The marginalised costs of the Climate Emergency

Flooding, fires, tsunamis and drought are at the forefront of news headlines and landscapes around the world; as countries confront the cost of these disasters, the highest price is being paid by our most vulnerable. There are inherent marginalised costs of the climate emergency, thus we can not fully achieve carbon neutrality, unless we achieve social and economic sustainability.

Developed economies, with 10% of the global population, use half of the global resources and cause the majority of environmental deterioration. Meanwhile, the poorest 50% per cent of the world’s population, account for only 10% per cent of CO2 emissions [1]. The climatic damages, through over consumption, carbon emissions and agriculture, consumed in privileged daily lifestyles, have lasting effects on others less fortunate.

“A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit”. -Anonymous Greek Proverb.

[P1] River erosion in Bangladesh. Photograph: Din Muhammad Shibly-COAST Trust
Up to a billion climate migrants [2] are estimated to be displaced by 2050, reports stipulate this stress will have severe impacts on both mental and physical health [3]. While climate change impacts everyone it is those, that are less fortunate, that lose their home, their income and often their lives from extreme weather events.

Bahamas’ coastline, ecosystem and infrastructure are threatened by sea level rises, costing the country an estimated $500 million annually by 2025 [4]. However, this is not the real price paid. As Bahamians livelihoods are generated from tourism, their income would evidently become nonexistent as the probable floods are likely to destroy resorts, farms and airports . Climate change will not only increase their vulnerable community to climatic hazards, but it will further diminish their capacity to adapt and recover after extreme events.

Vulnerability to the impacts of climate change are strongly correlated with existing figures of income inequality. The French Development Agency, found one additional day per year, where the temperature exceeds 33 °C, has strong adverse effects on both the technical efficiency of rice cultivation and household income, in Vietnam [5]. The climate emergency exacerbates the inequalities marginalised individuals and groups in society already face.

[P2] Flooding in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 2017. Photograph: World Meteorological Organization / Flickr
The inequality is not only felt kilometres away from our shores, there are substantial inequalities with in Australia. These injustices contribute to how we, as a society combat global warming. There are outweighing disadvantages that counterbalance the climate change movement, Maslow hierarchy of needs propose that at the core, humans require basic physiological needs (food, water and shelter). If these necessities are not achieved, one is unable to sustain psychological and self actualisation needs, such as combating the climate emergency.

Additionally, studies propose people with higher levels of education are more likely to deem climate change as a serious threat [6]. This inequality undermines social cohesion and abrades ones willingness to engage in unified action [7]. To strengthen our societal bond we must initiate alternative models and policies that reduce all inequalities [8]. This intern will foster a higher demand for pro-environmental policies and conversations. The climate emergency should not be a divisive topic and by including all, we can achieve the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement.

To be in a position to cease the effects of climate change, we must acknowledge every person in the room. Actively understanding how privileged habits will greatly effect island nations, polluted slums, poverty-stricken countries, farmers, the indigenous, economically disadvantaged, minorities and all marginalised peoples. Enforcing environmental education, a carbon tax, the Paris Agreement, strong climate policy, financial assistance and above all empathy, we can effectively achieve social and environmental affluence. All climatic measures must be inclusive, to embrace a unified effort globally, as no one is resilient to global warming.

[P3] Villagers on dried river bed in Satkhira, Bangladesh. Photograph: Zakir Hossain Chowdhury / Barcro
Image Sources

[P1] D, Muhammad Shibly: COAST Trust (2019). River erosion in Bangladesh.

[P2] World Meteorological Organization / Flickr (2017). Flooding In Jakarta, Indonesia, February 2017.

[P3] Z, Hossain Chowdhury / Barcro: THE GUARDIAN (2017). Villagers on dried river bed in Satkhira, Bangladesh.


[1] W Neil Adger (1999) Social Vulnerability to Climate Change and Extremes in Coastal Vietnam, World Development, Volume 27, Issue 2, 1999, Pages 249-269, Web.

[2] F, Bassetti (2019). Environmental Migrants: Up to 1 billion by 2050. Climate Foresight.

[3] A, Griffin (2017). Climate change could force more than a billion people to flee their homes, says major health report. Independent.

[4] N, Hartnell (2016). Bahamas Facing $500m Climate Impact By 2025.

[5] DIALLO, Y., S. MARCHAND and E. ESPAGNE (2019), “Impacts of Extreme Climate Events on Technical Efficiency in Vietnamese Agriculture”, AFD Research Papers Series, No. 2019-100, March.

[6] Pew Research Centre:  M, Fagan & C, Huang (2019). Study: Education leads to concern about climate change, Web.

[7] M, Ketchell (2019). Inequality and climate change: the rich must step up.

[8] BECK, ULRICH. “Remapping Social Inequalities in an Age of Climate Change: For a Cosmopolitan Renewal of Sociology.” Global Networks 10.2 (2010): 165–181. Web.

Madison Relf

Madison is an 23 year old architectural assistant, from Central Coast NSW. Recently relocated to Scarborough, WA to complete her Masters of Architecture. Loves engaging and learning about art, design, problem solving and the climate emergency. Enjoys spending spare time at pilates studios, on the beach and photographing landscapes.