Climate Change and Social Inequality

Added: 05-20-2020

Offering three arguments supporting their claims, the authors outline how climate change has a greater adverse effect on already disadvantaged populations within countries, and suggest that this effect can be extrapolated across countries. They posit that adverse climate effects increase systemic inequalities because of higher exposure, greater vulnerability to the effects, and fewer coping and recovery strategies in these populations.

poverty social impact inequality resilience disadvantaged people working conditions privilege environmental justice climate change

Type Reading Time Author Date Source
document 50 minutes JOHN WINKEL; S. NAZRUL ISLAM 10-01-2017
Type Reading Time
document 50 minutes
Author Date
john winkel; s. nazrul islam 2020-05-20 00:00:00 UTC
Key Takeaways
  • Disadvantaged and minority groups are disproportionately negatively affected by the global climate change crisis. 
  • This paper highlights three overarching themes that lead to a cycle of decreased resilience to climate change effects in disadvantaged people and communities who are: frequently more exposed at home and work, more susceptible to negative consequences, and less able to muster the resources required to recover from damage. 
  • Inequality across a country’s population generally leads to increased inequities during recovery from an adverse climate event or management of ongoing climate change impacts.


 S. Nazrul Islam and John Winkel have analyzed numerous studies in order to summarize the broader and asymmetrical negative effects of climate change based on “social inequality,” a term they use to cover all of the “different types of within-country inequalities.” Noting that early climate change discussions focused on the environmental effects of climate change and later grew to encompass the effects on society, their goal is to now provide a framework for discussing and addressing the direct and indirect effects of climate change on inequality. 

This framework establishes three major “channels” by which climate hazards disproportionately affect underprivileged people, generating a cycle that seems to increase the negative impact based on social inequalities. These include the following: 
  • Unequal “exposure” to climate change effects both at home and in the workplace, 
  • Inequality in “susceptibility” to these effects, 
  • Differences in the “ability to cope with and recover from the damage.” 
Disadvantaged people and communities are shown to be more adversely affected, and each “channel” exacerbates the effects of the others in a vicious cycle of reinforcement. 

The paper covers multiple different types of societal inequalities and examples of how they play out in reality, and includes examples of age, gender, racial and ethnic, geographic, political, and occupational differences. It bases its conclusions mainly on studies of within-country inequality. The authors suggest that this framework should be used to help direct research, guide conversation and policy, and, most importantly, focus the discussion on the unequal effects of climate change. While this paper focuses on within-country research, there are also obvious disparities between countries in terms of all the inequalities listed above. The authors then extrapolate about how this framework could be used to study across-country inequalities and how to address these inequalities along with climate change mitigation in a synergistic way.