Social justice refers to the fair division of resources, opportunities, and privileges in society. Right now, though, social justice seems like a chimera to a majority of the world’s population.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the fight for climate action. With COP28 now underway in the UAE, the widening divide between the Global North and Global South has finally taken center stage, with pledges, finance and action plans to address this concern with the seriousness and consideration it deserves.

On the first day of this year’s UN climate conference, delegates agreed to launch and capitalize the Critical Loss and Damage Fund which would provide financial assistance for vulnerable countries to deal with the worst impacts of climate change. This is a significant step in the right direction for two reasons. One, that climate change is likely to hurt poor countries more than rich ones, and two, that the countries hardest hit by the climate crisis have done the least to cause it.

It’s the economy, stupid

Climate change not only impacts the physical face of these countries, it also has a huge impact on their economies, thus further increasing economic inequality around the world. While climate change is just one of the factors, the price of this rising economic inequality is steep.

Beyond the stark disparity in wealth distribution, the escalating price of this inequality is revealed many other ways. An eroding social cohesion, diminishing opportunities for those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, a widening heath gap, an increasing education gap, and barriers to social mobility, are some of them. The impact of these repercussions reverberates through various facets of society, impacting individuals, communities, and the overall well-being of nations.

A long, winding road ahead

It’s crucial then, to consider ways in which we can tackle this growing economic inequality and thus bring a measure of social justice. Whilst the problem is complex, multi-factorial and seemingly intractable, there are strategies we can deploy that will help. We do however need to rid ourselves of any delusions that this is going to be easy, or quick.

Economic inequality is a systemic problem and changing deep-rooted systems are never easy, especially when those very systems benefit a powerful section of society.

Low hanging fruit

Financial empowerment holds significant promise in this context, and given its intricate entwinement with social justice, it serves as a catalyst for positive change. This emerges as a potent force capable of reshaping the landscape of social justice within our communities. This not only addresses economic balances but delves into the border narratives of societal well-being and inclusivity.

Financial empowerment offers individuals the tools and knowledge to navigate and harness financial resources. This is pivotal step in dismantling systemic barriers that perpetuate inequalities, paving the way for a more just and inclusive society.

It also intersects with other aspects in inequality, such as gender and race. Women and minorities have historically faced significant challenges in accessing financial resources and opportunities. By giving them skills, understanding and confidence to manage money better, we can help create a bridge these divides.

One of the big advantages of financial empowerment is that it has wider social implications. When individuals have a strong understanding of financial concepts, they are better equipped to navigate complex financial systems and make informed choices. This, in turn, can contribute to economic growth and stability at both the individual and community levels. It can also help reduce income inequality by providing individuals with the tools they need to build wealth and create a more secure future.

An intense, concerted effort to financially empower individuals needs to get underway, one that deploys and leverages the resources of various stakeholders. Such an initiative would make great strides in restraining the growth of inequality, for the reasons mentioned above.

An existential crisis

In times of economic and financial stress, environmental concerns often go out the window. Our instinct for immediate self-preservation edges out our concern for the common good, even though this strategy is counter-productive in the long run. Human beings and most other species cannot survive and thrive in a massively depleted and damaged environment. However, our psychological make-up prevents us from realizing this. We tend to suffer from ‘tunnel vision’, focusing intensely on the most immediate crisis while blocking out considerations of the future.

Helping individuals develop financially security will help give them the mental bandwidth they require to focus on the existential crisis just around the corner – climate change and its potentially devastating impact on our planet. This will empower them to make informed choices regarding green alternatives – be in in energy, investments or food choices; and strengthen their resolve and ability to turn away from cheaper but dirtier and more polluting alternatives. Being financially savvy will also help individuals become more discerning and thus help to stem the tide of blind consumerism threatening to engulf us all.

In summary, financial empowering individuals has immense benefits, not just for them individually but for society, and the entire planet. It’s a concrete step toward a more equitable, resilient and sustainable future and a huge stride toward the ideal of social justice that we all crave and require.