Equity in Climate Change Discourse

In the early 2000s, the gender empowerment consultations and workshops I attended had one constant in all of them - Men used to sit on the chairs and women on the floor. Such was the irony! The vision was gender equality/equity, and visible physical manifestation was the antithesis of the idea being promoted.


Evidently, not all the champions or promoters at the grassroots level had actually bought the newly embedded idea or ingrained the core of the same in them. Equity, it seems, is better said than done. It shakes existing power structures and causes discomfort in the power dynamics, which exists in any given domain. 

In contemporary times, climate change is an issue of concern, where we see conscientious individuals and nation-states engaging in the discussions and narratives doled out by scientists, practitioners, activists and so on. This is definitely what is required, given the collective future security and survival concerns. 

Amidst this, I would like to highlight one important aspect - Equity in Climate Change Discourse

Circa 2021

The world is moving towards an apocalypse, and recent reports on the impact of climate change and possible future scenarios predict doomsday. The world has already started witnessing the worst calamities as a result of an adverse change in the climate. Be it fires in America & Canada, Landslides in Uttarakhand (India),  floods in Germany,  snowfall in Saudi Arabia or heavy downpour in Oman, the impact of climate change is apparent at any given place across the globe. But, amidst the global spread of impacts, the million-dollar question remains - Whether the impacts of climate change are experienced equitably?

Forest fires across the world, in both the northern and southern hemispheres, have contributed to the destruction of flora and fauna in the natural ecosystem. Whether it is California or Siberia, countries across the northern hemisphere last summer experienced, worst wildfires in recorded history, with substantial parts of  Europe, North America and Russia consumed by flames since the start of July 2021. In July last year, the small town of Lytton in Canada, became one of the hottest places on earth, with temperatures rising to as high as 49.5° C (121.1° F), which subsequently resulted in a fierce wildfire that destroyed 90% of the town’s buildings and left the residents with minutes to escape the calamity. In Eastern Russia’s Siberian Yakutia region, more than 4.2 million hectares have burned causing scientists to state that these forest fires are destroying wetlands and causing layers of permafrost to melt—which could release large amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. When ravaging forest fires engulf human habitations, it may lead to the loss of property or livestock. But, the direct risk of loss of human life is substantially low.   

Similarly, the flash floods triggered by cloudbursts in the Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh states of India, last year, were devastating. There was the loss of precious human life, livestock and property within a couple of hours. Similarly, in the 2018 Kerala Floods, 504 people died and 23 million were directly affected by these flash floods in a short span of two weeks (August 7th -20th, 2018). The economic losses accounted for 2.85 billion US$ and the damaged or destroyed houses were numbered approximately 1,10,000. Also, these floods damaged more than 130 bridges and 83,000 km of the road network, causing the isolation of certain communities. 

In major disasters, the impact is borne mostly by the marginalized and vulnerable sections. The hazard risks faced are high and the coping capacity of the marginalized and vulnerable communities, for certain reasons, is low. It is unfortunate that the population contributing the least to climate change has to bear its worst effects. Most of the people who lost their lives have often contributed the least to the rapid climate change leading to disasters. The policies and actions taken at the global, regional and national levels are often exclusionary of the experience of disasters faced by the population, with little or no say in the climate narrative. It is ironic that the most impacted or affected, sit on the fringes of climate policy and action narratives. History is a great teacher, for avoiding past mistakes, and emulating good practices. 

Future Climate Discourses and Need for Equity 

Probably Covid – 19 is the biggest example of recent times. Emergency medical support systems were being developed and deployed at a fast pace, vaccine invention was swiftly done and changes in government policies were executed with the evolution and emergence of new scenarios. COVID19 was an unprecedented event, but climate change is not. So the question arises: Are we waiting for a Covid type situation to deal with the ongoing effects of climate change when everything will get out of hand?

Here, I would like to highlight that there is a need for equity in framing policy at a global level where the people who are going to be impacted the most should lead the discourse or at least be in the core group with an efficacious role. The climate change discourse can become equitable when participation from the most vulnerable and affected population gets the voice in deciding actions towards addressing climate change. They are the ones affected the most, and they are the ones who can give practical solutions pertaining to practical problems in the field.  In this context, I remember an essay written by a student living in the city about a street child. And it reads as follows

“Street child lives on the street. He does not have adequate food to eat and an air-conditioned room to live in. He eats bread without mozzarella cheese as he cannot afford it. His necktie is dirty, and the cloth is not well pressed …”.

Let us hope that the policymakers refrain from writing such narratives. Being a person of the modern civilized world, let us create a space for those who need it the most. The boundaries of countries are defined by human beings, but it is completely irrelevant to nature and science. The pain of losing life, land and livelihood may best be understood by the person who has experienced it. It becomes important to have a platform for such persons and make climate change discourses equitable!

Written By:

Kedar Dash

Kedar Dash is the Managing Director of Indev Consultancy Pvt. Ltd. For the past two decades, he has been pioneering and paving pathways for utilizing ICTs to address development challenges. He is a prolific leader and writer, with a vision of bringing social equity by leveraging contemporary digital technologies. His extensive canvass of engagement across South-asia, Africa and Europe includes renowned sector leaders including World Bank, UNDP, National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), and Asian Development Bank, Development Alternatives (DA) and Oneworld South Asia.

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