Mary Robinson Foundation Principles of Climate Justice

August 24, 2019 Scott Fletcher Bowlsby
September 3, 2018 Scott Fletcher Bowlsby

The Principles of Climate Justice are a guiding philosophy, developed by the Mary Robinson Foundations to ensure public engagement around climate change safeguards human rights and ends in an equitable distribution of costs and benefits.

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Problems and Purpose

The Principles of Climate Justice were developed to guide the actions and activities of the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice but are applicable to the work of any organization or individual looking to take a human-centred approach to the issue of climate change and environmental stewardship. The Principles are not a method but a guiding philosophy, used to inform development work, dialogue, and decision-making. [1]

Origins and Development

The Principles of Climate Justice were developed during a meeting in July 2011 between the board members of the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice and other leaders and practitioners in the field of climate justice. [1]

How it Works

Taken together, the Principles of Climate Justice represent a framework or guiding philosophy from which to draw on when acting in pursuit of equitable solutions to the issue of climate change. 

The following was written by the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice and can be found on their website: 

These principles are rooted in the frameworks of international and regional human rights law and do not require the breaking of any new ground on the part of those who ought, in the name of climate justice, to be willing to take them on. 

Respect and Protect Human Rights

The international rights framework provides a reservoir for the supply of legal imperatives with which to frame morally appropriate responses to climate change, rooted in equality and justice.

The idea of human rights point societies towards internationally agreed values around which common action can be negotiated and then acted upon. Human rights yardsticks deliver valuable minimal thresholds, legally defined, about which there is widespread consensus. The guarantee of basic rights rooted in respect for the dignity of the person which is at the core of this approach makes it an indispensable foundation for action on climate justice.

Support the Right to Development

The vast gulf in resources between rich and poor, evident in the gap between countries in the North and South and also within many countries (both North and South) is the deepest injustice of our age. This failure of resource-fairness makes it impossible for billions of humans to lead decent lives, the sort of life-opportunities that a commitment to true equality should make an absolute essential.

Climate change both highlights and exacerbates this gulf in equality. It also provides the world with an opportunity. Climate change highlights our true interdependence and must lead to a new and respectful paradigm of sustainable development, based on the urgent need to scale up and transfer green technologies and to support low carbon climate resilient strategies for the poorest so that they become part of the combined effort in mitigation and adaptation.

Share Benefits and Burdens Equitably

The benefits and burdens associated with climate change and its resolution must be fairly allocated. This involves acceptance of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities in relation to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Those who have most responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions and most capacity to act must cut emissions first.

In addition, those who have benefited and still benefit from emissions in the form of on-going economic development and increased wealth, mainly in industrialised countries, have an ethical obligation to share benefits with those who are today suffering from the effects of these emissions, mainly vulnerable people in developing countries. People in low income countries must have access to opportunities to adapt to the impacts of climate change and embrace low carbon development to avoid future environmental damage.

Ensure that Decisions on Climate Change are Participatory, Transparent and Accountable

The opportunity to participate in decision-making processes which are fair, accountable, open and corruption-free is essential to the growth of a culture of climate justice. The voices of the most vulnerable to climate change must be heard and acted upon. A basic of good international practice is the requirement for transparency in decision-making, and accountability for decisions that are made. It must be possible to ensure that policy developments and policy implementation in this field are seen to be informed by an understanding of the needs of low income countries in relation to climate justice, and that these needs are adequately understood and addressed.

Decisions on policies with regard to climate change taken in a range of fora from the UNFCCC to trade, human rights, business, investment and development must be implemented in a way that is transparent and accountable: poverty can never be an alibi for government failure in this sphere.

Highlight Gender Equality and Equity

The gender dimension of climate change, and in turn climate justice, must be highlighted. The impacts of climate changes are different for women and men, with women likely to bear the greater burden in situations of poverty.

Women’s voices must be heard and their priorities supported as part of climate justice. In many countries and cultures, women are at the forefront of living with the reality of the injustices caused by climate change. They are critically aware of the importance of climate justice in contributing to the right to development being recognised and can play a vital role as agents of change within their communities.

Harness the Transformative Power of Education for Climate Stewardship

The transformative power of education under-pins other principles, making their successful adoption more likely and inculcating into cultures a deeper awareness of human rights and climate justice than is presently to be found. To achieve climate stabilisation will necessitate radical changes in lifestyle and behaviour and education has the power to equip future generations with the skills and knowledge they will need to thrive and survive.

As well as being a fundamental human right which is already well developed in the international framework of rights referred to above, education is indispensable to the just society. It draws those in receipt of it towards a fuller understanding of the world about them, deepening their awareness both of themselves and of those around them. Done well, it invites reflection on ethics and justice that make the well-educated also good citizens, both of their home state and (in these global times) of the world as well.

Delivered in an effective multi-disciplinary school, college or university environmental education can increase consciousness of climate change, producing new insights not only at the scientific but also at the sociological and political level. Education is also achievable outside the formal system, through public and, increasingly, virtual (i.e. web-based) activity. The learning required to see climate change in justice terms cannot be done at the schools and university alone: it is a life-long responsibility and therefore a commitment.

Use Effective Partnerships to Secure Climate Justice

The principle of partnership points in the direction of solutions to climate change that are integrated both within states and across state boundaries.

Climate justice requires effective action on a global scale which in turn requires a pooling of resources and a sharing of skills across the world. The nation state may remain the basic building block of the international system but without openness to coalitions of states and corporate interests and elements within civil society as well, the risk is that the whole house produced by these blocks will be rendered uninhabitable. Openness to partnership is a vital aspect of any coherent approach to climate change, and in the name of climate justice, this must also involve partnership with those most affected by climate change and least able adequately to deal with it – the poor and under-resourced.[1]

Analysis and Lessons Learned

See Also 

Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice 

The Mary Robinson Foundation Approach to Climate Justice 


[1] "Principles of Climate Justice," Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice, Nov 7 2015,

External Links


Lead image: Neville Elder/ The Elders, Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice