? Let’s find out what the situation is and what can be done to help.
Words by Rebecca Pollard
Climate change and social inequality have a complicated relationship in terms of the global, contemporaneous moment. While most climate problems originate from the smallest percentage of the world population, most of the harsh effects affect poorer populations.
Let’s remind what climate change is
Climate change refers to the long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. Slight changes in temperature and weather can be caused naturally by variations in the solar cycle, but since the nineteenth century, human activities have accelerated climate change due to the burning of fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas generate greenhouse gases that go into the earth’s atmosphere, trapping the sun’s heat which results in changes in climate patterns. Man-made, fossil-burning climate change leads to life-threatening effects globally, such as intense droughts, water scarcity, severe fires, rising sea levels, flooding, melting polar ice, storms, and biodiversity loss.
Why we need to talk about inequality?
The link between climate change and social inequality is twofold: while climate change has dramatic effects on inequality, poverty, and economic opportunity, both poverty and inequality contribute to climate change. For instance, policy action towards climate change is directly affected by the social polarization and income inequality of a particular country. At the same time, poor countries, regions, and communities bear the hardships of climate change.
Climate change has particularly negative effects on marginalized communities, which has a knock-on, negative effect on their agricultural sectors. Since most marginalized communities depend on agriculture for both sustenance and income, the physical effects of climate change put them in serious danger.
This situation becomes unfair when it is considered that the world’s richest 1 percent of the population is responsible for more than twice as much emissions as the poorest 50 percent, which means that the people that are most responsible for climate change are not the people that suffer from its effects. To put that in perspective, North America is home to only five percent of the world population but emits nearly 18 percent of CO2, while Africa has 16 percent of the population but emits just 4 percent of CO2. Unfortunately, countries in Africa and other regions suffer the consequences of rising carbon emissions. Oxfam states that in the first quarter of 2022, an estimated 13 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia were displaced in search of water and pasture due to climate change.
The private jet scandal
Conversely, it was recently found that a single private jet can emit 2 metric tons of CO2 in just an hour. Essentially, one celebrity’s shopping trip to Paris largely contributes to the displacement of millions of people. This has been dubbed a huge crisis by climate change activists due to a large number of rich, private jet owners contributing to these environmental transgressions. Some world-famous celebrities such as Taylor Swift, Jay Z, and Kylie Jenner have been mentioned in connection with this.
Are there solutions?
The Sustainable Development Goals, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Paris Agreement are three global frameworks to guide climate progress, which work on cutting emissions, adapting to climate impacts and financing required adjustments. However, the world’s environmentally unconscious elite pose a great threat to this mission with unrestricted carbon emissions. Governments can tackle both extreme inequality and the climate crisis if they target the excessive emissions of the richest and invest in poor and vulnerable communities. In other words, in order to tackle global carbon emissions, we too must tackle the problem of environmental elitism.