Susie Moloney & Hartmut Fuenfgeld, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

Presentation Title: Adaptive capacity and climate justice: Reflections on two projects in Victoria, Australia




The impacts and capacity to respond to climate change are unevenly distributed spatially and socially. While debates about climate justice have mainly occurred at the international scale, there is a call to better understand how climate justice is pursued at the urban scale and to incorporate issues of recognition as well as rights and responsibilities as facets of just responses to climate change (Bulkeley et al., 2014). Recognition of varying capacities to respond to climate change is important, as this can help reshape understandings of responsibilities and how issues of poverty, exclusion or socio-cultural factors are implicated.  The notion of climate justice reflected through two climate change projects both located in Victoria, Australia was examined in this presentation.

The first project focused on the capacity of the community services and primary health care sector to respond and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Where climate change impacts affect socio-economically disadvantaged people and the services they rely on, extreme hardship and the severe consequences for individuals and communities that follow, amount to localized manifestations of climate injustice. The second project focused on a state government-funded initiative delivered through a social services organization, which engaged with 144 low-income households suffering from financial hardship. This initiative aimed to assist householders in taking responsibility for reducing their energy use through behavior change and minor retrofits. The project highlighted the vulnerability of low-income tenants in poor quality housing and the limited capacity to adequately adapt and respond to climate impacts. Both projects serve to illustrate the different ways in which issues of climate justice manifest in the urban context and how the adaptive capacity of service providers and those most vulnerable can be improved.

Policy/Practice Implications of Research

There are observable inequities regarding distribution of responsibility for dealing with the effects of environmental change, particularly as we are seeing a growing number of local, place-based non-governmental organizations and community groups attempting to generate change in the absence of leadership from higher levels of government in Australia; and        there are weaknesses and gaps around capacities to act and enable change and the requirement for multi-level governance.

These current challenges present opportunities for including climate justice considerations in key policies and practice.  Using that understanding to develop more informed and effective solutions for change that recognize that multiple and coordinated strategies are needed to enable and support systemic environmental change.

Knowledge Gaps and Needs

Climate justice considerations do not feature prominently in policies and practice supporting socially vulnerable segments of the population in the study area. Current knowledge of the linkages between climate change impacts and their social justice implications is limited, in particular with regard to the following:

  • What are the effects of service cost increases, service disruptions, delays and drops in service quality as a result of climate change impacts?
  • What are appropriate degrees of shared responsibility between individuals, service providers and government regulators, to avoid poor justice outcomes in the face of climate change?
  • What climate (in-)justice outcomes can we expect to see as a result of particular climate related-events and trends?
  • What climate (in-)justice outcomes can we expect to see as a result of climate change policies and regulation?
  • How can service providers be supported in developing their capacity to plan for more just outcomes?
  • There is further need for development of theoretically informed research with shared language and analytical models. There are opportunities for undertaking comparative studies, in order to learn from different contexts to assist in better understanding the role and capacities of actors and agencies involved in implementing and delivering programs for environmental change. This comparative research can also contribute to our understanding of the factors influencing urban vulnerability and capacities to adapt and mitigate climate change.