Straight to the point, if we are unable to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5° C compared to pre-industrial levels, this will massively upset the balance of our climate, rendering large parts of the earth uninhabitable and creating a humanitarian disaster. Decisive action and global cohesion are required. But instead of acknowledging that we can only halt the climate crisis together, individual interests and the protection of wealth are still being wrestled with at the political/policy-making level. It almost seems as though the scale of the climate disaster is beyond the bounds of human imagination. After all, the effects of global warming and the associated threats that it presents are more apparent in some places than in others.
Cause and responsibility
Above all, those for whom climate change is already a daily reality, threatening their livelihoods, understand the seriousness of the situation. Those with no financial resilience, those pushed into poverty and hunger due to increasing crop losses, and those who lose all their possessions to extreme weather events are among those hardest hit — a fate suffered primarily by people in the Global South. In many cases, those affected have done little to cause the climate crisis, and are responsible for a mere fraction of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is clearly illustrated by the example of Central America, one of the regions that bear the brunt of the effects of climate change.
While, for example, the people of Nicaragua and Honduras produce around one tonne of CO2 on average each year, in other parts of the world, the average figures are up to 50 times higher. In Germany, the figure was over 9 tonnes in 2018. In that year, just three regions were responsible for more than half of all global emissions: China accounted for almost one-third of emissions (29.7%), followed by the USA (13.9%), and the EU (9.1%).
The interplay between the environmental and social dimension of climate change raises ethical questions regarding justice. The 'Climate Justice' discourse turns the spotlight on responsibility. There are calls for those most responsible for causing climate change to shoulder their responsibility and pay compensation for loss and damage from climate change.
The majority of total emissions released into the atmosphere since the start of the industrial revolution originates from industrialised countries of the Global North. In addition to their historical responsibility, most of these countries (still) have sufficient financial resources to protect themselves against the effects of climate change. The paradox is that this wealth often stems from climate-damaging activities.
This illustrates the heart of the problem: as long as wealth is linked to economic growth, which in turn is linked to the consumption of raw materials and the use of fossil fuels, we will continue to live beyond the means of our planet. This concept of growth is the cause of resource scarcity, loss of biodiversity, the climate change crisis and, ultimately, social injustice.
The European Green Deal as a way out?
The world community took an important step by signing the Paris Agreement, and yet it has so far failed to distribute the remaining carbon budget fairly. Either individual countries’ climate change targets are not ambitious enough to reverse the process, or they fall well short of their targets. Existing power structures often facilitate decisions that have a fatal impact on climate policy, because economic interests are paramount.
With its proposal for a European Green Deal, the European Union plans to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent, focusing on resource efficiency, the circular economy, and green growth, which should be decoupled from carbon emissions. Even if the initiative succeeds, it still remains uncertain whether it will contribute to global climate justice. As long as there are no intentions to strike a global green deal, the question then arises whether problems will simply be shifted elsewhere, rather than being solved holistically. Where do the raw materials for green technologies come from? Which climate mitigation measures in other parts of the world will enable the EU to achieve climate neutrality? If the current model of reducing emissions where it is most favourable — in the Global South — is maintained, competing land use and exploitation will remain key issues that fail to take into account the perspective of those affected.
On a planet with finite resources, a system oriented to growth will always produce losers. Climate Justice can only become reality when the underlying causes of injustice are eliminated. This will require a change in social structures, a shift in power relations, and the opportunity to participate in relevant decision-making processes. This will only be possible in an economic system that respects the boundaries of our planet and focuses on the common good, the defence of human rights, and the preservation of the natural foundations of life.
Despite the bleak outlook for climate change, the mobilisation and activism undertaken worldwide by many sections of the population are overwhelming. The growing climate movement puts immense pressure on governments, and the louder their calls for a comprehensive social-ecological transformation become, the more the glimmer of hope for a (more) climate-just future will grow.
 Joint Research Centre (European Commission): Fossil CO2 and GHG emissions of all world countries - 2019 report: https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/9d09ccd1-e0dd-11e9-9c4e-01aa75ed71a1/language-en/format-PDF/source-140769485 (p. 12)