Creative Carbon Scotland’s Guide to Climate Justice

25th June 2020

Creative Carbon Scotland's Guide to Climate Justice

Creative Carbon Scotland's Guide to Climate Justice

This guide introduces the concept of climate justice and outlines the ways in which it is relevant to the arts and culture sector in Scotland. This guide was developed with the assistance of two discussion sessions held with Green Arts Initiative members. The comments and suggestions made by participants have been integrated into the guidance below.

This guide includes: 

The basics:

  • What is climate justice? 
  • Why is climate justice relevant to Scottish arts and culture organisations? 
  • How can you run your organisation in a climate just way? 
  • How can your organisation promote and develop understanding of climate justice? 
  • Further resources 

Advice on specific climate justice issues:

  • Class and wealth inequality
  • Disability and long-term health conditions
  • Immigration and refugees
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Remote and rural areas
  • Sex and gender 

What is Climate Justice? 

Climate justice recognises humanity’s responsibility for the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions on the poorest and most vulnerable people in society by critically addressing inequality and promoting transformative approaches to address the root causes of climate change.’ Professor Tahseen JafryCentre for Climate Justice, Glasgow Caledonian University 

The term ‘Climate Justice’ expresses how climate change is a social and political issue as much as a technical or environmental one. Climate change interacts with and exacerbates existing inequalities Action to address climate change can help to create a fairer society, but there is also a risk of actions discriminating or deepening inequalities. Discrimination and inequality inhibit effective action to tackle climate change.

In discussions hosted by Creative Carbon Scotland, definitions of Climate Justice by members of the Green Arts Initiative shared an emphasis on the disproportionate impacts of climate change falling on already disadvantaged people, exacerbating existing inequalities. They raised the importance of taking responsibility for the large contributions the UK has made and continues to make to global emissions and sharing the burdens (and even potential opportunities) of climate change fairly 

Examples of some climate justice issues: 

  •  Pacific island nations have drawn attention to the fact that they are already suffering some of the worst impacts of sea level rise and acidification despite being among the nations that have contributed least to carbon emissions.
  • Black Lives Matter UK drew attention to the fact that blackAsian, and minority ethnic people in the UK suffer disproportionately from air pollution. They protested expansion of London City airport on the grounds that its beneficiaries would be largely white and wealthy while the surrounding area has a high proportion of poorer ethnic minorities. 
  • Campaigns to get a legislative ban on plastic straws were criticised by disability rights groups who felt that the ban would disproportionately affect people with certain disabilities such as cerebral palsyPlans for the legislation have since been altered to accommodate this.  
  • Since 2015 a series of escalating protests at the British Museum have drawn connections between the museum’s sponsorship by British Petroleum and both organisations’ relationship with the UK’s colonial history under the slogan ‘Stolen Land. Stolen Objects. Stolen Climate’.  
Climate change exacerbates existing inequalities. Inequality makes climate action less effective or discriminatory.

How climate change and social justice are interlinked. Image: Creative Carbon Scotland.


And why is it relevant to Scottish arts organisations? 

Climate justice’s insistence that climate change is a social as well as technical issue brings in the role that culture plays in bringing about social change, as discussed by Creative Carbon Scotland’s director Ben TwistThe complex interactions of climate change with existing inequalities and injustices is an area where the arts can play a role in developing understanding. It is an issue that artists and creatives as well as scientists and policy makers can clearly help tackleThe growing threats and impacts of climate change are increasingly intermingled with existing work by artists on addressing inequalities of gender, (dis)ability, class, sexuality, and others.  

Many of the most severe inequalities raised by climate justice occur at an international level that can feel difficult for arts organisations here in Scotland to influence, but there are issues accessible on a more local level. Arts organisations already consider EqualitiesDiversity, and Inclusion (EDI) and may encounter climate justice issues through the ways that this interacts with their environmental policy. Climate justice may also offer a frame for integrating the effects of climate change into existing work being done to tackle local inequalities 

In conversations, members of the Green Arts Initiative thought that some of the most important and readily tackled climate justice issues in Scotland were:  

  • Migration and climate refugees 
  • Urban-rural divides and remote communities 
  • A ‘just transition away from the North Sea oil industry 
  • Understanding the global impact of local actions

Some of the most important roles that arts organisations could take on were agreed to be: 

  • Promoting and developing understanding of climate justice, for example by providing a platform for people confronting climate justice issues or collaborating with social justice organisations. 
  • Running ourselves in a climate just way, for example by ensuring that our mitigation or adaptation measures are not unjust. 

The remainder of this guide will focus on these two categories and suggest broad actions that could be taken in these areas, followed by links to further resources and information on a range of more specific issues 


How can you run your organisation in a Climate Just way? 

This involves ensuring that the work your organisation has direct control over takes into account all relevant climate justice issuesThis can be summarised as: 

  • Ensuring that environmental work carried out by your organisation such as carbon management planning or measures to adapt to climate change do not result in discrimination or deepening of inequalities.
  • Seeing where environmental aims may provide an opportunity to improve the Equalities, Diversity, and Inclusion of your organisation or where improving EDI may benefit your environmental aims.

Actions will depend on the nature of your organisation and the context in which you operate, but some example steps could be: 

  • Combining or cross-referencing Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion and Environmental policies to understand how they interact and can reinforce each other. 
  • Considering whether steps to improve the environmental impact of your organisation will affect groups differently and, if necessary,  provide special provision for this.  
  • Getting advice from relevant bodies or organisations if you are uncertain about potential impacts of your green work. See below for some suggestions.  
  • Having diversity in staffing and volunteers to ensure an awareness of not increasing inequalities through environmental workEvidence suggests that more diverse staffing has numerous benefits.  
Running your organisation in a Climate Just way involved finding seeing how your sustainability and EDI policies overlap with broader Climate justice issues.

Running your organisation in a Climate Just way involves seeing how your sustainability and EDI policies interact with each other and broader climate justice issues. Image: Creative Carbon Scotland.


How can your organisation promote and develop understanding of Climate Justice? 

This can involve using artistic programming, engagement work, and your role within communities to contribute to creating a more climate just world, using your spheres of influence to contribute to bringing about broader change. Examples of this might include: 

  • Collaborating with local community and social justice organisations. This could be an opportunity to learn from each other as well as to reach new audiences. 
  • Learning from climate change organisations led by communities who face increased impacts or exacerbated inequalities, such as the Indigenous Environmental Network.  
  • Making a special effort to reach different people. There is a risk that environmental engagement work from arts organisations can end up reaching the same audience repeatedly. This may exclude groups who will be most affected by climate change or who encounter barriers to participation in tackling climate change. Reaching audiences who have in the past been less involved with your organisation will make environmental messaging more impactful as well as growing your reach. 
  • Working in collaboration with people from affected groups when creating artistic work that engages with climate justice issues, or providing a platform for people from affected groups to share their experiences. 
  • Providing a focus on climate justice might enable people who are not currently engaged with culture to become more confident about their right and ability to enter that field. Climate justice could be a ‘bridge’ to bring about wider participation, while wider participation could help promote climate justice. Evidence also suggests that showing how climate change connects to social issues can be a more effective way of promoting active engagement. 


Further general resources 

Resources specific to particular climate justice issues are given in the relevant sections below. 

A minister wearing scuba diving gear and signing a decree at a staged underwater cabinet meeting.

The government of the Maldives held an ‘underwater cabinet meeting’ to draw attention to the threat of rising sea levels. Image: Mohamed Seeneen.


Advice on specific Climate Justice Issues 

It is important to bear in mind that issues are not discrete categories. People may experience a number of different inequalities in a number of different ways and these issues affect each other rather than occurring in isolation. Nevertheless, the following advice is divided up this way for the purpose of clarity.

Class and Wealth Inequality

In 2012-2014 in Scotland the wealthiest 1% of private households owned more wealth than the bottom 50% and levels of poverty have been predicted to rise. Higher incomes strongly correlate with higher emissions and a more negative environmental impact, with the wealthy both on a local and international level tending to bear a greater responsibility for environmental damage. One study even found that those who describe themselves as more environmentally conscious also tended to have a worse environmental impact, effectively because both of these correlate with higher income. Climate advocacy in the UK, especially from NGOs, has been strongly associated with the middle classes with people from lower income backgrounds having poorer representation. This chimes with longstanding concerns that the arts and culture sector tends to disproportionately benefit the upper and middle classes 

Policies to tackle climate change may have co-benefits for reducing inequality, with improvements to energy efficiency likely to also reduce fuel poverty for example. Policies can however also risk cutting out people with lower incomes with, for example, infrastructure to support electric vehicles likely to disproportionately work to the benefit of those with higher incomes. Active travel infrastructure like cycling lanes also see unequal distribution of benefits given that more affluent households are more likely to own bicycles. The Trades Union Congress has also emphasised the longstanding connection between fossil fuel extraction and the working classes and the need to recognise this in a Just Transition away from the oil industry.  

Example steps you could take 

Actions will depend on the nature of your organisation and the context in which you operate, but some example steps could be: 

  • Seek collaboration with groups and campaigns who work on issues that have relevance for climate change and poverty such as public transport, fuel poverty or community energy. 
  • If improving infrastructure for low carbon travel, you could consider working with organisations such as Sustrans or Paths for All for advice on how to ensure its broad usefulness. 
  • Wealthier audiences for arts organisations may represent an opportunity, with measures to influence audience behaviour being more likely to reach those with worse environmental impact. 
  • Getting poorer people to participate in environmental outreach work may require additional effort to reduce financial barriers. 

Useful resources 

Disability and Long-term health conditions

People with existing physical disabilities or long-term health conditions are more adversely affected by climate change impacts. For example, extreme weather events or flooding that inhibit travel infrastructure have a greater impact on people with mobility issues while people with conditions like multiple sclerosis are more vulnerable to extreme heat.  A UN report also found that disabled people tend to have reduced access to knowledge, resources and services to effectively respond to climate change. This is especially the case for people with learning disabilities, with very little information about climate change available in easy read formats for example.  

Disabled voices have not always been well represented in climate change campaigning. An example of the effect of this can be found in campaigns for a ban on plastic straws, which were criticised by disability rights groups given that people with certain disabilities have a justifiable need for these straws and preventing this small demographic from using them would have a relatively minor environmental benefit. A similar situation arose over complaints about the environmental impact of inhalers.  

Climate change mitigation strategies may also be less available for people with certain disabilities. For example, people with mobility issues may not be able to make use of walking or cycling infrastructure and there may be increased barriers to using public transport. People with certain disabilities or long-term health conditions may thus have a necessarily increased carbon footprint. 

Example steps you could take 

Actions will depend on the nature of your organisation and the context in which you operate, but some example steps could be: 

  • Provide plastic straws for people with relevant disabilities on request. 
  • Digital and online resources can be a means of helping improve accessibility without substantially increasing emissions but be aware of the potential drawbacks of these as well: most would agree that they cannot replace the live experience entirely and certain disabilities can inhibit access to devices like computers for example. 
  • Check that adaptation and mitigation policies you adopt do not disproportionately affect people with disabilities.  
  • Make information about your green work available in accessible formats. An example of this. 
  • Have a policy that devices such as lifts are for the use of people who need them (be aware that this need may not be visibly obvious). 

Useful Resources 

  • Euan’s Guide ‘is ta disabled access review site where disabled people, their family, friends and carers can find and share reviews on the accessibility of venues around the UK and beyond.’ 
  • Inclusion Scotland is a disabled led charity that aims ‘to achieve positive changes to policy and practice, so that disabled people are fully included throughout all Scottish society as equal citizens.’ 
  • Disability Equality Scotland provide online hubs for information relating to disability and inclusion.  
  • Disability Information Scotland ‘enable positive change by sharing information on disability when people need it, in a way they want it’. 
  • Disability Rights UK campaigns for ‘a society where everyone can participate equally’. 
  • Green Arts Initiative members including Drake Music and Lung Ha’s Theatre Company specialise in work made by and for people with disabilities.  

Immigration and Refugees

By some estimates there could be as many as 200 million climate refugees by 2050 – if emissions continue at the current rate – as a result of conflicts caused by reduced resources and increases in extreme weather events. Changes to temperature and rainfall could also force many to migrate to areas less severely impacted. Already, climate change has forced people to become refugees. Numbers of refugees are at the time of writing are estimated to be at their highest levels since the Second World War, a situation that is likely to be exacerbated by worsening climate change impacts.  

As the UK has been one the largest contributors to emissions that cause climate change and has accrued wealth in the process, many organisations argue that the UK should play a more active role in supporting and harbouring climate refugees as well as allowing more immigrants to settle here.  

Example steps you could take 

Actions will depend on the nature of your organisation and the context in which you operate, but some example steps could be: 

  • Working with refugee and migrant rights organisations to sensitively promote the issue of climate refugees through artistic or other means. An example of an artistic response to climate refugees here 

Useful Resources 

  • Refuweegee is a Glasgow-based charity that works to support and welcome refugees to Scotland.
  • Bridges Programmes supports the integration of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants in Scotland.
  • Green Arts Initiative member Highland One World promotes global citizenship through creative work with schoolchildren.
Creative Carbon Scotland's Guide to Climate Justice 4

A child from Tuvalu holds up a sign asking for a place to live as her own home suffers from sea level rise in the background. Image: Creative Commons.

Race and ethnicity

Both the UK arts and culture and environmental charity sectors involve a disproportionately small number of Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people relative to the national population. According to a 2018 report, in the UK 2.7% of library, museum and gallery staff are from BAME groups, 4.2% of film, TV, and radio workers are from BAME groups and 4.8% of music, performing and visual arts workers are from BAME groups. A 2017 report found that 3.1% environment professionals identified as ethnic minorities. In the last UK census 13-14% of people described their ethnicity as black, Asian, mixed, or other minority ethnic group.  

Environmental activism and advocacy have been criticised for systematically excluding connections to issues such as race by framing climate change in narrowly technical terms rather than socio-cultural ones. In 2016, a bloc of indigenous and global south activists was excluded from a march in London due to fears that their messaging was too political and not positive enoughNevertheless, a 2019 survey in the UK found that people who identified themselves as BAME were on average more committed to tackling climate change than people who described themselves as ‘white’.

BAME people in the UK are more effected by climate change impacts and other environmental issues. For example, areas with higher levels of air pollution correlate with areas that have a larger proportion of BAME people. One report found that Black British Africans are 28% more likely than their white counterparts to be exposed to air pollution. In Scotland, instances of poverty are higher among BAME communities, making adaptation to climate change impacts more difficult.  

Example steps you could take 

Actions will depend on the nature of your organisation and the context in which you operate, but some example steps could be: 

  • Make connections with organisations working on climate justice and anti-racism in your area and think about how you might be able to collaborate.
  • When producing work or events with an environmental angle, seek to foreground the ways that the impacts of climate change are unevenly distributed, exacerbating existing inequalities such as race. Evidence suggests that framing climate change in this manner rather than in purely technical terms may lead to higher levels of engagement. 
  • Seek to learn from ethnic minority groups with experience of resilience in the face of environmental injustice; this might involve researching work taking place abroad. An example
  • Evidence suggests that in contexts where people of our own ethnicity are underrepresented, we may be less likely to actively choose to participate, meaning that working with BAME people on climate change may require careful outreach to make your work accessible. 

Useful resources 

  • Climate Reframe ‘highlights Black, Brown, Asian, People of Colour and UK based Indigenous Peoples who are climate experts, campaigners and advocates living and working in the UK’. It includes a section on ‘cultural creatives’ 
  • The Black Environment Network is a UK-wide charity ‘working for ethnic environmental participation’.   
  • Regional Equality Councils across Scotland ‘work to support and empower minority communities, particularly in relation to tackling prejudice and discrimination, promoting community cohesion and connections’. 
  • SCORE Scotland is a charity that ‘works in partnership with others to address the causes and effects of racism and to promote race equality’. 
  • BEMIS ‘is the national Ethnic Minorities led umbrella body supporting the development of the Ethnic Minorities Voluntary Sector in Scotland and the communities that this sector represents’. 
  • CEMVO Scotland is a charity that ‘aims to build the capacity and sustainability of the ethnic minority voluntary sector and its communities’. 
  • CRER is ‘a Scottish strategic racial equality charity, based in Glasgow, focused on working to eliminate racial discrimination and harassment and promote racial justice across Scotland’. 

Remote and Rural Areas

In Scotland, people living in more remote and rural areas are likely to suffer worse climate change impacts such as flooding and may be less involved in decision making processes, which are centred in urban areas. Climate change causes such as fossil fuel power stations, mines, and refineries located in rural areas may also have local impacts such as pollution that city dwellers are not actively aware of. This is significant in the context of arts and culture, given that a majority of arts and culture organisations are based in cities – over half of Green Arts Initiative member organisations are based in either Glasgow or Edinburgh 

There is also concern that efforts to reduce the travel emissions associated with arts and culture can negatively impact people living in remote and rural areas. If organisations do not tour, then people may lose their access to live arts. Digital or online approaches can be less effective in remote areas where slower internet speeds can be a barrier. Public transport is more limited in rural areas and the need to travel longer distances may preclude walking or cycling for some people.  

Example steps you could take 

Actions will depend on the nature of your organisation and the context in which you operate, but some example steps could be: 

  • Strategic use of touring may reduce travel emissions if we factor in audience travel. Rather than having large numbers of audience members travel into cities to attend events (often by car) a smaller number of performers could travel to local centres, reducing the level of travel required overall.
  • Touring practice could also shift to focus less on touring internationally, often to existing cultural centres, and more on touring locally to areas with less access to arts and culture. Tours can also be planned carefully to minimise the amount of travel necessary.
  • Online resources and events can also be useful, while considering the potential drawback of reduced internet speeds in remote areas.
  • Given that more arts organisations and arts employees are based in urban areas, artistic work engaging with environmental issues may be skewed towards an urban perspective (e.g. traffic pollution gaining more attention that soil erosion) that work could be done to re-balance through regional touring or engagement work. 

Useful Resources 

Sex and Gender

Gender inequalities in many societies mean that women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than men, with for example women globally having more caring responsibilities or less independence. Discrimination can also mean that sexual and gender minorities suffer worse from climate-related impacts. 

In the arts in Scotland, highly paid and seniors are more likely to be held by men, with a Creative Scotland survey finding that 44% of women cited gender as a barrier to career progression in the arts. Criticisms have also been made of the fact that a majority of influential climate scientists and spokespeople have been men, leading to potential bias in terms of which issues are emphasised. This is in spite of multiple studies suggesting that women are if anything on average more likely to be concerned about climate change.  Enabling more equal involvement from women in the response to climate change in the arts could help broaden expertise and make work more effective. 

Example steps you could take 

Actions will depend on the nature of your organisation and the context in which you operate, but some example steps could be: 

  • Developing programming which explicitly explores gender-diverse climate leaders and how we perceive them. Suggestions from Green Arts Initiative members include Jane GoodallGreta Thunberg and Wangari Maathai.
  • Learning from work previously done within feminist circles to create accessible spaces for discussion on climate change, which helps us overcome the power dynamics and barriers to participation.  

Useful resources 

  • The Gender and Environment Resource Centre provides knowledge on gender and environment issues, innovative approaches, technical support, policy developments and capacity building to ensure gender equality and environment outcomes are realized’.
  • The Women’s Environmental Network ‘works on issues that connect gender, health and the environment’.
  • Engender is ‘Scotland’s feminist policy and advocacy organisation’.
  • LGBT Scotland provides a ‘listings directory relevant to the LGBT+ community in Scotland’.
  • Green Arts Initiative members Glasgow Women’s Library have a wide range of resources on their website including some that explore intersections with climate change.


Got a suggestion on how to improve this resource? Get in touch. 


Advice for a More Sustainable Fringe 1

This guidance is part of Creative Carbon Scotland’s resources for our Green Arts community: a group of over 300 cultural organisations in Scotland committed to reducing their environmental impact. Find out more and join for free on our Green Arts Initiative page.


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