What is climate justice? Climate change, climate crisis, climate action, many terms related to the degradation of our climate. However, one of these concepts works toward bringing justice and equity into the discourse on climate change. According to Yale Climate Connections, climate justice is “is a term, and more than that a movement, that acknowledges climate change can have differing social, economic, public health, and other adverse effects on underprivileged populations. Advocates for climate justice are striving to have these inequities addressed head-on through long-term mitigation and adaptation strategies.” The key to understanding climate justice is knowing that social, political, and economic inequalities affect individuals differently and that the lived realities of diverse people contribute to how the climate crisis affects them.
For example, the wealthy and living in the Global North have the financial means to better address or accommodate issues that arise due to climate change. Those in a higher socio-economic status can afford higher rates of water, air conditioning, or any increased cost of resources because of resource scarcity. However, those a part of the working class worldwide will be unable to provide basic necessities for themselves as costs go up.
Additionally, the Global South is used by Western nations and corporations as a waste dumping site, causing health issues, environmental degradation, and pollution. The environment has suffered due to free trade agreements, which is evident through analyzing the effects of NAFTA regarding access to clean drinking water in Mexico and the prevalence of environmental refugees. After the implementation of NAFTA, which is the North American Free Trade Agreement, there has been a steady increase in water contamination and the deterioration of the Mexican environment.
Countries like Mexico are attractive to U.S. corporations as less regulated environmental laws make it easy for corporations to outsource their production at less cost and more autonomy. In Tijuana, Mexico, 206 million liters of raw sewage are deposited into the New and River Grande. Many Mexican citizens migrate to Maquiladoras, which are Mexican assembly plants used by U.S companies for cheap and unregulated labor. As Mexican workers move to regions with Maquiladoras, its infrastructure is unable to cope with it, resulting in residents not having access to sanitary facilities and clean drinking water. Air pollution is also increasing in Mexico because of importing old American cars without the emission controls stripped from them. Even more so, air pollution from the burning of waste in Mexico, which is from plants from U.S companies.
Environmental refugees are defined as people who can “no longer gain a secure livelihood in their homelands because of drought, soil erosion, deforestation, and other environmental problems, together with associated problems of population pressures and profound poverty.” The phenomenon of environmental refugees is directly tied to the decline of the environment, which can be traced back to neo-liberal, free trade policy. As trade and production become more globalized, it breaks out of the nations’ borders, exporting labor to Far Periphery countries, which have the most relaxed labor and environmental laws, making it easier to exploit. This is most notably demonstrated in Mexico, where since the implementation of NAFTA, there has been an increase in droughts, pushing Mexicans out of their country. It is projected that by 2050, 1 in 10 Mexicans will be displaced by climate change, and globally, 1 billion people will be displaced due to environmental reasons…
The effects of climate change will not be alleviated without climate justice. The so-called “developing world” (development according to whose standards?) has every right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable living conditions as the so-called “developed” world. No state has superiority over another.