Climate Positive as an Instrumentality for Climate Justice: Progress & Lessons from the Pandemic

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An accelerated variation in the global and regional climate patterns, marked by the increasing temperature, changing wind and rain patterns, melting glaciers and consequential rising sea levels, as a result of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is Climate Change. The impact of these changes in the environment is extensive and often acute, ranging from wildlife destruction and threatening levels of environment degradation to extreme natural phenomena. However, it cannot be said that the repercussions are uniformly distributed across nations, socio-economic groups, communities, generations, occupation, incomes and gender which is what launches us in the direction of aspiring for Climate Justice. Climate Justice is the embodiment of all deliberations that necessitate advocating for human rights and environmental justice concerns related to the disproportionately affected vulnerable sections, as part of the climate change movement. The blog seeks to explore Climate Positive Actions and establish them as crucial to realisation of Climate Justice principles, especially in the context of the experience gained from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Understanding Climate Justice and Associated Law

Climate Justice, based on research and facts, delineates disadvantaged groups and emphasises that State policies and strategies must be responsive to their special circumstances in order to mitigate the extent of climate change impact. For instance, climate change disproportionately impacts agricultural communities relying on consistent weather patterns, quality and availability of natural resources and small coastal economies affected by rising water levels. The unfairness of the aforementioned proposition is further aggravated because the most afflicted, such as indigenous or low income communities and developing nations, are not the major contributors of emissions causing climate change.

It’s a movement, founded on the principle of equity, that the International Community utilises to push for State legislative and policy action, envisioning economically feasible and sustainable development goals which are also conscious of the responsibility to be fair. This equitable approach becomes especially significant to uplift the groups which become extremely vulnerable due to their inability to adapt to climate change needs, born out of lack of resources and representation at policymaking levels.

The unbalanced distribution, amongst countries, of consequences suffered when pitted against the degree of anthropogenic contribution towards factors worsening climate change, is acknowledged and addressed by a number of International instruments. One such instrument is Rio Declaration of 1992, and Principle 7 contained therein which provides for Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR). This principle works along the same broad lines of culpability to responsibility ratio that the concept of climate justice seeks to bring the discourse of climate change to, by invoking equity and fairness. It justifies the higher proportion of duty on developed countries to take proactive measures for environmental conservation corresponding to their greater levels of exploitation. In fact, climate justice is inherent to international climate frameworks such as this and the Kyoto Protocol, which basically call for State accountability.

Climate Justice and International Politics

At the same time, regardless of the substantial and imminent danger posed by the progressively tangible reality of a world changed beyond recognition by climate change, world powers don’t show the political will of taking any urgent measures. The United States, the second largest GHG emitter, pulled out of Paris Climate Change Agreement in 2017 while Brazil came under fire for the lax approach in dealing with the Amazonian fires in 2019. India, too, is guilty of having vague, indecisive climate change policies that fail to address the issue proactively. Clearly, despite the Paris Agreement and other similar instruments which set forth ambitious targets of curbing the expected temperature rise, efforts have not materialised into tangible policy changes for various countries because of the voluntary and non-enforceable elements inherent to such agreements.

Constructive initiatives by corporations

On the other hand, a general trend has emerged where global corporate giants, who will in all probability face a severe natural resource crunch, have taken initiatives even in the absence of State policies. Environmental degradation due to unrestrained carbon emissions by the industrial sector, one of the prominent causes for the rising global temperature, is a cost that the world has paid for capitalistic ambitions. In that light, climate justice understands their role as akin to that of developed nations. It, consequently, imposes upon them a responsibility to turn to more environmentally viable business operation strategies and essentially demanding them to become climate positive, so as to not make perpetual victims out of smaller industries of developing-nations and lower-income communities who cannot cope with the rising costs of operation.

Climate Positive is essential to Climate Justice

The International Community is placing its hopes on the growing momentum of Climate positive action by the concerned corporate world. The early stage of the initiative can be attributed to the collective gesture of 43 companies from around the world, urging their States to take firm actions towards mitigating climate change during the World Economic Forum in 2015. The concept of Climate Positive, a few years later, further progressed in response to the 1.5˚ Celsius pledge that emerged in June 2019. The pledge’s target is scientifically grounded in the assessment done by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which essentially states that if comprehensive world actions are undertaken now, the global rise in temperature can be limited to 1.5˚ C above pre-industrial levels. Since July 2019, this proposition has received enthusiastic reception by the business world with increasing number of key companies and collisions, who constitute a significant portion of world economy, joining in. This momentum was appreciated and further strengthened by the emphatic succour provided by the COP25 summit in December 2019. The common denominator in the policies that businesses are rapidly adopting is the alignment of strategies throughout operation and value chain, with the achievement of the targeted temperature. This not only includes achieving net zero emissions by 2050 but ultimately reducing more GHG emissions than emitted.

IKEA, a Swedish multinational group joined forces with UN Climate Change and has taken up the mandate of inviting discourse from important stakeholders and establishing benchmark business solutions, aimed at transitioning the present model into a climate positive and sustainable business model. It has already laid the foundational stone for realisation of this approach by heavily investing in clean, renewable energy and contemplating plans for reforestation, land resource management and innovation in the food industry. The key elements of the plan are: reducing GHG emissions considerably, wastage and energy consumption. IKEA might have led the march but top companies like Amazon, Microsoft and other industrial giants have started setting up individual ambitious targets of climate positivity for the coming decades by systematically capturing more emissions than they produce. In totality, what climate positive presupposes is a series of mitigating measures, both long term and immediate, on part of states and commercial concerns, especially large-scale ones. It embodies the principles of climate justice, with responsible entities dispensing a larger portion of the burden and promising a sustainable future with growth for the masses that are exposed to risk due to higher prices, scarce and degraded resources.

Current pandemic and Lessons for the World

While our current understanding of the science revolving around climate change posits that positive constructive action is essential to prevent further degradation and gradually restoring the environment, the global pandemic of COVID-19 has introduced and affirmed the possibility of self-rejuvenation of every element of the ecosystem. The halted transport and industrial work has resulted in a dramatic decrease in GHG emissions, leading to steep drops in levels of pollution in air, water and noise as well as recovery of marine and wild life. While this may certainly appear as a silver lining of this devastating world crisis, environmentalists have been quick to clarify that this is only a temporary restoration so as not to shift the focus from the requisite State policy and operational changes for mitigating climate change. Nonetheless, this experience could also be considered a test run for sustainable structural changes in the society, economy and business operations such as Work from Home (WFH) and other unconventional flexible arrangements.


Undoubtedly, the pandemic leaves no question as to the world’s inaptitude to deal with nature’s reactionary courses and it also put in sharp contrast the States’ struggle in keeping their economies from crumbling while balancing public health. Most importantly, it has highlighted the most vulnerable groups in the society, who lack resources to adapt to the changing world circumstances and are rapidly slipping towards homelessness, starvation and bleak futures with no employment opportunities. The economic repercussions will become more obvious with time and the aftermath will be felt keenly by a large section of society. Long term responsive Government policies are crucial to ensure the survival of these socio-economic groups right now and also to plan for reconciliation of their subsistence needs with the undeniably altered future of the post COVID-19 world. An obvious parallel can be effortlessly drawn to determine what is required on part of the States and big business entities most responsible for climate change, to not only lead the world to a sustainable future but also to compensate for the discriminatory spread of consequences on the least deserving.

(This post has been authored by Ayushi Singh, a second year B.A.LL.B(Hons.) student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow)


Cite as: Ayushi Singh, ‘Climate Positive as an Instrumentality for Climate Justice: Progress & Lessons from the Pandemic’   (The Contemporary Law Forum, 28 June 2020) <> date of access.  

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