In the fight against climate change, some pay a heavy price – Podcast

30 August 2023

What if fighting climate change has negative consequences for local and global societies? An episode of our Covenant of Mayors podcast recently spotlighted Lucia Alexandra Popartan, a postdoctoral researcher specialising in environmental justice and nature-based solutions from the University of Girona and the Autonomous University of Barcelona,

Popartan delves deeply into the concept of ‘just resilience,’ establishing equitable solutions in adapting to climate change. What makes resilience ‘just,’ and why is this important in our societies, especially in the face of environmental challenges?

The expert shares nuanced arguments to provide a comprehensive understanding of just resilience in the context of climate adaptation, social justice, and environmental ethics.

Defining resilience and environmental justice

Popartan defines resilience as “the capacity of a system to resist a negative impact.” As it stands, Popartan says, the distribution of the effects of climate change, can be quite uneven: “Climate change in many cases will accelerate or will deepen vulnerabilities that are already present in our system globally.” For example, as global temperature increases, it is people with less modern apartments who are most likely to suffer the physical and psychological consequences of extreme heat. As well as income, this division can lie along the lines of gender, race, and background.

However, measures that combat climate change can also disproportionately affect these groups. To take the example of apartments again, renovations that make homes more climate-resilient can push up the rent in a building, meaning that less economically privileged tenants are forced to relocate.

In contrast to this, the concepts of environmental justice and just resilience, involve “the right of one person or communities to stay in one place and be protected “from environmental hazards. Thus, resilience is not just about bouncing back but also about equitable distribution of environmental goods and protections.”

Electric dilemma

When discussing the transition to electric vehicles, Popartan points out the ethical implications that involve vulnerable communities. She says that the extraction of materials like cobalt and lithium for batteries has devastating consequences for people in places like the Congo.

“Our lifestyles are intimately related to this heart-wrenching suffering around the world,” Popartan says, stressing the need for greater awareness, cleaner technology investment, and lifestyle shifts.

Green gentrification

Adding to this picture is the idea of “green gentrification,” where efforts to increase green spaces can inadvertently displace poorer communities due to increasing real estate prices, Popartan explains. To avoid the problem she advises to keep in mind the overall welfare of the residents instead of concentrating solely on the question of climate.

Another important step is to directly involve affected residents in decisions that are made about their community. Justice, says Popartan, is not just about distribution but also involves “procedural justice,” which focuses on inclusive decision-making.

Genuine participation is crucial for Popartan, who criticises superficial engagement with communities. Effective community involvement, she argues, could avoid the pitfalls of ‘touristification’ and gender inequalities, and make climate adaptation strategies truly resilient and just.

Popartan was interviewed for the Covenant of Mayors podcast due to her work as an expert in the Covenant of Mayors ‘technical facility,’ a platform for advising cities on how to adapt effectively to climate change.

The expert says she recognises the limitations that cities face in implementing just resilience due to lack of resources, but still places the onus of change at the local level.


Anthony Colclough Eurocities Writer