Climate justice has become a focal point in the fight against climate change, with increasing recognition of its importance across Global Warming’s Six Americas. The concept is rooted in the understanding that those who have contributed the least to climate change are often the ones bearing the brunt of its impacts. This disparity not only exacerbates existing societal challenges such as systemic racism and poverty, but also often sidelines the most affected communities from decision-making processes.

Climate justice aims to address these inequities by reducing the unequal harms of climate change, ensuring equitable benefits from climate solutions, and fostering inclusive decision-making. This principle has been integrated into climate advocacy and decision-making at all levels, from local initiatives to international platforms like the 28th United Nations Conference of Parties (COP28). However, commitments to climate justice still fall short. For instance, contributions from wealthy nations to the United Nations’ “loss and damage fund” currently meet less than 0.5% of estimated needs.

In light of this, a recent Climate Note investigated American adults’ understanding of climate injustice and their support for climate justice, using data from the ‘Climate Change in the American Mind’ survey (April, 2023; n = 1,011). The study analyzed responses across Global Warming’s Six Americas, a framework categorizing Americans’ attitudes towards global warming.

The results reveal that recognition of climate injustice is highest among those most concerned about global warming – the ‘Alarmed’ and ‘Concerned’ segments, which constitute 56% of the U.S. population. Approximately 77% of the ‘Alarmed’ and 61% of the ‘Concerned’ believe that global warming disproportionately harms lower-income individuals compared to wealthier people, compared to an overall 48% of all US adults. In contrast, the ‘Doubtful’ and ‘Dismissive’ segments, which make up 23% of the U.S. population, exhibit the least recognition of climate injustice.

The study further explored perceptions of racial disparities in the impacts of climate change. Roughly one-third of U.S. adults believe that global warming disproportionately harms people of color and that historical racist policies have heightened their vulnerability to climate change. However, these views are more prevalent among the ‘Alarmed’, with 61% acknowledging the greater harm to people of color and 64% attributing this to a history of racist policies.

Image source: Climate Communication at Yale