Socio-economic equality- a critical aspect of climate mitigation strategy.

The 21st century has witnessed occurrences of some of the worst natural calamities as a result of climate change and has therefore seen a lot of action in terms of climate mitigation, right from the surge in climate technologies to the amendment or formation of policies of decarbonization of various sectors. However, what is also happening in the 21st century is that the gap between the poor and rich is constantly increasing with the rich getting richer and the poor even poorer. Although the two scenarios seem to be independent like chapters from two unrelated books, the issues are much more deeply intertwined than we can ever imagine. 

How does socio-economic inequality affect climate change?

The issues of socio-economic inequality and climate change seem to have a cyclic relationship where one leads to the other and vice-versa in an infinite circular manner if the flow is not broken. Understanding their interdependence is crucial for addressing the issue and having more viable climate mitigation policies.

The energy consumption pyramid in society with prevalence of economic inequality (Image/One Earth).

Hierarchy-based consumption of resources – The first and prime way in which the economic disparity affects climate change is concentrated and high consumption of resources by the top class. A survey in 2015 showed that the rich people in the world that account for 10% of the total population were responsible for the consumption of almost half (50%) of the resources. Another study claimed that conspicuous consumption and emissions by the top-class lead to an overall increase in consumption and emissions by society on account of status-based consumption competition. Another contrasting study predicts that eliminating poverty and having balanced distribution of money might lead to an increase in consumption and emission by 2% worldwide. Thus, the aim is to offer an economically and socially just system that provides affordable living to all while balancing the carbon budget. This is only possible after the provision of energy-efficient technology at an affordable rate.

The political power play – Economic and social inequality also influence the power play and politics. This might lead to carbon-intensive production and services and obstruction of climate-centric policies for personal gain. The capital owners might stress and push carbon-intensive policies for short-term earnings neglecting its long-term harms. The only way of controlling this is to have a democratic economic system.

Economic insecurity – The economic situation has always been bad globally, but ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, the condition has become even worse. Larger groups of people have experienced economic insecurity since then. Amidst this battle with the labour market and job insecurities, the government fears the loss of absolute job opportunities with the implementation of decarbonisation policies. This is one of the major drivers delaying the decarbonisation of the industrial sector. Moreover, some of the carbon-centric policies lead to price inflation of basic services which is economically taxing for the poor thus there is high resistance to such policies. Most of the energy-efficient technologies and carbon-conscious services/ goods available in the market at present are quite expensive and people with low or marginal income have no incentive or financial capacity to avail them.  

Societal well-being – Another way in which socio-economic inequality affects climate change is lack of the trust in the system by the affected communities. This is a major hindrance to the working of a just democratic government. Socio-economic inequality has a negative impact on society’s mental well-being. It increases the issues of trust, social division, non-cooperation, etc. With such kind of economic and social instability, it becomes difficult to concentrate and channelise the efforts on decarbonisation and climate mitigation. 

The green new deal

Although some of the advocates of carbon-centric policies believe the socio-economic and climate change to be totally unrelated, increasing evidence shows the case to be otherwise true. As a result, governments worldwide are promoting the green new deal. The green new deal is aimed at converting the present economy (grey economy) into a green economy by adapting new sustainable ways of life. It is designed to fight climate change by decarbonisation through net-zero emissions and introducing the ‘Economic Bill of Rights’. The bill guarantees single-payer healthcare, a guaranteed job at a living wage, affordable housing for all, and a free college education. Thus, the deal is about approaching the climate change issue by first attaining socio-economic stability by having a green, clean and inclusive economy

The Green New deal proposed to address the issue of socio-economic inequality to improve climate mitigation policies (Image/One Earth)

The key ideas of the green new deal

  • Decarbonisation of the energy sector and making the oil wars obsolete.
  • Creating new job opportunities in the renewable energy economy. 
  • Improving standards of the basic infrastructural facilities like roads, transport, housing, etc.
  • Localisation of funds for the empowerment of the people who are most affected by climate change.
  • Creating more job opportunities in the decarbonised industrial sectors.
  • Having a just and democratic energy sector. 
  • Increasing investments in the renewable energy sources and research.
  • Halting all operations related to destructive energy extractions and amend policies to tax the companies running any such operations.

India and the green new deal

India has been battling with the problem of poverty since its independence. Whereas the issue of social injustice has prevailed since long before. During the last few years, the different parts of India have experienced a wide range of natural calamities such as excessive rainfall, dry spells, storms, cyclones, heat waves, cold waves, etc, leading to either flooding or drought. To make the situation only worse, the country is experiencing a major economic crisis post-COVID pandemic. Therefore, India needs urgent solutions to reform its economic system while helping climate conservation. The green new deal provides a unique opportunity for India to deliver its goal of net zero by 2070 as announced at the COP26 summit.

The green new deal is going to be instrumental in attaining the sustainable development goals proposed by the United Nations programme. Supplementing the carbon-centric policies with the green new deal is going to fetch improved results in our climate change battle. It is a major step towards decarbonisation and climate mitigation while ending the employment issues and delivering a socially just system, thus fulfilling the prerequisites for transition to clean and sustainable energy and activating 100% renewable energy sources at the earliest. 

By Amruta Joshi

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