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The Global Issue of Equity within Climate Change Mitigation

Sanne Schouwenburg

· Case Studies

We, as humans, are causing the problem of climate change. Whereas science cannot give us an exact indication of the predicted consequences, climate change has already started to amplify existing risks, and is creating new ones for us and for natural systems (like food production) upon which we rely. A clear conflict of interest is part of this super-wicked problem as economic development does not equal climate change mitigation. However, as changes will become irreversible and as climate change will disproportionately affect disadvantaged people and communities, addressing inequality (and poverty) is absolutely crucial. Unfortunately, poverty alleviation, often disappears as an explicit priority in the wider concepts like socioeconomic, low-carbon or sustainable development.

"The context in which we must tackle the problems of development and climate is through fighting poverty and inequality"

As Naomi Klein put it: “fighting inequality on every front and through multiple means must be understood as a central strategy in the battle against climate change” (Klein, 2014). However, no single mitigation or adaptation option is likely to be sufficient by itself. This is a collective responsibility that requires collective action.

"We need collective action from across all levels of governance, institutions, organisations, in combination with innovation and impact investments at scale."

The only solution to the wicked problem of Climate Change is for all parties to participate in the solutions, while ensuring that the poor, who are least responsible for the problem, do not suffer the negative impacts. All who have the capacity to solve the problem should act to do so. This brings us back to addressing equity, which is one of the key principles underpinning the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (United Nations, 1992: Article 3[1]).

The well-known political philosopher, Henry Shue, has pointed to the simple but deep roots of equity: ‘All over the world parents teach their children to clean up their own mess.’ He goes on to point out that if one learns that one cannot walk away from the mess one has created, ‘one is given a strong negative incentive against making messes in the first place’ (Shue, 2009). Climate change is a problem of the concentration of GHG emissions in the atmosphere, which is caused by the stock of cumulative emissions. Cleaning up the ‘mess’ of climate change requires both that states take responsibility for past emissions, which have caused the problem, and that they (and others) do not repeat the mistake.

"The importance of collective action on climate change through the simultaneous alleviation of poverty, promotion of innovation and greater financial inclusion in developing markets remains underestimated.​"

At Innovest Advisory, we work at the nexus between innovative finance and environmental impact in the Impact Investment field. We go beyond negative screening and ESG assessments to look at the true impact of investments and advise both 'Impact Funders' and 'Impact Enterprises'on how capital can address climate change through greater financial inclusion and improving livelihoods in developing markets and fragile contexts.

by Sanne Schouwenburg - Project Manager


  • Klein, N (2014) ‘This changes everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate’.
  • Shue, H. (2009) ‘Historical responsibility: Accountability for the results of actions taken. Technical briefing at the sixth session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action under the Convention, 4 June’. Available: les/meetings/ad_hoc_working_groups/lca/application/pdf/1_ shue_rev.pdf [30 July 2015].
  • SouthSouthNorth (2015) ‘Stories from the South: Exploring low carbon development pathways’. 
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