Climate change and its effects are inextricably linked to complex questions of justice. These—collectively termed climate justice—have in turn been subject to an increasingly broad debate in both the scientific and the policy community.

Despite this increase in attention, the ways in which the effects of global warming will impact justice at various levels are still far from clear. In this paper, we examine state-of-the art research and thinking on the implications of climate change for justice, to clarify the linkages and potential intersections between them, and to identify the key resulting governance challenges facing the international system. This paper explores potential pathways for reform to make multi-level climate governance more fit for purpose, and to better anticipate and address the predicted justice implications of climate change. Specifically, we pose two research questions:

  1. What are the key policy and (multilevel) governance challenges at the intersection of climate change and justice?
  2. How can current policies and governance arrangements (at different levels) be improved to better meet these challenges?

Of course, climate justice means different things to different groups and individuals and the potential implications of climate change for justice are varied and complex.

Climate justice is not simply a quick reference to acting ethically, but rather a source of reasoning for what is considered legitimate, and thus relates to more normative questions of equity and fairness.

In the final section, we discuss the following key policy implications and governance reform recommendations for advancing climate justice:

  • looking beyond the state and towards a cosmopolitan perspective on climate justice
  • urging the fulfilment of legal obligations to combat climate change
  • recognizing climate change as a form of ecocide and a crime against peace
  • advancing a human-rights based approach to climate justice
  • strengthening protection for those displaced by the effects of climate change
  • developing institutional design propositions for inclusive and equitable climate governance at multiple levels
  • strengthening multi-level and multi-stakeholder climate governance