If world is to decarbonise, climate policy must be just and deploy new framework, researchers suggest

Climate justice is about ‘how we transition to cleaner ways of living, different impacts on various groups of people’

Researchers have proposed for the first time an innovative framework to help policymakers and scientists put in place meaningful climate justice measures as the world strives to decarbonise and to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in coming decades.

In a paper published on Monday, the authors outline how previous policy and research “neglected many potential justice positions”, and underline the climate crisis will not be dealt with without properly addressing such issues.

The framework is proposed by researchers who are part of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, including UCC-based Dr Kian Mintz-Woo, a member of the Government’s Carbon Budgets Working Group who specialises in moral philosophy, theoretical and applied to climate.

“Dealing with climate change is not just about the environment – it is also about justice and fairness. This includes how we transition to cleaner ways of living, the different impacts on various groups of people, and who is responsible for what. Paying more attention to fairness and justice when making decisions will help policymakers to devise better climate policies that people can agree on,” the authors said.


“Currently, people however don’t always understand or talk about these concepts in the same way. While experts may think about justice and fairness when they plan ways to, for example, reduce carbon emissions, they often don’t explain it clearly, instead using different words and measures, which can confuse researchers and the public. This confusion makes it harder to share and understand the results,” Dr Mintz-Woo said.

“Our framework provides a systematic guide to engage with different justice considerations and to highlight current gaps in climate change research ... This could help scientists reflect on their work in an ethically coherent way. Philosophers of climate science have increasingly noted the role of values.

“The first step to improve their approach to justice is to realise that research is not free of justice and having a framework to understand what justice considerations might be applicable is crucial,” he said.

In their study published in Nature Climate Change, they propose a concept rooted in philosophical theory to address this gap “in possibly the first systematic attempt to describe these different aspects or dimensions of justice for the climate domain in an interdisciplinary context”. It aims to prevent mischaracterisation of justice “to justify delayed climate action”.

Recognising justice can either support or hinder decarbonisation efforts, the researchers say more research on justice-related issues is essential for the next cycle of work by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the main global mechanism for interpreting climate science.

“Our framework does not aim to evaluate what is just or unjust but rather provides a structured platform for identifying and discussing justice considerations,” said Dr Mintz-Woo. “By bringing clarity and consistency to the discourse surrounding climate justice, this framework will empower researchers and policymakers to navigate the intricate justice landscape and ensure that justice is a fundamental aspect of climate policy decisions.”

Their pioneering work was a significant step toward a more holistic and multidimensional understanding of justice in the context of climate change, offering a valuable tool to advance climate policy and research worldwide, he said.

The research details five forms of climate justice.

Distributional justice addresses how scarce resources should be distributed in the future, including patterns of goods distribution. This can be applied to climate impacts or energy use.

Procedural justice relates to fairness including procedures used to make decisions, whether political or scientific, that are fair and accessible, involving relevant stakeholders such as vulnerable or impacted groups including Indigenous peoples or representative citizens in decision-making and scientific processes, “while decisions should be informed by an understanding of differentiated implications for stakeholders”.

Corrective justice addresses those who have been wronged. The appropriate responses range from the symbolic, such as apologies, to restorative actions to compensation. “Some believe that historical greenhouse gas emissions constitute wrongdoing,” the paper adds.

Recognitional justice identifies sensitivities relevant to climate policy ie being sensitive to historical, cultural and regional factors.

Transitional justice, they propose, should focus on policies that are sequenced to “bring us ... closer to an ideally just state?”

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here
Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times