It is essential that net zero transitions are carried out fairly: central to this is how the burden of reaching net zero is shared across and within countries.
The Paris Agreement states that it should be implemented to “reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities, in the light of different national circumstances”.
Equity is key to ensuring a sense of solidarity, collective ownership and political buy-in, increasing the likelihood of real and impactful climate action.
Steps to ensuring an equitable transition to net zero
The need for an equitable transition has at least three main implications:
Some countries may need to reach net zero faster, to compensate for those that may take longer to reach net zero.
Different countries will need to chart their paths to net zero based on their own specific national circumstances and constraints.
Developing countries will require financial, technological and capacital support in reaching net zero.
Different countries will follow different paths to net zero, with each transition reflecting a different mix of priorities and efforts to anchor net zero in the principle of sustainable development. The development of equity guardrails is central to ensuring the co-alignment of the objectives of net zero and economic and environmental objectives that will lead to sustainable development.
Displacement and exclusion of indigenous communities
While the rapid development of global renewable infrastructure is necessary for achieving net zero, it has raised concerns relating to community displacement. There are a growing number of examples of the displacement of indigenous communities as a result of ‘green development’ projects, particularly in South Asia and Africa.
The exclusion of indigenous knowledge and perspectives has also been witnessed in a number of carbon offsetting ventures. Quick carbon sequestration solutions that fail to consult indigenous communities or environmental experts (such as monoculture plantations) weaken biodiversity and lead to unintended psychological, social and economic consequences on local communities.
Climate justice intersects with other major systems of inequality and injustice in our world, including global racism. Access to environmental resources, environmental health outcomes, and experiences of environmental change are all affected by one’s identity.
Environmental racism takes place within pathways to global net zero when indigenous peoples and people in the Global South are forced from their communities in the name of a crisis for which they are largely not responsible.
Negative impacts of the climate crisis have been shown to disproportionately affect developing countries, indigenous communities, people of colour, and women. Vulnerable populations overall are expected to suffer more severe consequences and sooner than those with greater access to resources.
The greatest degree of warming is projected to be in developing countries located in the Global South, but such countries generally have poorer infrastructure, and less capacity to adapt and cope with the effects due to their limited economic capabilities than their northern counterparts.
Rising sea levels and changing marine ecosystems have been shown to highly affect indigenous communities in both coastal and mountainous locations. As much as 80% of the world’s remaining forest biodiversity lies within indigenous peoples’ territories, and indigenous and community lands store at least 24% of the above-ground carbon in the world’s tropical forests.
Decades of unjust, racist environmental policies have seen some communities of colour become dumping ground for toxic chemicals. In the US, air pollution disproportionately harms individuals of colour, with more than 57% of people of colour living in counties with a failing grade for air quality measures (compared to 37% of white people).
Women are more likely to be negatively affected by the climate crisis than men. More likely to live in extreme poverty than men, women have lower access to basic human rights and resources, making adaptation to changing environmental conditions more difficult. Women also deal with systemic systems of gendered violence, which are often exacerbated by instability, such climate-induced migration.
Driven by the need to share the burden of meeting net zero fairly, our research aims to develop solutions for the equity aspects of net zero (e.g. for workers, households and low- or middle-income countries) and improve understanding of net zero from the perspective of the Global South.
• Liu, Q., Guo, Z., Gao, L., Dong, Y., Moallemi, E. A., Eker, S., Yang, J., Li, X., Obersteiner, M., & Bryan, B. A. (2021). A Review of Model-Based Scenario Analysis of Poverty for Informing Sustainability. Environmental Science & Policy. 137, 336-348
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The Oxford Net Zero community is mobilising its collective expertise to help drive ambition at COP28, being held in the UAE from 30 November – 12 December. Read more
ONZ is hiring: join us as a Research Assistant to remap the net zero voluntary initiatives landscape
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Join us this autumn for a series of webinars led by Oxford Net Zero fellows! Read more
Professor Myles Allen appointed Fellow of the Royal Society Read more
Oxford Net Zero has an exciting opening for a Research Fellow on Net Zero for the Fossil Fuel Sector and non-stipendiary Research Fellowship at Kellogg College. We are seeking to appoint a Research Fellow on Net Zero for the Fossil Fuel Sector ... Read more