Climate and disaster justice are two emerging areas of the law that the Federation and many Victorian Community Legal Centres work to embed and uphold in our communities.
Climate and disaster justice promote just solutions to the challenges posed by climate change. Recognising that social justice depends upon ecological justice for all, we work to ensure that individuals and communities affected by climate change have access to the resources and support they need through all phases of adaptation, prevention, preparation, response and recovery to climate change impacts.
What is climate and disaster justice?
Climate justice refers to a holistic approach to climate action that recognises the human rights implications of climate change, and the unequal distribution of the burdens of climate impacts. Climate justice views the acceleration of environmental changes through a human rights lens and seeks to address the inequities that these changes exacerbate and create. Climate justice recognises the interdependence between healthy ecosystems and human communities. Climate justice includes the right to adequate housing, freedom from discrimination and social exclusion, and healthy environments.
Disaster justice focuses on the role of governing structures in creating and perpetuating risks, inequalities and injustices that are magnified by natural hazards and extreme weather. This includes responsive and consultative relationships between emergency management and communities during extreme weather and disasters. Community and government responses need to be driven by equitable, fair and inclusive interventions that recognise the systemic drivers of inequity and environmental harm and address the existing systemic issues that perpetuate harm.
Climate change and the law
The impacts of climate change are not felt equally across society, and it is often those who have the least who are most affected. People with a pre-existing legal problem are also more likely to be negatively affected by climate change impacts.
Climate change can impact communities in both direct and indirect ways. Examples of direct impacts include extreme weather events, such as cyclones, floods, heatwaves or bushfires. The compounding and cascading impacts of climate change are harder to identify, but can have catastrophic implications on the lives and wellbeing of those affected. These complex impacts of climate change often result in one or more legal problem for affected individuals and communities.
Examples of indirect impacts of climate change leading to legal problems include:
- Insurance and consumer law problems, when consumer goods and properties become uninsurable.
- Tenancy law problems, arising from disputes about heating and cooling, and habitability during times of extreme heat or flooding.
- Employment law problems that result from climate impacts, such as unworkable conditions or workplace injuries due to excessive heat or flooding.
- Family violence law problems, which spike during disasters and extreme heat.
- Mental health law problems which are often exacerbated during crises.
- Discrimination in recovery responses and procedures.
The roles of Community Legal Centres in responding to disasters
Upholding climate and disaster justice are priorities for Community Legal Centres, whose collective mission is to promote access to justice, often through a place-based approach. Access to legal advice and holistic support is essential for effective recovery after extreme weather events, to address the immediate harm and to stop legal issues escalating. The increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events has had an unprecedented impact on Victoria’s community legal sector. Victorian Community Legal Centres are working towards a whole of sector climate justice transformation.
If you have been impacted by a disaster and need legal support, find your nearest Community Legal Centre here.
Climate Justice Support Unit
The Federation established its Climate Justice Support Unit (CJSU) to support Victorian Community Legal Centres to embed climate and disaster justice in their organisations, with the community and across the sector, and to guide communities through all phases of adaptation, prevention, response and recovery. The CJSU works with Community Legal Centres to build their capacity and capabilities to better identify the impacts of climate change on the rights and justice of individuals and communities, and to provide advice and representation to clients impacted by climate change and extreme weather events. The CJSU works collaboratively with Community Legal Centres, communities and other stakeholders to identify climate risks, meet climate-related legal need, embed climate governance, promote law reform, strengthen community resilience, advocate for climate justice, and deliver equitably adapted services to meet the challenges associated with climate change and extreme weather.
The core tenets of the CJSU's work are:
- Advocating for law reform with a climate and disaster justice lens.
- Leading the sector in climate justice transformation.
- Supporting and building capability of Victoria’s 47 member Community Legal Centres in disaster response and climate change adaptation, enabling them to better respond to communities’ climate and disaster justice legal needs.
- Leading partnerships and working with partner organisations to realise climate and disaster justice in Victoria (see ‘Partnerships and Projects’ below).
- Convening the Disaster and Climate Justice Working Group.
Partnerships and Projects
The Unit partners and operates in close collaboration with:
- Disaster Legal Help Victoria
- The Climate Justice Legal Project
- Strengthening Place - Based Resilience in Yarra Ranges and Campaspe Communities Project with Centre for Just Places, Eastern Community Legal Centre and ARC Justice
The Federation acknowledges the support of Lord Mayors Charitable Foundation.
- Guidebook to Public Land Management in Victoria - Climate Justice Clinic & Gippsland Community Legal Service
- Disaster Legal Help Victoria’s Disaster Checklist
- Disaster and Climate Justice Working Group
- Climate Change Impacts on Access to Justice - Literature Review (2023)
- Advocacy and submissions: