*This recap of the “Pathways to Climate Justice: In and Through Research” panel discussion has been edited for length and clarity.  

Climate change is inherently unequal, disproportionately affecting communities that have contributed the least to global emissions. Climate change also exacerbates existing inequities created by historical systemic forces of exclusion, while also creating new inequities and challenges. Mitigation and adaptation policies must address these dynamics in equitable, inclusive ways to be successful.  

Last week at PAA 2024, members of our Population, Environmental Risks, and the Climate Crisis (PERCC) initiative discussed with leading experts how they pursue justice in the face of climate and environmental changes through evidence-based solutions and innovative research. 

“While corporations and governments bear responsibility, marginalized communities continue [to] bear the brunt. We can’t lose sight of the fact that 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of global emissions,” said Thoai Ngo, Vice President of Social and Behavioral Science Research at the Population Council. “However, climate research and solutions are often designed without the involvement of impacted communities.” 

During the discussion, we engaged with the experts working to unpack the intersectional impacts of the climate crisis in an open dialogue touching on designing policyrelevant climate justice research, developing equitable research practices to engage impacted communities, and fostering relationships with decision-makers to influence equitable programs and policies. 

There is not a single legal and policy approach to international [climate] displacement,” said Susana Adamo of Columbia University’s Climate School. Adamo emphasized the importance of high-quality climate data that can be used to engage local communities participating in citizen science, such as a NASA funded program, led by Columbia University researchers who work alongside New York City high school students, to engage them in participatory air quality monitoring.

“We have to be bolder, better, and bigger in our fields,” said Raya Muttarak, Professor of Demography at the University of Bologna and distinguished climate, public health, and migration researcher.  

“We have to think about how population may impact climate change, but also adding into this dimension of differences [in] inequality.” Echoing similar statements by Ngo, Muttarak added that total emissions of those at the bottom 50% in income distribution globally, about 4 billion in the world, are only responsible for 11.5% of emissions.

Samuel Sellers, a demographer and a climate change expert, also shared examples from recent work on climate and population dynamics and the importance of understanding the gaps that exist between climate and migration, and the populations affected by those pathways.  

In the closing remarks of the panel, Jack DeWaard, Scientific Director of the Council’s Social and Behavioral Science Research, posed three insights from the discussion: the barriers scientists draw in their disciplines that inhibit multisectoral investigations, the significance of approaching research in a human centered way, and the importance of justice at the heart of this work.  

“We need to link that with things like livelihoods or political instability and conflict. But then there’s a broader set of questions, which is, we know that people are going to move, right? We also know that most people don’t move, which is another topic we should get to. What about the downstream effects of that? What does that mean for urbanization trends globally and in countries worldwide?”  

DeWaard shared a final thought regarding climate justice. “[Climate] justice is a commitment to two things: fundamentally shifting money and power from people, groups, and places that have it to those that don’t. ”  

Learn more about the Population, Environmental Risks, and the Climate Crisis (PERCC) initiative.