In environmental and climate change policy, there is a blind spot when it comes to racism. The impacts of climate change are worsening and becoming more frequent: increasingly dangerous storm surges and floods; temperature extremes that raise household heating and cooling costs; and increased exposure to air pollution that causes avoidable deaths, to name just a few. Many believe such impacts to be “colorblind,” affecting all people equally. But they are not.

Enveloped in the term “environmental racism,” communities of color are overexposed to these climate-related harms despite bearing little responsibility for them. From the elevated risk of climate-related disasters that entrench poverty in formerly colonized nations to the disproportionate environmental health burdens in majority nonwhite U.S. neighborhoods, many of these communities are paying a higher price due to legacies of exploitation and devaluation. And because of these uneven distributions in impacts and responsibilities, there is a growing call for a more reparative approach to international climate change policy. The same discussions should also be happening domestically.

Reparations means rectifying past and ongoing harms. As a policy mechanism, it has mostly involved compensatory measures such as one-off wealth or land transfers to individuals impacted by state-sanctioned violence or systematic injustices. Calls for “climate reparations” apply this logic to international disparities in climate change impacts and risks, which are the result of substantial differences in the responsibilities for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, stemming from colonial histories of resource extraction. A parallel logic applies to disparities within countries, particularly in the U.S., where the ongoing legacies of slavery have made many Black communities distinctly exposed or more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

However, the case for climate reparations is distinct from other forms of reparations because of the scale of the impacts and the complexity of determining accountability. Because the impacts of climate change are accelerating (meaning future generations will face more severe and costly risks), what’s needed is not just a wealth transfer to redress legacies of injustice, but a shift toward a more equitable and antiracist climate change policy. That means not just reparations, but a reparative stance.

Read the full article about climate reparations by Manann Donoghoe and Andre M. Perry at Brookings.