Climate change will impact on different regions, ecosystems and people.
Some examples of climate change affecting weather conditions are Hurricane Mitch in Honduras (1998), hurricanes in Haiti and Caribbean (2004), extensive flooding in Mozambique (2000) and Bangladesh (2004).
Observers say that the recent Japanese tsunami may also have been caused by climate change.
Many of these regions and people are vulnerable and poorly equipped to cope with climate change.
The consequences of environmental degradation are often borne disproportionately by racially economically disadvantaged groups.
Wealthier individuals and countries can afford to buy bottled water, food and medicines and move from degraded and contaminated sites. They can also access information about alternative choices.
Poor and vulnerable people from disadvantaged groups and developing countries face numerous threats such as (i) reduced potential crop yields due to reducing arable land (ii) decreased or no clean drinking water (iii) an increase in the number of people suffering from diseases such as malaria, cholera, HIV and AIDS (iv) widespread increase in the risk of flooding especially low lying island such as the Maldives (v) increasing concentration of population in major cities , with movement of people from rural and semi-urban areas in search of livelihood due to shrinking natural resources (vi) poverty and poor nutrition due to decline in agricultural production and (vii) accumulating levels of atmospheric land and water contamination.
Human societies are inconsistent in their response to climate change and in their ability to anticipate and adapt to such change.
Various factors including wealth, knowledge, infrastructure, preparedness and access to resources lead to this inconsistency in response.
Developing countries lack of most of these, grouping them amongst the most vulnerable regions. They are likely to experience the greatest loss of life, the most negative effects on economy and development and the largest diversion of resources from other pressing needs.
Discussions on climate issues relating to social justice have largely been international, making distributive considerations difficult.
The consequences of climate change on poor and vulnerable groups are usually missed or receive little attention, despite extensive research on the subject.
In the context of issues outlined, equity can be defined as distribution of benefits and costs of adapting to climate change. In the words of environment experts Dr Youba Sokona and Dr Fatima Denton, when considered in the context of adapting to climate change, equity relates to “assuring that vulnerable people in the remotest outposts of the world do not become imprisoned in perennial cycles of destitution and impoverishment at the mercy of climate events.”
Equity in the context of climate change should also relate to a range of other key issues, including but not limited to, “who decides and responds, a structure for taking and assisting actions, relationships between the developed and the developing world and relationships between climate change impacts and other factors that affect and disturb livelihoods.”
Ground level research on poor and vulnerable people shows considerable resourcefulness from their side in the face of external change as these people have had to adapt to numerous other challenges throughout their life.
Yet, there is a need to maintain cautiously positive attitude towards the ability of poor and vulnerable to adapt, because climate change represents a number of hypothetical situations for the poor and vulnerable people.
These situations include loss of life and movement in search of livelihood in case there is a sudden change in their natural resource based livelihood.
Due to the socio-economic disparity between the developed and the developing nations, the issue of equity must remain pivotal to all facets of the climate change debate.
The issues surrounding equity and justice require a sense of realism by experts and institutions who develop adaptation strategies and policies that climate change is just one of the many factors affecting the poor.
Social justice therefore is paramount in all polices considered and implemented relating to climate change.
Rahul Chopra is a postgraduate in Public Policy from AUT University, Auckland. Climate Policy, Climate Change, Environment and Spirituality are among the subjects which evince his interest in research and analysis.
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Photo :Climate change can wreak havoc for future generations
(Illustration courtesy: Planetthoughts.org)