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Climate justice

Millions are already experiencing the effects of climate change. People living in fragile settings are affected the most and yet they have contributed the least to the climate crisis. There's no time to waste. We need climate justice. Now.

What is climate justice?

Climate justice is about ensuring fairness and equity when tackling climate change and its impacts. Climate action — such as climate mitigation efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the financing of climate adaptation measures — should be the main responsibility of those who contribute the most to global warming, i.e. wealthy, industrialised economies. People living in fragile and conflict-affected settings are impacted the most by climate change, yet they have contributed the least to global heating.

Climate justice isn’t just about moral responsibility; supporting those affected the most is mandatory under international law, as declared by the UN Human Rights Council in October 2021. A clean, healthy and sustainable environment is the human right of all.

The principles of climate justice

Based on the principles of equity, human rights, and responsibility, climate justice links environmental, economic, social and intergenerational justice.

Environmental justice
Although climate change concerns and affects everyone, its causes and effects are unevenly spread. The people who contribute the least to climate change bear the brunt of the world’s most polluting economies.

Economic justice
A fair distribution of the costs and benefits of transitioning to a low-carbon economy is needed. The costs of climate action should not fall disproportionately on those who are least able to afford them.

Social justice
Climate policies and programs should be designed and implemented in a way that accommodates the diverse needs and perspectives of all communities, especially those that have been historically marginalised.

Intergenerational justice
Current generations have a responsibility to future generations, to ensure they inherit a sustainable, liveable planet.

Cordaid’s approach

Cordaid and its partners have been working in fragile and conflict-affected settings for over 100 years, and more recently, we’ve collectively been tackling the impacts of the climate crisis through our programs.

In many fragile and conflict-affected settings, the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation frustrate efforts to consolidate peace and stability. Floods, deforestation, reduced agricultural land and extreme weather events displace communities, destroy livelihoods and feed intercommunal tensions in ways that fuel, deepen, or prolong conflicts.

Indeed, in 2020 the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported that, in the past 60 years, at least 40% of interstate conflicts have been linked to natural resource management issues, including water and land disputes exacerbated by climate change (SIPRI Yearbook 2020: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security).

Cordaid increasingly sees the connection between the climate crisis, conflict and fragility in our own work. Watch this video to hear a relief worker from our Ethiopian office talk about the challenges the people of Borena are facing with climate change and how this relates to conflict and displacement:

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Luya Tsega works for Cordaid’s Ethiopian office as a humanitarian programme officer. During her travels in the southern Borena region, which also borders Kenya and Somalia, she witnessed the effects of climate change and the impact on the communities living in this remote area.

Striving for climate justice in fragile and conflict-affected settings demands a specific approach. The Climate-Peace-Security nexus is about understanding the interlinkages between climate and peace & security. That these linkages exist is widely acknowledged and increasingly addressed through development cooperation.

This is why Cordaid adopts a climate transformative approach in all its activities, where science, local knowledge and humanity/dignity are symbiotic, working in tandem to change the behaviours that impact climate and the environment. 

Definitions: ‘Climate crisis’ vs. ‘Climate change’

Definitions are important. Here’s how Cordaid understands and applies climate-related terminology:

  • Climate change: the long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. Such shifts can be natural, but since the 1800s, human activity has been the main driver, due mainly to the burning of fossil fuels.  
  • Climate crisis: the current emergency state our world is in to limit global heating to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown as a result of historical and continuing greenhouse gas emissions/ human-driven climate change.
  • Climate justice: the need to address the disproportionate affects of climate change impacting the people who contributed the least to emissions, and therefore, those who contributed the least to the world’s climate crisis.
  • Climate action: prioritising mitigation and adaptation in poorer regions, by investing in renewables, water supply, food security and well-managed retreat.
  • Climate mitigation actions: measures taken to diminish structural and systemic causes of climate change.
  • Climate adaptation actions: measures taken to diminish the negative effects of climate change on people, communities, society and/or environment. 

Cordaid’s Climate Policy Brief

Our climate policy is built on 4 distinct strategies:

  1. Our program work on supporting viable and inclusive climate
    change adaptation and mitigation activities.
  2. Our advocacy work in the Netherlands, in Europe, and globally
    with like-minded organisations and networks (see L&A section below).
  3. The effort to reduce Cordaid’s own carbon footprint and to
    compensate for our remaining carbon emissions by investing
    in fair, inclusive, and sustainable climate action projects
    developed via FairClimateFund.
  4. Involving our constituency of more than 300,000 donors in our
    work and inviting them to make sustainable lifestyle choices
    that help tackle climate change.

Climate and Health

The climate crisis is intricately connected to major health challenges. According to the WHO, every year, 13 million deaths are linked to avoidable environmental causes. Protecting the environment is protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the earth on which we grow our food to nourish our bodies and lead healthy lives.

In particularly fragile parts of the world, the climate crisis is also a health crisis. High-income donor countries and development partners should therefore align with country priorities and long-term plans to contribute to health systems strengthening. The key to mitigating the health impacts of a changing climate is to make sure health systems are resilient, especially where climate change is most severe. Devex published our opinion piece on why financing climate-resilient health systems needs a greater international focus.

To strengthen health systems around the world, so that they can cope with the impacts of climate change, proper funding is needed. Results-based financing (RBF) is one such funding method which can improve pandemic and epidemic preparedness at the level of local health.

How can results-based financing help health facilities prepare for changing conditions and outbreak risks as the climate changes? Senior health expert Jos Dusseljee explains.

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Find out more about Cordaid’s work on health care and our commitment to health for all:

Climate and Gender

The climate crisis isn’t ‘gender neutral’. In fact, in many regions of the world, women bear the brunt of the crisis. This is because, not only do women take primary responsibility for securing food, water and fuel in many parts of the world, but also because climate change is a threat multiplier. This means that climate change compounds or even escalates existing social, political and economic tensions, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected settings.

According to UN Women, women are 14 times more likely to die during a disaster than men, and up to 80% of people displaced by climate change are women. It is crucial that the policies and processes developed to address climate change involve women, who (overwhelmingly) have less access to resources and decision-making processes which could help them adapt to the effects of climate change.

The Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance wrote a report on this called Women Speak: The Lived Nexus Between Climate, Gender and Security.

Success story: Birds, Bees & Business

The Birds, Bees & Business project combines the restoration of biodiversity and business activities in the shea value chain. In Burkina Faso, Cordaid and Vogelbescherming (Bird Life Netherlands) join forces in this innovative approach.

Millions of migratory birds fly each year from the Netherlands to West Africa where they spend the winter among the shea trees, the fruits of which are used to make shea butter, also known as ‘Women’s Gold’ and used in skincare products all over the world.

“We see shea as a gift from God. Collecting the nuts and processing them into butter is hard, but it also gives us an income. This means we can send our children to school.”

Maïmouna Adana, shea butter farmer in Burkina Faso

However, this ecosystem is facing desertification due to climate change, ‘slash and burn’ agriculture and grazing, and illegal wood chopping. Soils have become less fertile, and more prone to erosion which is endangering the shea tree and its winter tenants.

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In the Birds, Bees & Business programme, Cordaid works on nature restoration and market opportunities in the shea value chain for 22,000 women in Burkina Faso

Shea butter is the only product in the world that is entirely produced by women. An estimated 20 million women are directly involved in the shea sector in West and East Africa. Many of them, even though they work at the very beginning of the production chain, are not (yet) connected to global supply chains.

That’s where Birds, Bees & Business comes in. Through the project, a variety of 440,000 trees (including shea) will be planted to attract bees and other insects, and therefore also birds. By creating a diverse, mosaic landscape in Burkina Faso, biodiversity can be restored and help the shea trees flourish.

In tandem, the project helps women organise themselves into cooperatives in which they ensure the quality of their shea butter meets international standards and find ways to connect with regional and international markets, where they will receive a fair price for their product.

“The benefits of working through a cooperative are great. We sell more shea, which means we earn more.”

Sonia Nare, manager of a shea cooperative

Partnering with FairClimateFund to introduce cooking stoves for the shea nut heating process makes this business approach even more sustainable; the improved cooking stoves require less wood and therefore release less CO2. This focus on sustainable shea business is creating marketing opportunities for 22,000 women in Burkina Faso.

Lobby & Advocacy

In the countries where Cordaid operates, from Yemen to South Sudan, climate change is already causing major problems, such as soil depletion, extreme drought and floods. This affects the lives of many millions of people.

That’s why Cordaid joins citizens, social movements, faith groups, and local and international civil society organisations to call on world leaders to tackle the climate & ecological crisis. To achieve climate justice Cordaid advocates for firmer international climate action on the following 6 messages:

  • Promote climate-resilient agri-food systems
  • Ensure a fair transition to zero-carbon economies
  • Ensure fair and balanced climate finance
  • Better protect internally displaced people
  • Ensure a focus on gender equality in all climate policies, strategies & actions
  • Operationalise the Loss and Damage Fund

Loss and Damage Fund

COP27 (2022) agreed to new financing schemes for climate damage, including the establishment of a Climate Damage Fund. Alongside 16 other Dutch development organisations, we signed a letter to Dutch parliamentarians outlining recommendations on how the Netherlands can take a leading role in upcoming negotiations on the design of these financing schemes for climate damage:

Non-economic Loss and damage (NELD)

Beyond calling for the operationalisation of the Loss and Damage Fund, many networks are advocating for acknowledgement of non-economic losses and damages (NELDs) at COP28. Caritas Internationalis defines NELDs as:

Loss of, or damage to, things which people value and that cannot be replaced or repaired through market transactions… human life, physical health, mental and emotional wellbeing, territory, culture and practises, Indigenous and local knowledge, ecosystem services and biodiversity, social fabric, education, and mobility.

Unheard, Uncharted: A holistic vision for addressing ‘non-economic’ loss and damage, Caritas Internationalis

Fossielvrij NL

The industrial world needs to radically change course so that global CO2 emissions are reduced substantially. To this end, it is crucial that subsidies and investments in fossil industries are phased out as soon as possible. Large financial institutions like ING have a key position in this.

Cordaid has joined the #INGFossielvrij appeal to demand the Dutch bank stops financing oil, coal and gas. ING continues to engage in dialogue. Follow the updates on this campaign and sign the petition:

The industrial world needs to radically change course so that global CO2 emissions are reduced substantially

Paul van den Berg, Political Advisor at Cordaid

Our key partners, networks and subsidiaries

Our mission is to advocate for climate justice, limit global warming and combat the adverse effects of climate change, side by side with those who are affected most. For that, partnerships and alliances are critical. Together, we can and must act.

Faith-based networks

Working in alliances with integrated approaches is promoted by the Christian traditions Cordaid is rooted in, something we also recognise in other faith traditions and worldviews. The recent encyclic of Pope Francis highlights the necessity of such global alliances in order to achieve climate justice:

…a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on climate change and on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

Pope Francis, Encyclical Laudato Si’, p.49

The faith-based networks we are members of are also striving for climate justice:


FairClimateFund is a social venture established in 2009, of which Cordaid is the sole shareholder. Its mission is to work towards a fair climate where those who contribute most to climate change invest in CO₂ reduction projects that benefit people who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Together with its partners, FairClimateFund focuses on sustainable household energy projects and nature-based solutions. These climate projects reduce CO₂ emissions and deforestation and improve the living conditions of the communities.

FairClimateFund also advocates for a ‘Fair Race to Net-Zero’, to ensure that the transition to a net zero carbon economy is just. Read their position paper here.



  • Triple nexus

    We aim to link relief to rehabilitation, development and peace
  • Gender equity

    We want equal rights for women, men, and non-binary people
  • Diversity and inclusion

    We need diversity to build peaceful, equitable and resilient societies