Inequality makes climate crisis much harder to tackle

Added: 05-31-2020

This short article exposes some economic realities that make current proposed global solutions less effective in responding to climate change. The Davos accord’s inherent inequalities don’t adequately address the issue of economically-disadvantaged people’s disproportionate sacrifice. As evidenced by France’s gilets jaunes movement, workers, not just corporate executives and governments, should be included and valued in crafting carbon reduction solutions.

government inequality carbon tax disadvantaged people economically disadvantaged people corporation energy resources economy organized labor world economic forum yellow vest movement climate change

Type Reading Time Author Date Source
article 5 minutes LARRY ELLIOTT 01-26-2020
Type Reading Time
article 5 minutes
Author Date
larry elliott 2020-05-31 00:00:00 UTC
Image by f. muhammad from pixabay hurricane harvey 2801135 1920
Key Takeaways
  • The threat of climate change to global economies is being taken much more seriously by economists than when it was introduced at least 15 years before. 
  • A ‘top-down’ approach to changing economies and creating a response to the climate change crisis doesn’t take into account the unequal effects of this action on the economically and socially disadvantaged. 
  • The example from France of this type of ‘top-down’ approach is massive protest, the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) movement, in response to increased fossil fuel prices for those who have lower incomes. 
  • The suggestion proposed for increased equity in creating carbon reduction solutions is for expanding labor unions and including their input, as well as making taxes more progressive and making carbon targets more onerous to stimulate greater action on the part of corporate and government entities to make change.


The Guardian’s economic editor Larry Elliot identifies some shortcomings of current global plans to combat climate change, particularly the disproportionate burden placed on marginalized and economically disadvantaged people. For the comfortably off, the focus of drastic carbon reduction is obvious and pressing; for those at the bottom of the economic ladder, carbon reduction measures create increased hardships. For example, in late 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron’s government implemented a significant policy to drastically increase “the cost of driving fossil-fuelled vehicles.” People, particularly low-wage workers from the countryside with few mass transit options, started protesting this ‘top-down’ measure, asking for economic justice in the face of increased fuel prices for transportation, heating, and other uses. 

At the 2020 World Economic Forum, British economist Nicholas Stern noted that his warnings on climate change’s effects on global economies were finally being taken “a lot more seriously.” Stern’s 2006 report included the notion that nations with weaker economies would be hardest hit by climate change, and earlier action on reducing carbon emissions and increasing green and sustainable energy sources and other technologies could have huge economic benefits in future. Young people attending the conference questioned why economists have mostly failed “to include climate risks into their models.” 

Elliot suggests part of the answer is that policymakers have been unwilling to address social inequalities in creating global climate change solutions. He posits that more equitable solutions lie in strengthening trade representation to include working people in the conversation. This could help alleviate workers’ fears about implementation of emissions reduction plans. Also suggested was improving public support by creating more progressive taxing structures, and hastening development of “new green technologies” by setting more rigorous carbon reduction standards. These suggestions would certainly face resistance from corporations, but help lessen the burden on people living paycheck to paycheck. 


 “Stern report: the key points”: