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At its core, the climate crisis is a crisis of politics and justice

by Paul G. Harris

PLOS Climate Politics & Justice Section Editor Paul G. Harris is the Chair Professor of Global and Environmental Studies at the Education University of Hong Kong. His most recent book is Pathologies of Climate Governance: International Relations, National Politics and Human Nature (Cambridge University Press, 2021).

It is no longer controversial to declare that the world is in the midst of a worsening climate crisis. Indeed, we have reached the point where the United Nations Secretary General has been left pleading with world leaders to recognize that there is a climate emergency and to act accordingly, a plea that has been repeated by many officials, environmentalists, young people and even scientists.

The COP26 conference in Glasgow is a showcase for action on climate change. It demonstrates the increasingly overwhelming conviction that humanity needs to move very rapidly to address the climate crisis. But Glasgow also reveals the most persistent obstacles to action on climate change: politics and injustice.

This worsening climate crisis – this climate emergency – is not a crisis of atmospheric science, technology or financial resources. If the will were to exist, it would be possible to reduce climate-changing pollution rapidly, affordably and deeply, and to take action that greatly limits the human suffering and ecological decline that arises from that pollution. The key questions that we need to be asking are not so much about how, in practical terms, to address the climate crisis effectively. They are instead about why the human activities that are causing the crisis continue largely unabated globally and, even more urgently, what can be done to reverse this trend quickly and equitably. The Politics & Justice section of PLOS Climate aims to scrutinize these and related questions.

Climate politics as an area of scholarship and praxis involves the activities by which climate is governed, particularly the use of various forms of dominance to influence how and whether action is taken to exacerbate or mitigate climate change. Climate politics can be found at all levels of analysis – global, international, national, local and individual – with often-complex crossovers and interactions among these levels.

We are very much interested in receiving articles that explore the power relationships and structures that have engendered the climate crisis. For example, we welcome submissions that dissect climate politics within nation-states. Do different political systems render more or less effective climate governance? If so, precisely how and why – or why not? What (or who) is blocking more robust action and which political mechanisms are they using to do so? Can those mechanisms be overpowered by countervailing forces? Why are people often so unwilling to support politicians calling for aggressive action on climate change? Can this lack of support be overcome? Why have international climate politics so far not resulted in the scale of action required, and not even prevented a continued rise in greenhouse gas pollution globally?

At many levels, the climate crisis is about justice. Indeed, a lack of justice – a lack of global and international justice, a lack of ecological and environmental justice, and a lack of social and distributive justice – help to explain why climate governance has failed to stem greenhouse gas pollution causing climate change. This lack of climate justice is also demonstrated by grossly insufficient financial transfers from the rich to the poor, at all levels. Overcoming the lack of climate justice will be essential to helping the least well-off nations, communities and individuals cope with the impacts of climate change and to compensate them for loss and damage.

With this in mind, in the area of justice, we are interested in articles that highlight and examine real-world questions of climate-related social justice, distribution, equity, fairness, responsibility and obligation at all levels of analysis: global, international, transnational, regional, national, sub-national, local and individual. (The journal also has a Philosophy & Ethics section for articles focusing on normative theory related to climate change.) We are interested in seeing articles that identify climate injustices and the manner in which they affect climate governance. How can growing climate injustices be overcome and reversed? Who ought to be aiding whom in this context, and to what extent, and through what means? In short, how can climate justice be realized in practice around the world?

Articles that combine explorations of both the politics and justice of climate change, and especially those that draw upon deep understandings of politics and/or justice to identify realistic avenues for rapid action on climate change, are especially welcome.

The Politics & Justice Section will endeavor to connect community actors and provide a stage for those who are often voiceless. Consequently, we strongly encourage submissions from under-represented groups, communities and nations, and from others who consciously work to highlight the perspectives of marginalized stakeholders.

To submit to PLOS Climate, click here.

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