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Burden of Climate Change: Climate & Race


According to Merriam Webster, the definition of climate change is a significant and long-lasting change in the Earth’s climate and weather patterns [1]. Yet, the truth is much deeper and more comprehensive than this definition.

After the signing of the Paris Agreement, countries promised to take action on climate change, and some are regulating their policies to the green transition as stated. However, it is essential to mention that taking action alone is not enough and underline another important issue: climate justice. At COP26 Climate Change Summit, leaders pledged to act faster on tackling climate change. Nevertheless, those who closely follow the problems related to climate change, from activist Greta Thunberg to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, are not demanding "acting" but actual climate justice. [2]

As UNEP underlines, climate justice is a term used to frame global warming as an ethical and political issue rather than of sole environmental or physical impact. This is done by relating the effects of climate change to concepts of justice, particularly environmental justice and social justice and by examining issues such as equality, human rights, collective rights, and the historical responsibilities for the climate. [3]

The Global North vs Global South: The Unequal Burden of Climate Change

The terms Global North and Global South (or North-South divide in a global context) describe a grouping of countries along with socio-economic and political elements. [4]

The countries in the northern hemisphere have historically been identified as “the West” or “The First World” due to perceptions of their relative wealth, technology, and global hegemony. This terminology was developed most fervently during the Cold War Era, where the world was split between perceived socioeconomic development by the First World (West/Allies), Second World (Soviet/Communist States) and Third World (Undeveloped and Unaligned). Therefore, the Global North refers to technically and socially well-developed countries in North America and Europe in general, the "First World". As the relations and power of balance change in contemporary dynamics, the countries also vary in this context. [5]

On the other hand, the Global South refers to those seen as socioeconomically less-developed countries located in Africa, A

sia, Latin America and the Middle East. These countries are formerly known as "Third World" or ''developing countries''. [6] Contemporary countries of what used to be known as the "Second World" are largely associated with the contemporary Global North, as most of them are in Europe, but this varies depending on the country context. Modern day Kazakhstan and modern day Ukraine have faced different repercussions, obstacles, and relationships with the standardized definition of countries of the "West" (USA, UK, EU) since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Categorization into modern day Global North vs South is also heavily dependent on current economic consumption and production, i.e. some as adding China to the "Global North" due to its geographic position as well as it's economic ca


The burden of climate catastrophes differs in differing regions of the world. Evidence shows that those who suffer the most from the catastrophic consequences of climate change contribute the least to these consequences. Therefore, in contemporary dynamics, Global North countries, unfortunately, contribute most of the emissions that cause the deepening of the climate crisis. In contrast, ’Global South’’ countries were the ones that contributed the least in terms of physical emissions. However, these countries are more affected by environmental disasters due to climate change, mostly due to a lack of infrastructure as well as the geographic regions their populations inhabit being more at risk (deserts, coastlands, islands, etc.). [7] However, this does not mean that Globa

l North countries are not at-risk to climate catastrophe, but quite the opposite. There is above $6 trillion estimated damage from climate change to the US East Coast alone post-2050, and Florida especially is at-risk of sinking completely to the ocean, with an estimated increase of 22-inches of coastal loss per year after 2030.

For example, while the United States, the members of the European Union, and China (as Global North) are responsible for 59% of global CO2 emissions, Brazil is responsible for just 0.9%, and the entire African continent is responsible for only 3% of those emissions. [8]

Studies indicate that with the drastic increase in temperature across Africa, some regions are likely to become uninhabitable, big cities may be too hot to go out safely, and staying cool indoors will become a struggle for those who cannot afford air conditioning. Droughts intensify in Eastern and Southern Africa, while deserts are in danger of spreading across the continent and engulfing fertile farmland. [9]

As a consequence, activists calling for climate justice are demanding that world leaders act with the understanding that climate change is not only physically and environmentally damaging but also unjust.

Racism under the Climate Change

It can be said that climate change and racism are two major and challenging problems of the 21st century with a strong relationship and intersectional connection. However, as mentioned above in this article, there is a sharp divide between who has caused and deepened climate change and who suffers its effects most. BIPOC, which stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour, across the Global South, will be most affected by the climate crisis, even though their carbon footprints are generally very low compared to other communities. Moreover, parallel racial divides also occur within nations regarding deep structural inequalities laid down by a long heritage of unequal power relationships and connections, such as redlining and healthcare discriminations apparent in the USA. [10]

Generally, climate change is comprehended as an environmental issue/disaster, one that we are all in ''together'', and hence not something that could be referred to as a ''racist''. Therefore, it can be unsettling for some people to accept terms such as racism and white supremacy used in debates concerning climate change. Yet, it should be remembered that racism has many dimensions all over the world and across peoples of varying national and cultural backgrounds. Racism exists in more forms than the US-presented binary.

Climate change multiplies all forms of social disadvantage, with divisions along class lines, gender, age, and also ethnicity/race. [11] For example, in India, the lower castes are in the position of losing the most from climate change [12]. Indigenous peoples [13] and nomadic tribes [14] are usually more vulnerable to the catastrophic events of climate change. Consequently, climate justice, social justice and racial justice are all interconnected.

When racism evolves structurally under the institutional racism, it can serve without obvious intent and objective. So, there is no ''calculated'' approach and action of discrimination to encounter, no "racists" to identify and accuse. This situation is the case with the climate change issue, indeed: There are no ''white people'' scheming to impose climate catastrophes on the Global South. Yet, BIPOCs still find themselves at a disadvantage and face contrasts in consequences that are visible in the statistics. Accordingly, a negative duality lies there: climate injustice in the face of racism. [15]

Back in 1990, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its first report. Finally, 30 years later, the term colonialism became the IPCC’s sixth assessment report. The panel’s working group two report, which examines the consequences of the effects of climate change on people worldwide, highlighted colonialism not only as a trigger of the current climate crisis but also as an ongoing problem deepening communities’ vulnerability to it. This report means that officials and scientists from around the globe must recognise colonialism's influential role in causing global warming and destroying ''Mother Nature''. [16]

In conclusion, humanity has been shaping and transforming social, economic, political, and technological initiatives worldwide. Therefore, we must not forget that global problems are closely interconnected. Hence, climate change is not just one problem. Climate change will not be handled by continuing to follow the economic dominance of industrial hegemonies that created the climate crisis at first. Moreover, it should be acknowledged that climate change is more than a political and economic issue. In the face of challenges and inequalities under climate change, everyone in a privileged position needs to do something, including sending clear and demanding messages to all local, national, and global leaders to raise awareness before it is too late, especially for vulnerable communities. The relationship between the environment and racism inherited by colonialism is crucial for holding power in educating us on these ongoing issues as climate change continues to occur.



[4] & [5] Graml, G., Meyer-Lee, E. & Peifer, J. (2021). Decolonizing Global Learning and Internationalization: A Human-Scale Case Study of Innovation. IGI Global. doi: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3796-1.ch007.

[6]Clarke, M. (August 8, 2018). Global South: what does it mean, and why use the term? University of Victoria, Political Science Department: Global South Political Commentaries Blog. Retrieved on 9th June 2022, from

[7]Ulgen, S. (October 6, 2021). How Deep Is the North-South Divide on Climate Negotiations? Carnegie Europe. Retrieved on 9th June 2022, from

[9]The Climate Crisis Report by UNICEF, available here:

[10]Timperley, J. (November 9, 2021). The world's fight for climate justice. BBC. Retrieved 9th June 2022, from

[11] & [15]Williams, J. (January 22, 2022). Why is climate change inherently racist? BBC. Retrieved 10th June 2022, from

[12]Srivastava, R. (June 8, 2021). Unequal risk: How climate change hurts India's poor most. Reuters. Retrieved on 10th June 2022, from

[14]Li, A., Chen, S., Zhang, X. et al. Political Pressures Increased Vulnerability to Climate Hazards for Nomadic Livestock in Inner Mongolia, China. Sci Rep 7, 8256 (2017).

[16]Funes, Y. (April 2, 2022). Yes, Colonialism Caused Climate Change, IPCC Reports. Atmos. Retrieved 11th June 2022, from


Check out Intersections articles exploring specific cases of the intersection of climate and race:

This Changes Everything

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Article Access Innovate or Perish: Food Policy Design in an Indigenous Context in a Post-Pandemic and Climate Adaptation Era

Article Access Indigenous science, climate change, and indigenous community building: A framework of foundational perspectives for indigenous community resilience and revitalization

Article Access How Vulnerable are Bangladesh's Indigenous People to Climate Change?



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