A Lexicon on Climate Justice


Climate change has a disproportionate impact on vulnerable communities – notes A Lexicon on Climate Justice, published by Justice Adda, a digital initiative working on law and human rights. The concept of ‘climate justice’ alters the terms of climate-related discourse from a scientific to a socio-economic and rights-based perspective.

This lexicon presents 61 crucial concepts related to climate justice. It was published in August 2021 along with the Mumbai-based India Climate Collaborative and EdelGive Foundation – both of which work closely on climate-related issues. Its authors are Germany-based researcher Eklavya Vasudev, along with Nithya Kochuparampil and Siddharth de Souza of Justice Adda.

Organised alphabetically, the lexicon animates key concepts with the help of infographics, and explains their relevance through examples. For instance, the section on Adivasi rights discusses the case of anti-mining protests led by the Dongria Kondh community – a Scheduled Tribe – in the Niyamgiri hills of Odisha. This 293-page document contains the lexicon in English as well as Hindi.

The following are excerpts from 16 of the 61 definitions, which are especially relevant to present times:

Adaptation: Adaptation refers to human interventions that minimize the impact of climate change on human beings and the planet. An example of climate adaptation is designing disaster-resilient infrastructure which reduces the likelihood of damage to human beings from extreme weather events like floods, storms, heat waves, and others.

Adivasi rights: Adivasi rights include the ability of tribal communities to maintain and protect their connection with their land and livelihoods. This symbiotic relationship is under threat due to developmental activities, primarily through deforestation, mining for minerals and natural resource extraction.

Biodiversity: Biodiversity refers to the diversity of species, including plants, animals, and microorganisms, on our planet. This diversity plays a key role in the generation of ecological services necessary to sustain human life, like provision of water resources, soil formation, climate stability, pollution control, nutrient storage and more.

Carbon budget: A carbon budget refers to a scientifically determined quota of or limit to the amount of carbon dioxide emissions that can be emitted by humans, in order to remain below a specified global average rise in temperature and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Deforestation: Deforestation refers to the clearing of forests by humans, by cutting down or burning trees, in order to use forest land for non-forest uses.

Displacement (climate): This term refers to the forced movement of people who are exposed to climate change-induced environmental degradation or extreme weather events that make the places they live in uninhabitable.

Footprint (carbon): This refers to the total amount of carbon dioxide generated by a person or organisation’ s activities. Carbon footprints can also be negative or neutral: when consumption (of anything: electricity, food, goods) does not add emissions, or removes the carbon emissions it has put into the atmosphere, respectively.

Global warming: Global warming refers to the phenomenon of a long-term increase in the temperature of the Earth’ s climate system on account of increased levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The gases cause a greenhouse effect by trapping heat from the sun.

Human rights: Human rights are inalienable rights that everyone has by virtue of being human. These are universal rights that are not granted by states but are inherent in human beings, and they are interdependent and indivisible such that one right requires the other in order for them to be fully enjoyed. Human rights are operationalised through domestic legislations, constitutional frameworks and international agreements.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): The IPCC is an independent, intergovernmental panel on climate change established by the United Nations in 1988. It produces assessment reports on the state of the climate, from a scientific perspective. These are considered to be the most comprehensive and reliable assessments of climate change by the scientific community.

Justice (climate): Bringing justice into climate discourse frames the issue of climate change as more than just an environmental threat, becoming one that has ethical, social and political implications. It places human welfare and the lives of people and communities at the core of climate issues.

Paris Agreement: The 21st meeting of all country signatories to the UNFCCC, known as Conference of the Parties (COP) meetings, was held in Paris in 2015 and resulted in the Paris Agreement. The purpose of COP is to coordinate intergovernmental efforts to tackle climate change. During the Paris meeting, countries pledged to keep the increase in global temperatures " well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and preferably to 1.5°C or below. Under the agreement, each country also pledged to set its own emission-reduction targets, known as ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ (NDCs), which will be reviewed every five years. The next COP will be held in Glasgow, UK in 2021.

Sustainable development: This refers to a holistic understanding of development that integrates social, economic and environmental sustainability. The concept recognises that societies cannot develop and grow without eradicating poverty, hunger, gender inequality, barriers to justice, substandard education or wealth inequalities; nor can they have a future without switching to clean energy, sustainable sources of economic growth, and positive action to reverse climate change.

Trade: Trade is a climate challenge because with economic growth and the expansion of global industries, transportation and supply chains can cause large increases in environmental damage. Additionally, there are repeated historic occurrences of pollution-heavy industries being moved to countries with less stringent environmental policies, in order to circumvent regulation.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): The UNFCCC is an international environmental treaty to “prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system,” which came into effect in 1994.

1.5 Target: In 2018, IPCC climate scientists revised the upper limit for global warming from a 2°C rise down to 1.5°C. They based it on the principle of equity, given that small island states and developing countries are bound to feel the impact of climate change to a much greater degree as the earth warms.

Focus by Shafia Shaan.


Eklavya Vasudev, Nithya Kochuparampil and Siddharth de Souza


Justice Adda, India Climate Collaborative and EdelGive Foundation


Aug, 2021