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The Case for Climate Justice: Patricia Fuller in Conversation


Disponible en anglais seulement

The manifestations of climate change - from oppressive heat to torrential floods – can impact vulnerable peoples the most. In this episode of Sustainability Leaders, George Sutherland, BMO Advisor, Climate Change and Sustainability, speaks to Patricia Fuller, Senior Fellow, University of Ottawa Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, about how climate change policies can advance the cause of climate justice both here and around the world.

In this episode:

  • What is climate justice?

  • How to build resilience to climate change in vulnerable communities

  • Bringing the lens of climate justice to climate action

  • Building infrastructure that considers climate change and climate justice

  • The role of natural and social infrastructure in mitigating climate change


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Disponible en anglais seulement

Patricia Fuller:

Our aim needs to be for climate resilient development, and that means thinking more broadly than the sheer reduction of emissions. When we take these actions are we improving the resilience and development levels of these vulnerable communities? And it's only in doing that, that we'll truly be successful in our actions around climate change.

Michael Torrance:

Welcome to Sustainability Leaders. I'm Michael Torrance, chief sustainability officer with BMO Financial Group. On this show, we will talk with leading sustainability practitioners from the corporate, investor, academic and NGO communities to explore how this rapidly evolving field of sustainability is impacting global investment business practices and our world.

Speaker 3:

The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of Bank of Montreal, its affiliates or subsidiaries.

George Sutherland:

Hello, my name is George Sutherland, and I'm a climate change and sustainability advisor in the Bank of Montreal's Climate Institute. In today's episode of Sustainability Leaders, we'll be talking about climate justice, a concept we've been hearing a lot about lately both in the news and government policy. To help me unpack this topic, I am joined by Patricia Fuller, senior fellow at the University of Ottawa's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, and, notably to the topic of discussion today, prior to taking up her current station, Patricia served as Canada's ambassador for climate change between 2018 and 2021. Thank you for joining me today, Patricia.

Patricia Fuller:

You're welcome, George. Pleasure to be here.

George Sutherland:

So to begin with, can you describe the meaning of climate justice to our listeners?

Patricia Fuller:

Certainly. To me, climate justice is the outcome that we want to strive for in all of our actions to address climate change. And I think about it as having two fundamental aspects. The first is to recognize that climate change hits vulnerable and disadvantaged communities the hardest, and that solutions to climate change have to be developed in inclusive ways that decrease and not increase those inequalities. And I think we can think about that both at the national level where climate action can result in better outcomes for vulnerable and disadvantaged populations, whether it's low income populations or communities disadvantaged by racism or gender or for historical reasons, and then at the international level, in terms of how climate action can position vulnerable countries to be more resilient to climate change. And in both these cases, climate justice is only achievable if these actions are developed with these communities in that inclusive way.

Patricia Fuller:

The second aspect to climate justice that I think is important is the understanding that those who are more vulnerable to climate change generally have done the least to cause it. And this applies, again, both at the national and international levels, as well as across generations, we can think about how it's our children and our children's children that will bear the increasing cost of emissions created by our generation and previous generations. So this aspect of responsibility for climate change points to the need for those who are in a position to take climate action and to assist others in doing so, it points to their obligation to do so. And again, we can think about that both at the national level, in terms of assistance to vulnerable communities and internationally in terms of assistance to vulnerable countries.

George Sutherland:

So climate justice certainly is an important concept. And how has climate change disproportionately impacted disadvantaged communities and geographies? And are there examples that you would point to of where this has or is playing out today?

Patricia Fuller:

Sure. We can think about the impact of climate change as a function of exposure to the threat of climate change. For example, if you live in a floodplain, you are clearly more exposed to flooding, that is becoming more common with climate change, and vulnerability, so “How well are you equipped to deal with that flood?” “How catastrophic will it be for you if you lose your home?” Clearly more catastrophic if you are a more vulnerable household. So we think about the example of flooding, certainly in Canada and the United States we have seen widespread damage from flooding, floods that have certainly been catastrophic for lower income households or more marginalized communities, particularly in cases where those households may not be insured. But if we compare that, again, in an international context, we can see how in Canada and the United States we're far better equipped than many countries in the Global South to deal with these challenges, to assist communities that are subject to flooding. So in the Global South we've seen cases where flooding or cyclones or hurricanes can result in humanitarian catastrophes and significant loss of life.

Patricia Fuller:

Even this year in South Africa, the flooding resulted in a significant number of deaths, over 400 deaths, including in areas of informal settlements. So that's an example of where a vulnerable population is more exposed to the impact of climate change. Similarly, if we think about heat as one of the threats of climate change, so vulnerable populations will be those without access to air conditioning or those who must work outside to earn a living. We're thinking about that these days with the heat waves taking place in India where populations that have no choice but to go in the streets to earn their living are clearly the most exposed, and then over time, how heat and drought can impact smallholder farmers in Africa, for example, and really threaten food security. The IPCC report on adaptation noted that human mortality and events of drought or flooding is 15 times higher in vulnerable regions of the world. So, that points to how that vulnerability in exposed regions accentuates that impact of climate change.

George Sutherland:

And given that this inequity exists in how climate change is disproportionately impacting vulnerable populations historically today and expected into the future, what has been done to date to address this?

Patricia Fuller:

Well, I would say the short answer to that is, “not enough,” but I would say that it's certainly a focus of a great deal of effort both at the national and international levels. So at the international level, this aspect of addressing inequality and climate change impacts is embedded in the Paris Agreement, which spells out the obligation on the part of wealthier countries to assist developing countries in meeting the challenge of climate change both in the challenge of mitigating it, as well as in adapting to it. So that has given rise to the whole area of what's called climate finance and the efforts of donor countries to provide the kinds of levels of assistance which the Paris Agreement envisioned to help these countries meet this challenge. And then at the national level, we can think about programs that are part of climate change policy that include elements of addressing inequality or vulnerability.

Patricia Fuller:

For example, retrofits of low income housing, which, in addition to reducing energy use and therefore emissions, also have benefits for the households living in that housing in terms of improved quality of housing. Another example would be in Canada, the return of revenues from carbon pricing to households, which has a higher benefit for lower income households. And a third example would be investment in skills, because we have to think not just about policies that are increasing resilience to climate change, but also policies that are dropping the transition to a low carbon economy. And so doing those things in a way that helps workers to transition to new areas and growth areas in the economy. So that implies a whole effort around skills training. That is really important if we're going to bring that lens of climate justice to the actions we're taking to address climate change.

George Sutherland:

And if we look beyond what has been done to date and consider the future, what are some of the key adaptation measures that need to be deployed to reduce risk to the physical impacts of climate change, and how is this achieved in an inclusive and equitable manner?

Patricia Fuller:

I would say that any action that we're taking to mitigate the risk of climate change needs to be inclusive and equitable to be successful. For example, if we think about the area of infrastructure, obviously a key area for building resilience to climate change, to make infrastructure, whether it be roads or buildings or energy grids, to make those more resilient to the impact of storms and flooding and heat. But when we put a climate justice lens on that, it means thinking about how we make sure that those infrastructure improvements help those more vulnerable communities, and that we're not just improving infrastructure in areas that benefit better off populations, but really focusing that effort and bringing that lens of climate justice to the choices we make around investments in resilience. And we can only do that if we involve those communities effectively in developing these approaches, developing the infrastructure projects or systems for water conservation, or approaches to increasing resilience to heat waves, those are going to be successful if they're predicated upon building those strong community involvement and connections as part of those efforts.

George Sutherland:

And you mentioned climate finance earlier, which would be good to dive a bit deeper into because historically the majority of spending has supported mitigation actions. And of the capital allocation towards adaptation finance, the majority is directed towards physical infrastructure, for example, flood defenses, but what is the role of natural and social infrastructure in mitigating and adapting to climate change in a just manner?

Patricia Fuller:

Yes. So natural infrastructure refers to how healthy ecosystems can protect us from climate impacts. So we can think about trees in urban areas, which have a huge cooling effect, or restoration of wetlands, which is very effective in limiting the impacts of flooding. Or we can think about restored ecosystems along coastlines that can prevent or mitigate the impact of storm surges. So those are all examples of natural infrastructure which can be a very cost effective way to build resilience to climate change.

Patricia Fuller:

And then social infrastructure is really a bit along the lines of what I was referring to earlier. It's those community connections that imply greater resilience to climate change. So I think a great example of this is in the case of how we can build resilience to heat. We know, from recent heat waves in Canada and in the United States as well, that the vulnerable populations, the deaths that occurred as a result of those heat waves were often people who were living in isolated conditions, people who didn't have those community connections, who were not checked up on. So building systems where in the event of a heat wave there are those community connections and practices in place to check up on often elderly people living alone to make sure that they're okay in the case of a heat wave is, I think, a powerful example of how social infrastructure can build resilience to climate change.

George Sutherland:

And we've been discussing some of the solutions to climate resilient development, but I wonder if we can unpack, for a moment, the barriers to climate resilient development and how these can be addressed and overcome equitably.

Patricia Fuller:

Yes. I think the challenge is that implementing policies in a manner which achieves that goal of climate resilience and climate justice, it takes more effort than, for example, to go back to the infrastructure examples we were discussing earlier, it can be easier to go with the tried and true, the what's called gray infrastructure for, say, flood prevention, developing a combination of gray and green or natural infrastructure may be more complicated and it implies doing things in different ways. Similarly, if we think about in the context of Canada's international assistance to developing countries, we've introduced, in our climate finance, a strong component of seeking to advance gender equality. So that means building into projects, not just those indicators and goals around emission reductions, or building resilience to climate change for the population in general, but also advancing goals of gender equality.

Patricia Fuller:

It makes it more complicated, but I think the key message here is that it makes it more effective. And that is what we've found, that when projects are developed with full participation of women, full participation of vulnerable communities, they're more effective. So I would say in short that the barrier is just learning how we develop climate actions with multiple performance indicators, not just emission reductions, but also these social indicators and measures around how these actions are going to increase equity. And, of course, the process of developing that in an inclusive way, consultations do make things take longer, but at the end of the day, those actions are going to be more effective than they would be without bringing that lens of advancing climate justice.

George Sutherland:

And you mentioned the recently published report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which focused on climate change adaptation and vulnerability. And in that report, the concepts of climate justice and equity appear more than 600 times, what do you think prompted this heightened focus and what are the key takeaways from this report that finance, business and governments should be aware of?

Patricia Fuller:

I think the reason that concept of climate justice appears so many times in that report is that the international community is hearing those voices calling for climate justice. And I think we saw, for example, in the last conference of the parties, COP26 in Glasgow, very strong presence of civil society at that international gathering and a very strong expression of the importance of bringing that lens of climate justice to climate action. So I think that report is an illustration of those voices being heard.

Patricia Fuller:

Now, what is the takeaway for finance and business and governments? I think really the key takeaway is that our aim needs to be for climate resilient development. And that means thinking more broadly than the sheer reduction of emissions and the simple increase in resilience, but that word development, so climate resilient development means that we are improving the level of development overall and thereby achieving greater resilience. And that really goes to the heart of that question of how when we take these actions are we improving the resilience and development levels of these vulnerable communities? And it's only in doing that will truly be successful in our actions around climate change.

George Sutherland:

Thank you very much, Patricia, for taking the time to share your knowledge, experience and expertise on this important topic.

Patricia Fuller:

It's been my pleasure, George. Great to be here with you.

George Sutherland:

That's Patricia Fuller, senior fellow at the University of Ottawa's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, and Canada's ambassador for climate change between 2018 and 2021.

Michael Torrance:

Thanks for listening to Sustainability Leaders. This podcast is presented by BMO Financial Group. To access all the resources we discussed in today's episode and to see our other podcasts, visit us at bmo.com/sustainabilityleaders. You can listen and subscribe free to our show on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider, and we'll greatly appreciate a rating and review and any feedback that you might have. Our show and resources are produced with support from BMO's marketing team and Puddle Creative. Until next time, I'm Michael Torrance, have a great week.

Speaker 3:

The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of Bank of Montreal, its affiliates or subsidiaries. This is not intended to serve as a complete analysis of every material fact regarding any company, industry, strategy or security. This presentation may contain forward looking statements. Investors are cautioned not to place undue reliance on such statements as actual results could vary. This presentation is for general information purposes only, and does not constitute investment, legal or tax advice and is not intended as an endorsement of any specific investment product or service. Individual investors should consult with an investment, tax and or legal professional about their personal situation. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

George Sutherland Conseiller, changements climatiques et durabilité

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