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A fair share of climate action

Published on 6 January 2021

Historical responsibility and a just response

What is the UK’s fair share when it comes to climate action?

The UK has grown rich through the burning of fossil fuels and the extraction of resources, particularly from the global south. Historically, we’re the sixth largest emitter of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. That means that we have had a huge role in contributing to the climate breakdown that we are now seeing in the form of more frequent and more severe droughts, floods and storms.

These disasters hit the poorest hardest, and will only get worse without urgent action. 

Our research into the UK’s true fair share of climate action takes this historical responsibility into account, as well as our current capacity to respond to the crisis. Based on this, the UK is responsible for 3.5% of total global emissions reductions needed, which would mean reducing our own emissions by 200%. 

The conclusion is that the UK must do much more than get to net-zero emissions within its own borders. It must also support international action that reduces emissions in other countries, particularly those with fewer resources, through financial and technical support, expanding clean energy access and ending damaging practices such as deforestation. 

This is not only the right thing to do now because of the repercussions of inaction for us all. It is the just response to our role in causing the climate crisis.   

Coronavirus and inequality

Coronavirus and its impacts have highlighted the inequalities that already existed. But it has also given us a potential reset moment, a chance to invest in doing things differently from now on.

Although there has been talk of the UK’s pandemic recovery package being green, the measures do not go far enough, and the plans ignore our responsibilities beyond our own borders. 

In a global emergency, where the poorest are paying the price for inaction, this isn’t good enough. 

Without support, poorer nations facing multiple crises may be forced to restart their economies using cheap and dirty coal, wiping out gains made elsewhere, and exacerbating the climate crisis. Although the UK government has made a recent commitment to stop funding fossil fuels overseas directly, poor countries still need investment to leapfrog the dirty energy that has led us into this crisis.   

What does climate justice mean to us?

Climate justice means going beyond reducing the UK’s emissions at home. The UK government must do its fair share, and that means considering the impacts of investments overseas, and supporting communities that are already living with climate breakdown. 

Mithika Mwenda, Co-founder & Executive Director of Christian Aid partner, the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, shares what it means to him: 

Mithika Mwenda Pan African Climate Justice Alliance

Mithika Mwenda/PACJA

'Climate justice means industrialised countries accepting responsibility, accepting that this problem is their problem, accepting the need to address it in a comprehensive manner, and ensuring that that problem is addressed through deeper emissions cuts at the source – rather than transferring that burden to poor countries who have not caused the problem.

'It includes also ensuring that those countries who caused the problem provide sufficient resources like climate finance to those who are facing the impacts of their actions. And it means providing resources for capacity building, and effective technology transfer so that those people can be able to withstand the shock associated with climate change.

'So that is what climate justice means for us.'

- Mithika Mwenda, Co-founder & Executive Director of Christian Aid partner, the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance