Righting Climate Wrongs by Empowering Vulnerable Communities

Joshua D. McBee

Climate change is unfairly burden poorer countries and wealthy countries that have contributed the most tend to be affected the least. The responsibility for addressing the crisis is problematic but countries have agreed on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities calling for wealthier countries to do more but how? Climate change impacts threaten the range of things people are able to do and be – their freedom. Thus, carbon majors that have emitted more historically interfere with vulnerable countries autonomy today and compromise their ability to shape their own lives. If wealthier emitters should be able to right the wrong, the issue of what kinds of freedoms matter needs to be clarified. Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum have developed an approach called the ‘capability approach’ that makes freedom central in terms of ten capabilities. Adaptation projects ought to aim to restore, enhance or protect those ten capabilities that are threatened because of climate change. For example, being displaced by climate change impacts threatens the capability of affiliation by depriving the social bases of self-respect and non-humiliation. Depending on the culture of the host country a refugee might end up being resented or discriminated. Climate induced migration might also threaten the capabilities of senses, thought and imagination since people displaced by disasters, because of their status, are unlikely to pursue educational achievements to engage creative capacities.

This article aims to show the importance of integrating the capability approach into development practice to ensure peoples capabilities to secure a livelihood.


Image credit:Asian Development Bank (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) from Flickr.com

Chanelle Andrén is a volunteer at UK Climate Change and Migration Coalition and writes the round up of new research on climate change, migration and displacement. Her background is in International Human Rights Law with specialisation in ‘Just Transitions’.