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Climate change is deeply intertwined with global patterns of inequality. The most vulnerable people bear the brunt of climate change impacts yet contribute the least to the crisis. As the impacts of climate change mount, millions of vulnerable people face greater challenges in terms of extreme events, health effects, food security, livelihood security, water security, and cultural identity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has amply demonstrated that marginalized groups often lack access to the services, resources, and information they need to mitigate and overcome crises. Certain social groups are particularly vulnerable to crises, for example, female-headed households, children, persons with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples and ethnic minorities, landless tenants, migrant workers, sexual and gender minorities, older people, and other socially marginalized groups. The root causes of their vulnerability lie in a combination of their geographical context; their financial, socio-economic, cultural, and gender status; and their access to services, decision-making, and justice. 

Poor and marginalized groups are raising their voices to call for more ambitious action on climate change, discrimination, and other global issues. Climate change is more than an environmental crisis – it is a social crisis and compels us to address issues of inequality on many levels: between wealthy and poor countries; between rich and poor within countries; between men and women, and between generations.

The most vulnerable are often disproportionately impacted by the costs of addressing climate change. In the absence of well-designed and inclusive policies, climate change mitigation measures can place a higher financial burden on poor households; for example, policies that expand public transport or carbon pricing may lead to higher public transport fares  which can impact poorer households more. Similarly, if not carefully addressed, limiting forestry activities to certain times of the year could impact indigenous communities that depend on forests year-round for their livelihoods. In addition to addressing the distributional impacts of decarbonizing economies there is also a need to understand and address the social inclusion, cultural and political economy aspects – including agreeing on the types of transitions needed (economic, social, etc.) and identifying opportunities to address social inequality in these processes.

While much progress has been made on the science and the types of policies needed to support a transition to low carbon, climate resilient development, a challenge facing many countries is engaging citizens that may not understand climate change, and garnering the support of those who are concerned that they will be unfairly impacted by climate policies. It is critical that people are brought along in the decision-making process – this requires transparency, access to information and citizen engagement on climate risk and green growth in order to create coalitions of support or public demand to reduce climate impacts and to overcome behavioral and political inertia to decarbonization, as well as to generate new ideas for and ownership of solutions.

Moreover, communities bring unique perspectives, skills, and a wealth of knowledge to the challenge of strengthening resilience and addressing climate change. They should be engaged as partners in resilience-building rather than being regarded merely as beneficiaries. Research and experience have shown that community leaders can set priorities, influence ownership, and design and implement investment programs that are responsive to their community’s own needs. Innovations in the architecture of climate finance can connect communities and marginalized groups to the higher-level policy, technical and financial assistance that they need for locally relevant and effective development impacts.


Washington, D.C.
Uwi Basaninyenzi