Social Resilience and Climate Change

August 15, 2013


Climate change increases the vulnerability of the poor, pushing those living on the margins closer to the edge. Poor people in developing countries bear the brunt of its impacts while contributing very little to its causes. While the climate change debate has been focused at the global and national levels, the impacts of climate change are felt at the local level. The need to address the human and social dimensions of climate change is critical.

Social Dimensions of Climate Change

Viewing climate change through a social development lens leads us, at the outset, to couch the agenda in terms of social justice, at all levels from the global to the local. The causes and consequences of climate change are intertwined deeply with global patterns of inequality.

Climate change acts as a multiplier of existing vulnerabilities in a warming and transforming world. It threatens to roll back the hard-earned gains in poverty reduction and progress toward maintaining the Millennium Development Goals that already have been achieved.

The global injustice of a world in which responsibility for the causes of climate change is inversely proportional to the degree of vulnerability to its consequences calls for equity and social justice to be placed at the heart of a responsive agenda on climate policy and action. Motivated by concerns with equity and vulnerability, the policy and action-oriented agenda on the social dimensions of climate change entails a dual-track approach, giving equal emphasis to both aggressive mitigation and pro-poor adaptation.

But it follows from the social justice perspective that the transition to a low-carbon growth path, at least in the near term, should be undertaken primarily by richer countries and in those sectors that account for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions: energy, heavy industry, buildings, and transport systems.

For developing countries, the social dimensions of the climate change agenda largely concern adaptation to changes that now not only are considered unavoidable, but are already being faced by vulnerable communities on the front lines of a changing climate.