ONEPLANET Sustainability Review

Sustainability Research, Reviews and Signposting

North-South Climate Justice: Sustainable Development and Climate Change


Climate change (CC) is seen as a result of development, namely economic growth which accelerated during the period of industrialization in the global ‘North’. Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to human activities have grown since pre-industrial times, with an increase of 70% between 1970 and 2004 (IPCC, 2007). This rise is mainly attributed to the increased reliance on the use of fossil fuels and, in smaller part, to changes in land use (Brown and Fisher, 2012). Bearing this in mind, should we allow developing nations to develop or should we attempt to halt climate change, even if this jeopardizes the economic growth of poorer nations?

Both of the former are possible and not mutually exclusive, therefore poor nations can develop, if we distinguish between ‘luxury emissions’ and ‘basic needs emissions’. States have, according to UNCED Rio ’92 “common but differentiated responsibilities.”

Emissions reductions should predominantly, and rightly focus on the global north, particularly in the areas in the top three major sources of A-GHG of Energy Supply (25.9%), Industry (19.4%), and Forestry / Deforestation (17.4%)(transport and agriculture come in around 13%, totalling 89.3%), which themselves should concentrate on fossil fuel use (56.5%) and deforestation etc. (17.3%).

Yet Northern emission profiles are stabilising or reducing where rapidly developing countries like China, India and Brazil are dramatically increasing. It is right to now include developing countries in emissions targets, as Lord Stern is advocating and the recent Doha talks have sought to address.

Developing nations should develop whilst utilising low-carbon technologies and low emissions methods and policies, leapfrogging the polluting technologies and policies of the north in the same way their technology adaptation of mobile phones leapfrogged landline infrastructures.


What justice implications can we identify from this dilemma presented above? The offenders, in this case Western or Global North GHG polluters, are spreading the responsibility for their offences onto the global public, regardless of choice or voice.

Developing nations should be allowed to lift their populations out of poverty without being held accountable for the actions of wealthy nations.

In addition, developing nations are generally more susceptible to climate-related risks, as well as failures in adaptation and mitigation attempts. It’s been suggested that the poor are less able to defend themselves against such inequities and injustices owing to their poverty (Marino and Ribot, 2012).

So not only are the poor penalised implicitly because of CC, but they are also suffering failed mitigation attempts alongside any development restrictions associated with CC mitigation and adaptation. In the words of Marino and Ribot (2012), “those who contribute least to greenhouse gas emissions are often the most at risk in the face of change.” More than one dilemma it would seem. They continue by suggesting that “climate adaptation and mitigation often fall short of promoting environmental justice – in the form of rights, recourse and representation – that might make these interventions more locally relevant, equitable and therefore sustainable” (Marino and Ribot, 2012).

The key will be developing sustainably by utilising low-carbon technology. What better place to ‘roll out’ PV, CHP, GSHP and solar thermals en masse than where it’s needed most?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on 6 January 2013 by in Climate Change, Sustainable Development.

Part of the Problem? or Part of the Solution?

Rampant consumerism.
Widespread unsustainable lifestyles.
Unsustainable business practices.
Damaging and unsustainable travel and transport.
Extensive environmental degradation and biodiversity loss.
These are some of the problems we face.
Energy crisis.
Financial crisis.
Uneducated and un-empowered.
Environmental damage.
Food and water shortage.
Climate change.
Are you part of the problem,
Or are you part of the solution?

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


%d bloggers like this: