Burden of Climate Change: Climate & Race

by Deniz Saygi

According to Merriam Webster, the definition of climate change is a significant and long-lasting change in the Earth’s climate and weather patterns [1]. Yet, the truth is much deeper and more comprehensive than this definition.

After the signing of the Paris Agreement, countries promised to take action on climate change, and some are regulating their policies to the green transition as stated. However, it is essential to mention that taking action alone is not enough and underline another important issue: climate justice. At COP26 Climate Change Summit, leaders pledged to act faster on tackling climate change. Nevertheless, those who closely follow the problems related to climate change, from activist Greta Thunberg to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, are not demanding “acting” but actualclimate justice. [2]

As UNEP underlines, climate justice is a term used to frame global warming as an ethical and political issue rather than of sole environmental or physical impact. This is done by relating the effects of climate change to concepts of justice, particularly environmental justice and social justice and by examining issues such as equality, human rights, collective rights, and the historical responsibilities for the climate. [3]

The terms Global North and Global South (or North-South divide in a global context) describe a grouping of countries along with socio-economic and political elements. [4]

On the other hand, the Global South refers to those seen as socioeconomically less-developed countries located in Africa, A


The burden of climate catastrophes differs in differing regions of the world. Evidence shows that those who suffer the most from the catastrophic consequences of climate change contribute the least to these consequences. Therefore, in contemporary dynamics, Global North countries, unfortunately, contribute most of the emissions that cause the deepening of the climate crisis. In contrast, ’Global South’’ countries were the ones that contributed the least in terms of physical emissions. However, these countries are more affected by environmental disasters due to climate change, mostly due to a lack of infrastructure as well as the geographic regions their populations inhabit being more at risk (deserts, coastlands, islands, etc.). [7] However, this does not mean that Globa

l North countries are not at-risk to climate catastrophe, but quite the opposite. There is above $6 trillion estimated damage from climate change to the US East Coast alone post-2050, and Florida especially is at-risk of sinking completely to the ocean, with an estimated increase of 22-inches of coastal loss per year after 2030.

For example, while the United States, the members of the European Union, and China (as Global North) are responsible for 59% of global CO2 emissions, Brazil is responsible for just 0.9%, and the entire African continent is responsible for only 3% of those emissions. [8]

Studies indicate that with the drastic increase in temperature across Africa, some regions are likely to become uninhabitable, big cities may be too hot to go out safely, and staying cool indoors will become a struggle for those who cannot afford air conditioning. Droughts intensify in Eastern and Southern Africa, while deserts are in danger of spreading across the continent and engulfing fertile farmland. [9]

It can be said that climate change and racismare two major and challenging problems of the 21st century with a strong relationship and intersectional connection. However, as mentioned above in this article, there is a sharp divide between who has caused and deepened climate change and who suffers its effects most. BIPOC, which stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour, across the Global South, will be most affected by the climate crisis, even though their carbon footprints are generally very low compared to other communities. Moreover, parallel racial divides also occur within nations regarding deep structural inequalities laid down by a long heritage of unequal power relationships and connections, such as redlining and healthcare discriminations apparent in the USA. [10]

Climate change multiplies all forms of social disadvantage, with divisions along class lines, gender, age, and also ethnicity/race. [11] For example, in India, the lower castes are in the position of losing the most from climate change [12]. Indigenous peoples [13] and nomadic tribes [14] are usually more vulnerable to the catastrophic events of climate change. Consequently,climate justice, social justice and racial justice are all interconnected.

When racism evolves structurally under the institutional racism, it can serve without obvious intent and objective. So, there is no ’calculated’’approach and action of discrimination to encounter, no “racists” to identify and accuse. This situation is the case with the climate change issue, indeed: There are no ‘’white people’’ scheming to impose climate catastrophes on the Global South. Yet, BIPOCs still find themselves at a disadvantage and face contrasts in consequences that are visible in the statistics. Accordingly, a negative duality lies there: climate injustice in the face of racism.[15]

Back in 1990, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)released its first report. Finally, 30 years later, the term colonialismbecame the IPCC’s sixth assessment report. The panel’s working group two report, which examines the consequences of the effects of climate change on people worldwide, highlighted colonialism not only as a trigger of the current climate crisis but also as an ongoing problem deepening communities’ vulnerability to it. This report means that officials and scientists from around the globe must recognise colonialism’s influential role in causing global warming and destroying ‘’Mother Nature’’. [16]

In conclusion, humanity has been shaping and transforming social, economic, political, and technological initiatives worldwide. Therefore, we must not forget that global problems are closely interconnected. Hence, climate change is not just one problem. Climate change will not be handled by continuing to follow the economic dominance of industrial hegemonies that created the climate crisis at first. Moreover, it should be acknowledged that climate change is more than a political and economic issue. In the face of challenges and inequalities under climate change, everyone in a privileged position needs to do something, including sending clear and demanding messages to all local, national, and global leaders to raise awareness before it is too late, especially for vulnerable communities. The relationship between the environment and racism inherited by colonialism is crucial for holding power in educating us on these ongoing issues as climate change continues to occur.


[4] & [5] Graml, G., Meyer-Lee, E. & Peifer, J. (2021). Decolonizing Global Learning and Internationalization: A Human-Scale Case Study of Innovation. IGI Global. doi: 10.4018/978–1–7998–3796–1.ch007.

First image: https://www.climatechangecommunication.org/all/which-racial-ethnic-groups-care-most-about-climate-change/

Second image: https://www.concernusa.org/story/hunger-in-niger-causes-hope/

Deniz Saygi writes contributions for the JISJ, Earth Refuge, Human Rights Pulse and Sustainability for Students. She currently is selected as the Max Thabiso Edkins Climate Ambassador for the Global Climate Youth Network hosted by the World Bank.

Originally published at https://www.journalisj.com on July 17, 2022.



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