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Climate justice is a concept that addresses the just division, fair sharing, and equitable distribution of the burdens of climate change and its mitigation and responsibilities to deal with climate change. It has been described as encompassing "a set of rights and obligations, which corporations, individuals and governments have towards those vulnerable people who will be in a way significantly disproportionately affected by climate change."
"Justice", "fairness", and "equity" are not completely identical, but they are in the same family of related terms and are often used interchangeably in negotiations and politics. Applied ethics, research and activism using these terms approach anthropogenic climate change as an ethical, legal and political issue, rather than one that is purely environmental or physical in nature. This is done by relating the causes and effects of climate change to concepts of justice, particularly environmental justice and social justice. Climate justice examines concepts such as equality, human rights, collective rights, and the historical responsibilities for climate change.
Climate justice actions can include the growing global body of legal action on climate change issues. In 2017, a report of the United Nations Environment Programme identified 894 ongoing legal actions worldwide. Climate justice is an aspect of SDG 13 under UN Agenda 2030.
Climate justice is understood in many ways, and the different meanings are sometimes contested. At its simplest, conceptions of climate justice can be grouped along the lines of procedural justice, which emphasizes fair, transparent and inclusive decision making, and distributive justice, which places the emphasis on who bears the costs of both climate change and the actions taken to address it.
A main factor in the increased popularity and consideration of climate justice was the rise of grassroots movements – such as Fridays for Future, Ende Gelände, and Extinction Rebellion. A special focus is placed on the role of Most Affected People and Areas (MAPA), i.e., groups overall disproportionately vulnerable to or affected by climate change, such as women, racial minorities, young, older and poorer people. Historically marginalized communities, such as low income, indigenous communities and communities of color often face the worst consequences of climate change: in effect the least responsible for climate change broadly suffer its gravest consequences. They might also be further disadvantaged by responses to climate change which might reproduce or exacerbate existing inequalities, which has been labeled the 'triple injustices' of climate change.
Some climate justice approaches promote transformative justice where advocates focus on how vulnerability to climate change reflects various structural injustices in society, such as the exclusion of marginalized groups from climate resilient livelihoods, and that climate action must explicitly address these structural power imbalances. For these advocates, at a minimum, priority is placed on ensuring that responses to climate change do not repeat or reinforce existing injustices, which has both distributive justice and procedural justice dimensions.
Other conceptions frame climate justice in terms of the need to curb climate change within certain limits, like the Paris Agreement targets of 1.5 °C, as otherwise the impacts of climate change on natural ecosystems will be so severe as to preclude the possibility of justice for many generations and populations. Other activists argue that failure to address social implications of climate change mitigation transitions could result in profound economic and social tensions and delay necessary changes while ways that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a socially just way – called a 'just transition' – are possible, preferable, in better agreement with contemporary human rights, fairer, more ethical as well as possibly more effective.