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Climate Change’s Unfair Toll on Vulnerable Communities

Climate Change’s Unfair Toll On Vulnerable Communities

Due to the changing climate, a considerable number of impoverished individuals face mounting difficulties. They include extreme events, health complications, food and water insecurity, livelihood insecurity, forced migration and displacement, erosion of cultural identity and other correlated hazards.

Reducing the impact of climate change by achieving net zero carbon emissions is a top priority. Unfortunately, scaling down the industries and activities that contribute significantly to carbon emissions will have far-reaching consequences on workers and communities that depend on them. A Just Transition for All involves placing people and communities at the heart of the transition, promoting dialogue and participation at all levels of society, from planning to implementation. (Just transition for all: z.d.)

Why are certain social groups more susceptible to crisis?

Some social groups are more susceptible to crises. These groups include female-led households, children, persons with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples and ethnic minorities, landless tenants, migrant workers, displaced persons, sexual and gender minorities, older individuals, and other socially marginalized categories. The root causes of their vulnerability are due to various factors, including their geographical locations, financial, socio-economic, cultural, and gender status, and their access to resources and services. They also lack decision-making power and appropriate justice mechanisms. (McGirt & Vanian, 2022).

Less privileged and marginalised communities demand greater action to resolve the issue of climate change. Climate change is not merely an environmental emergency but also a social crisis demanding attention to inequality at various levels- between prosperous and impoverished nations, within nations between the rich and poor, and among sexes and generations. Climate change is a “threat multiplier”, escalating social, political and economic tensions in fragile and conflict-affected settings.

As climate change drives conflict worldwide, women and girls face increased vulnerabilities to all forms of gender-based violence, including conflict-related sexual violence, human trafficking, child marriage, and other forms of violence. The IPCC stresses the requirement for climate solutions that are in harmony with procedural and distributive justice principles to achieve more efficient development outcomes.

(How gender inequality and climate change are interconnected | UN Women – Headquarters, 2022)

How climate change disproportionally affects low-income communities.

Measures to address climate change often have a greater impact on the most vulnerable. The livelihoods of certain groups, including poor households, can be unintentionally impacted by efforts to tackle climate change when well-designed and inclusive policies are not in place, leading to a higher financial burden. For instance, policies that expand public transport or carbon pricing could raise public transport fares, which can disproportionately impact poorer households. Indigenous communities that rely on forests year-round for their livelihoods may be adversely impacted by approaches like limiting forestry activities to certain times of the year if they are not designed in collaboration with beneficiaries and affected communities. Besides addressing the distributional impacts of decarbonising economies, it is also crucial to understand and consider the social inclusion, cultural, and political economy aspects. This includes agreeing on the types of transitions needed and identifying opportunities to address social inequality in these processes.

Why putting local communities at the heart of climate change could be part of the solution? 

As we adjust to a changing climate in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is crucial that we listen to and learn from individuals and communities. Hence, a genuinely inclusive approach can frequently commence at a community level. Achieving a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and transitioning to low-carbon, climate-resilient development necessitates taking action on climate change in an immediate and comprehensive social context and acknowledging the urgency of current needs while charting an ambitious path to decarbonisation. 

The World Bank is committed to promoting socially equitable responses to global crises. It aims to achieve this  objective through three critical activity areas:

  • Channelling resources and decision-making power to support locally-led climate action.
  • Understanding and tracking the social impacts and social co-benefits of mitigation and green growth policies and programs.
  • Engaging communities and citizens in climate decision-making and enhancing social learning as a form of regulatory feedback.

(Social dimensions of climate change, z.d.)

Although much progress has been made on the science and types of policies required to facilitate a transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient development, a challenge that numerous countries encounter is engaging citizens who may lack an understanding of climate change. It is also essential to raise the support of individuals worried that climate policies may impact them unfairly. Ensuring public support for the measures put in place to mitigate against climate change is crucial.

There is a need for transparency, accessibility to information and citizen engagement to create coalitions of support or public demand to reduce climate impacts and to overcome behavioural and political barriers towards decarbonisation while generating new ideas and ownership of solutions.

Furthermore, communities provide unique perspectives, skills, and a wealth of knowledge to improve resilience and address climate change. People from communities must be involved as partners in resilience-building efforts rather than seen simply as beneficiaries.

Interested in this subject and want to read more about it?

Gender Equality and Climate Change

Cities and Local Communities to Combat Climate Change

Locals and Communities the missing link in the battle against climate change?


J. Mommers (2019). Hoe gaan we dit uitleggen.

J. Garvey (2008). The Ethics of Climate Change.

L. Thomas (2022). Intersectional Environmentalist.


Bleich, S. S. W., & Bleich, S. S. W. (2023, 17 augustus). To protect nature, put local communities at the center of climate action. World Bank Blogs.

Cho, R. (2022). What is decarbonization, and how do we make it happen? State of the Planet.

Just transition for all: the World Bank Group’s support to countries transitioning away from coal. (z.d.). World Bank.

McGirt, E., & Vanian, J. (2022, 22 april). On Earth Day public companies are nudged to address climate impacts, but time is running out to make good. Fortune.

Social dimensions of climate change. (z.d.). World Bank.

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