Tiempo Climate Newswatch
Justice and Equity in Adaptation
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Climate change has implications for equity and justice because the impacts of climate change, and resources for addressing these impacts, are unevenly distributed.
While a great deal of effort has been spent on understanding the potential burdens of climate change mitigation on countries and economies, issues relating to equity in adaptation to climate change have been largely ignored. Poor people in developing countries face the greatest impacts of climate change and have a low capacity to deal with these impacts. Yet they are least responsible for climate change.
For this reason, it is essential that the equity and justice implications of adaptation strategies and decisions are recognized and addressed at international, national, regional and local levels, both in policymaking and in implementation. This is particularly important as adaptation grows in significance in international negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD), the Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment (CSERGE) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) have conducted a strategic assessment of equity and justice implications of adaptation. This culminated in an international seminar in September 2003, which brought together leading scholars from a variety of disciplines to think through the role of justice in adaptation to climate change and its relationship to sustainable development.
Participants agreed that issues of both distributive and procedural justice must be addressed in order to achieve equity and justice in adaptation.
Distributive justice focuses on the distributional consequences of environmental decisions, ranging from the uneven spatial and social impacts of climate change to the variable impacts of response strategies.
Procedural justice concerns how and by whom decisions on adaptive responses are made. Critical issues for procedural justice include who is recognized and heard in decisionmaking, who controls decisionmaking processes at different levels, and what the relative power of different groups to influence decisions is. These questions are important at the international level (for example under the UNFCCC), but they also matter at the local level in the context of ‘everyday' decisions on adaptation.
Distributive and procedural justice are often intertwined in the key substantive justice issues of adaptation to climate change. These include:
These and other issues of justice in adaptation need to be considered within the UNFCCC's legal framework, and within the overall UNFCCC process.
For example, preparation of National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) by the 49 Least Developed Countries of the world provides an opportunity for applying principles of equity and justice to ensure that the voices and priorities of the communities that are most vulnerable to climate change are incorporated into the UNFCCC process on adaptation. NAPAs must prioritize adaptation activities and ensure stakeholder involvement, both of which are exercises in equity.
Elsewhere under the UNFCCC, fair assessment of where capacity building, technology transfer and awareness raising activities should be focused is important.
The UNFCCC naturally takes standpoints regarding equity and justice when it makes distinctions among Parties and differentiates between responsibilities of the Parties. Nevertheless, many gaps and challenges remain and require elaboration in the Convention's framework on adaptation. Failure to successfully address equity and justice concerns would lead to disproportionate impacts on vulnerable countries and communities.
Key challenges ahead include:
One central challenge is to ensure that adaptation funding is adequate, predictable and driven by developing country needs. The governance framework for adaptation must be permitted to evolve in a manner that not only assists developing country Parties in determining, prioritizing and expressing their adaptation needs, but also responds to these needs in an organized manner which shares burdens transparently and equitably.
Equity and justice are also important outside the UNFCCC process. For example, other international legal frameworks contain thresholds already agreed among nations on issues that relate to the concept of ‘danger' in the context of climate change. Domestic legal frameworks also provide guidance on rights, responsibilities and personal or group liability. Such liability and compensation frameworks are one possible route for addressing burden sharing and existing ‘ecological debt'.
Models based on responsibility for past emissions or per capita rights (such as the ‘contraction and convergence' model) are also useful for considering how funding for adaptation activities should be allocated and how responsibilities for reducing emissions should be divided. Collective loss-sharing and risk transfer frameworks, such as insurance, provide other opportunities to reduce the burden of climate change on the poor.
While responsibility and insurance approaches certainly have a role in just adaptation to climate change, public adaptive responses are also needed to reduce vulnerability and to assist rural communities with adaptation. Effective governance of environmental resources, improvement of access to and functioning of markets, and the provision of public services to maintain and enhance human capital are examples of measures that would benefit the most vulnerable groups in developing countries.
These public responses must harness potential contributions from local communities and users, but they must also incorporate an element of state-building and enhancement of state capacity to be sustainable.
The main conclusions of the project can be summarized as follows:
Emerging themes that would benefit from further research include:
In conclusion, justice, both of outcome and process, is intertwined at different levels of decisionmaking within institutions and collective action for adaptation. The traditional framework of distributive justice is thus inadequate for a comprehensive analysis of justice in adaptation. Human life and health, security, and the integrity of global ecosystems are all important justice imperatives, which can and often ought to be considered independently of economic welfare.
A comprehensive approach to the study of justice in adaptation must acknowledge procedural issues relating to recognition, participation, fair process and the use of power. These procedural issues are particularly important because of the multi-level nature of adaptation and because of the multiple objectives of international cooperation under the UNFCCC.
Differential vulnerability to climate change should be a central concern. Climate change impacts on vulnerable ecosystems and on vulnerable individuals and communities require just adaptation. This can often be best achieved by reducing the vulnerability of the most vulnerable and least advantaged. Current principles and practices diverge from this principle and all of us involved in climate change related action need to seek equitable and legitimate solutions if we are to be part of a transition to sustainable development.
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Tiempo Climate Newswatch