Key Points

  • The communities and people least responsible for climate change will suffer the most.
  • COP27, described as the “African COP,” demonstrates this disparity. Africa has already suffered from significant climate-induced loss and destruction, yet it produces less than 5 percent of global GHG emissions.
  • Business can facilitate social dialogue across their value chain to understand how climate justice connects with their business before co-creating solutions.

Expectations are high that climate justice will be a focus at the COP27 negotiations, coined the “African COP.” African countries continue to experience severe physical and economic impacts from climate change, although their contributions to GHG emissions are less than 5 percent of the global total. These nations and communities from the global south are contributing to a discourse of loss and damage, which calls for reparations from wealthier countries to compensate them for irreversible impacts.

The global pursuit at COP27 of limiting and adapting to the devastating consequences of climate change is a huge undertaking, and it is only possible with the help of business. Operations and supply chains must decarbonize to halt its progress. At the same time, we need to fully understand and address how the irrevocable physical impacts of climate change and climate solutions are affecting people, including our workforce, suppliers, and the communities that are essential for a thriving global economy.

There are several ways in which businesses can address the disproportionate and unjust impacts of climate change on communities. For example, business can build operational, supply chain, and community resilience to identify climate risks across value chains; ensure a just transition as economies move away from fossil fuels; uphold human rights in the supply chains that are essential for a net-zero future, such as the mining for minerals needed for ion batteries; and ensure equitable access to clean energy. But first, listening to the people most affected by climate change and its solutions is a fundamental step.

The communities that have contributed least to climate change but stand to be most affected have no choice but to prepare and recover from extreme weather events, such as floods and droughts. And these challenges are exacerbated by systemic and structural inequities—the rules, policies, and practices that can perpetuate injustice—and their exclusion from decision-making processes. Discrimination has contributed to prejudicial treatment affecting individuals’ access to financing, housing, healthcare, and decent work.

To identify how a company can advance climate justice, it is critical to understand how communities are affected, what issues they are facing, and how climate change can exacerbate inequities. Business can facilitate social dialogue with communities across their value chain to highlight critical issues and begin to co-create solutions. Social dialogue, long practiced by businesses to consult and share information with employees, is a useful tool as they engage with communities to promote decarbonization solutions.

The social dialogue begins with listening to stakeholder concerns. As a first step, companies can establish focused discussions, meeting with employees and workers across their global markets to understand how they are affected by climate change events and by technology transitions required to decarbonize. Learning how employees and workers are affected by rising temperatures, fast-growing vector-borne disease, wildfire evacuations, or mine closures impacting local economies provides invaluable first-hand accounts of how climate injustices connect to business and its people.

Companies can also meet with community stakeholders to learn about the climate justice issues that they want to be addressed. For authentic community engagement on these issues to be successful, businesses must be prepared to participate in a long-term dialogue with respected community representatives to build a foundation of trust. Businesses engaged in authentic dialogue with communities must recognize the need to move more slowly and adjust planning timeframes accordingly. Justice is a process that moves at the speed of trust.

It is clear that climate change is unfair; the communities and people that are least responsible for it are suffering the consequences. For business, that means a credible net-zero strategy and climate transition action plan must take climate justice into account to address the underlying inequities that will make climate change worse in communities across the value chain. This starts with open social dialogue, and once trust is established, community members and business representatives can begin the challenging work of co-creating beneficial approaches.