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India - [Commentary] Rethinking the Justice Question: Climate Change, Sea-Level Rise and Disproportionate Distribution of Risk

Responses to global emergencies like climate change and pandemics must have justice at their core because the poor and powerless suffer more than the privileged and entitled.

The responses towards the COVID-19 pandemic help us rethink the old normal, imagine the new normal and address possibilities and scenarios from a vulnerability and justice point of view.

While we await to unravel how the pandemic and climate change interface, this article discusses the importance of climate justice in coastal landscapes in India. It first illustrates how sea-level rise – a risk associated with climate change is inherently disproportional under contemporary social structures. It then details how flooding and pollution doubles the impact of the risk. We argue that climate justice branched out from social and environmental justice, is an important framework to address these disproportionate risks to ensure a just and healthy society.

The COVID-19 situation acts as an additional health stressor in already climatically compromised geographies. It also forewarns us that lockdowns may reduce pollution load over cities, but overall carbon emission continues unabated due to energy needs. Emission reduction targets remain unchanged, and not reducing emissions has implications on environment and justice.

Sea-level rise and disproportional distribution of risk

Global sea-level rise (SLR), up to one meter by 2100, is a widely accepted fact among the scientific community. Various physical changes associated with SLR such as inundation, saltwater intrusion and erosion can occur unexpectedly when the threshold is crossed.

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