Is Climate Justice Possible in the COP Process?

By Student Delegate Megna Murali

Deep-rooted, systemic discrimination, in addition to climate change displacement, has rendered several countries vulnerable to disproportionate burdens. [1] Countries that have historically contributed significantly to global emission levels do not generally experience the destructive impacts that more vulnerable countries face. As the severity of the global climate crisis increases, a movement for climate justice is emerging at the intersection of civil rights and ecological equity. Distributive justice is a recurring challenge during negotiations due to the inequitable distribution of historical emissions, climate vulnerability, adaptation, mitigation, and emergency response capacity.

In discussions about climate change, decision makers often measure loss and damage at the international and national level even when losses are felt more acutely locally. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction defines disaster as any “serious disruption of the functioning of a community or society involving widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses and impacts, which exceeds the ability of the affected community or society to cope with using its own resources. [2] Responding to climate change requires a collaborative effort to support these communities that are unable to independently respond to the increasing frequency and intensity of climate change impacts.

Hybrid Approach

The Paris Agreement reflects a “hybrid” approach, blending bottom-up flexibility with top-down rules. This bottom-up flexibility provides a temperature metric to assess “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs), promotes accountability, and encourages participation. The NDCs provide extensive reporting and monitoring to verify whether countries are reaching their commitments. These commitments are not contractual or obligated and are simply voluntary technical agreements to create more interaction and collaboration between countries.  The partnerships encourage collaborative accountability in terms of transparency, monitoring mechanisms, and representation of stakeholders.

The hybrid approach does not, however, create any sort of enforcement structure if these commitments are not met. Without any specific enforcement measures, it is difficult to push countries to achieve their commitments. The Paris Agreement allows parties to determine their ‘fair share’ contribution and commitments. While the partnerships may encourage accountability, transparency, and participation, the hybrid approach does not necessarily address the obstacles that more vulnerable countries endure. Certain countries are not able to set such commitments due to their limited resources yet experience the most intense impacts of climate change and require more support. Developed countries have been responsible for a higher level of emissions yet often do not experience the intense climate-related impacts more vulnerable countries do, There is a global inequality between countries in terms of exposure to climate change impacts and emission contribution.

While the hybrid approach provides a quantified global goal, reaching this goal relies on how countries approach equitably distributing responsibility. Countries follow different equity approaches applied under different thresholds, and the absence of an agreement might excuse such inaction. While the impacts of climate change continue to grow more severe and unpredictable, the hybrid approach does not address the immediate challenges that more vulnerable countries face.

Loss and Damage

Loss is felt most acutely, and damage is most destabilizing, at the community and individual level, as survivors seek to bring together a fragmented community or find meaning in the absence of loved ones.  The fragmentation of the international community has resulted in global risks of food security, safety, and community resilience. To address concerns of loss and damage, the Paris Agreement reaffirmed the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage to avert, minimize, and address loss and damage associated with climate change effects, including extreme weather events and slow onset events.[2]  This mechanism created an institutionalized policy space to address the adverse consequences of climate change: slow onset events; non-economic losses; displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change; and comprehensive risk management and transformational approaches.

Identification of non-economic losses that are valuable, and vulnerable to climate change, such as life, health, societal and cultural identity was instrumental in determining effective solutions to addressing the losses communities experience due to climate change. By expanding the term losses to include non-economic losses, the mechanism introduces qualitative criteria such as the value system of communities. This provides a holistic evaluation of community loss beyond economic metrics alone and would promote equity. This mechanism can be used to avoid limiting the adaptation and mitigation efforts based on the dollar value of loss and damage by developing cost effectiveness methods. Cost effectiveness methods would compare the costs of alternative means of achieving the same stream of benefits when reaching a given objective. This introduction of qualitative metrics can be used effectively with quantitative metrics (economic losses) to determine whether a disaster response method will mitigate risk and create long-term non-monetary benefits.

The Paris Agreement introduces effective financial mechanisms that allow parties to create commitments, collaborative solutions to address climate change impacts, and increase participation of parties to take action. Due to various global disruptions, parties have become even more impatient to rapidly switch to renewable energy sources and reduce dependency on import-based fossil fuels. These steps together would promote climate justice and the collective responsibility to meet the goals set to reduce climate change impacts.

[1] United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. Press Releases. UN expert says contemporary forms of slavery affecting minority communities, urges action to end discrimination. September 15, 2022. Available at:

[2] United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. Disaster Risk Reduction Terminology. Available at:



Comments are closed.