The concept of climate justice seeks to highlight and address the interconnections between climate change and other social crises. 

Most crucially, climate justice recognises that the impact of climate change is not felt equally across the planet. It is often those already marginalised who suffer most from the consequences of global heating, which disproportionately affects people with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, displaced people, and women and children, among other marginalised groups.

“Climate change is a threat multiplier. All the inequities that any community is facing, whether social, economic or health: climate change just compounds that.” - Shamar Bibbins

Climate justice also makes the case that the world’s wealthiest countries have contributed most to the environmental crisis, and therefore have a greater responsibility to take action. 

GCC acknowledges the disproportionate causes and impacts of the climate crisis and works to address this disparity through our research, resources, tools and consequent systemic changes. 

We are interested in reducing the environmental impacts of the visual arts sector, and the positive effect such reductions will have on the interconnected issues that are embedded in the crisis. This is why one of GCC’s coalition commitments is to ask members to take action in line with the principles of climate justice, thus recognising the connections between the climate crisis and other global injustices. 

However, a commitment without action is meaningless. As such, we’ve outlined some key areas in which GCC members can take effective action in the pursuit of climate justice.

As with all our guidelines, we aim to keep this advice succinct, digestible and action focused. We recognise however that climate justice is a vast, complex and urgent topic that can’t be wholly explored on a website page or summarised into bullet points. Our aim, therefore, is that these guidelines act as a reference point for members; an outline of the key topics, as well as some action points for those who may not know where to start. We also include many useful resources to help guide your next steps. 




Common But Differentiated Responsibilities


In 2020, Oxfam found that someone in the UK will emit the same amount of carbon in just five days, as someone in Rwanda does in an entire year. By 12 January, the average UK individual's emissions overtook the annual per-person emissions of a further six African countries: Malawi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Madagascar, Guinea and Burkina Faso.


It’s clear that when it comes to decarbonisation, some need to do more than others


The Carbon Map is a useful tool that gives a really clear visualisation of this disparity, taking into account historical emissions since 1850.


Country sizes show CO₂ emissions from energy use 1850–2011. These historical (or 'cumulative') emissions remain relevant because CO₂ can remain in the air for centuries. Europe and the US dominate, having released around half the CO₂ ever emitted.


'Common but differentiated responsibility’ is a principle of international law that seeks to address this disparity, recognising that different countries have different levels of responsibility when addressing climate change. 


This is because so-called 'developed' countries, usually those with the largest economies, have historically (and in most cases, still) cause greater damage to the environment than countries with smaller economies. 


Most often, the countries with the largest economies have benefited unequally from the damage caused to the environment through centuries of exploitation, extraction, colonisation and imperialism. 


In 2022, following decades of campaigning and successes in the climate justice movement, the IPCC again acknowledged that historic and ongoing forms of colonialism are a key driver of climate change.


It would be unfair not to recognise the historical differences which deeply affect the level of responsibility, as well as the ability, to take action in the present. The ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ principle aims to allocate the responsibility of solving the climate crisis according to these historical differences and recognises continued high levels of consumption of emissions in large economies.




Embedding Justice in Emission Reduction Targets


At GCC we acknowledge that the root cause of the climate crisis stems from centuries of extraction on both planetary and human levels. We believe that all climate action must address this fact, and seek to rebalance the resulting inequities, and, further, that any action taken does not contribute to further injustices. 


GCC’s key target is to achieve a 50% reduction in CO2e emissions across the visual arts sector by 2030. 


Whilst this target is a sector-wide minimum, we encourage members to go beyond this level of reduction, and we have outlined a reduction strategy of 70% in GCC’s Decarbonisation Action Plan.


We realise that the opportunities and challenges faced by different arts organisations – and the resources they have available to commit to this change - will vary vastly, and so GCC is currently asking its members to sign up to the 50% target. 


However, we cannot emphasise enough that a 70% reduction would be more in line with the demands of climate justice – and the fact that those of us in wealthier Northern countries (where most of GCC’s members are currently based), who have benefited from burning carbon for hundreds of years and contributed most to the problem, have the responsibility to cut emissions first and fastest.


GCC also acknowledges that some of our guidelines rely on having access to local infrastructure, and/or the capacity of local networks (such as low-emissions transport services, or circularity networks). 


Therefore, some GCC advice will not be applicable to all members - especially those based outside major art centres (major art centres usually being situated in large cities, within countries with large economies, that have benefited the most from historical and present environmental destruction). This means making emission reductions is easier for some members than it is for others. 


Because of this, GCC works in line with the principle of common but differentiated responsibility and recognises that members located within most art centres, and larger organisations, with more resources and most often with more associated emissions, have a bigger role to play in the achievement of the coalition’s targets. GCC aims to operate with flexibility and, wherever possible, be considerate of this principle when dealing with our international membership.



Embedding Justice in Climate Action

What does a justice-centred approach to climate action look like in the visual arts sector? 

Given how broad GCC’s membership is, there isn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all answer here, and organisations will have different capabilities and limitations, as well as different communities, structures and audiences, all of which are important considerations. 

Climate justice is a vast topic, entangled with many other complex societal issues - but the enormity of the issue should not stop you from taking action.

Recognise that you can’t do everything at once, but that the best first step is to start somewhere.

Below, we have outlined areas with potential for positive action. These include diverting funds and cultural capital away from fossil fuel and extractive industries, fighting for the rights of art workers and those working within our supply chains, and setting an example of rapid decarbonisation for other industries to follow. If you have other ideas, we would love to hear from you. 


Particularly for those of us based in the global north, working to reduce your emissions is a crucial step to ensuring that justice is met. The focus should be on aiming for a 70% reduction in emissions by 2030. Those who can are also encouraged to contribute to Strategic Climate Funds

A Just Transition 

We are deeply tied to an economy that relies heavily on fossil fuels. Many livelihoods depend on it. However, we know that polluting industries are going to change drastically in the coming years and decades as society decarbonises. So how do we ensure that the livelihoods of those who rely on polluting industries aren’t negatively impacted in the process? This is a challenge to which many argue a ‘just transition’ is the solution. 

Greenpeace defines a just transition as “moving to an environmentally sustainable economy without leaving workers in polluting industries behind. It aims to support good quality jobs and decent livelihoods when polluting industries decline and others expand, creating a fairer and more equal society.”

A practical step that art sector organisations can take to support a just transition is ensuring that we comply with international labour standards. Strong workers rights can increase the resilience of communities exposed to climate impacts, with more pay, better conditions leading to higher levels of adaptability. This should extend to the external suppliers, partners, and supply chains that you work with. 

How we decide to spend our budgets has an impact. When procuring services, for example an external cleaning or waste management company, ask to see their policies on labour as well as environmental standards. 

Finance, funding & partnerships 

The impact that your organisation's finances have on the wider world is very real and can contribute to human rights abuses, as well as negatively impacting the planet. Moving away from financial models that rely on extractivist practices is a way for almost all organisations to create impactful and long lasting change. 

We know that we are in a climate emergency. Every penny taken out of fossil fuel extraction, deforestation and other polluting projects can make a difference and is worth doing urgently.

Banks, pension providers and investment funds are under growing pressure to provide more low carbon, fossil-free and climate-friendly investment options. If art organisations add their voices to this pressure – especially in a public way – it could help stimulate the market, encourage more organisations to get on board, and thus create more low-carbon financial options for everyone.

It is also important to consider the cultural capital that your organisation might be  handing over to funders and partners. There is increasing public scrutiny of the choices that organisations make about both where their money comes from and where it goes. Are the companies you work with also prioritising social justice?

Read our guidelines on Finance to learn more about the action you can take.

Responsibility & redistribution 

We know that organisations within key art centres (usually the richest cities in countries with the largest economies) have more responsibility to act when it comes to decarbonisation.

Larger organisations with larger emissions also, usually, have more resources to support their action. Organisations with better resources should work to support those with less, to achieve the targets of the coalition through collaboration, knowledge and resource sharing.




Beyond Decarbonisation

Decarbonisation is an important part of the conversation, but it’s not where our impacts (both positive and negative) begin and end. Beyond decarbonisation, organisations of all shapes and sizes can make a contribution to the climate justice movement in a variety of ways. 


As cultural storytellers, programming thematically about the climate crisis is an important way the art sector can use its influence, and contribute to increased awareness, education and action across the wider public.


When programming around this subject, it's worth acknowledging that climate justice is not a new movement - grassroots organisations have been campaigning and working for decades to ensure that justice is an integral part of global climate conversations.


The visual arts sector as a whole is undeniably late to this conversation, and it’s important that we recognise this and seek to engage with, and learn from, the grassroots organisers who have long been telling these stories. 


When showcasing stories from climate-vulnerable communities, consider their context. How can you ensure that collaborators have agency and that this is not another form of extraction of people's lived experiences? Some NGOs have requirements and guidelines for building meaningful, respectful and collaborative relationships with such communities. For example, see UNICEF’s guidelines on reporting on children and young people.


Highlighting global inequalities and the legacies of colonialism is an important part of any narrative in this area. Consider the entry points - what is relevant to your audiences? The climate crisis affects everyone on a local level - whether through air pollution, fuel poverty, drought or forest fires. How can you make these complex histories feel relevant?


Decolonising collections through restitution is a critical part of climate justice for museums, galleries and other organisations that hold collections. This is not a new conversation, but recent years have seen more and more organisations acknowledging the suffering caused by their collections and the need for restitution. 


GCC cannot claim expert knowledge on this subject - but there are plenty of organisations who are working to support the cultural sector in this conversation. As a starting point, and for more advice and information about museums' roles in decolonisation, see the Museums Association’s decolonisation campaign


Whilst the visual arts can play an important role in foregrounding and expanding the climate justice movement on a public scale, we should also look inward and consider how our internal structures, hierarchies and working conditions can positively influence the movement. 


As with programming, it’s important to consider whose voices are represented within your organisation. Who is on your team? Who is part of your management? Who sits on your board? 


Organisations such as Creative Access (in the UK) work to enable people from communities that are under-represented in creative industries—in terms of ethnicity, socio-economic background and disability or those facing other significant barriers to employment—gain access careers, progress and reach leadership.


If you know of other organisations seeking to re-address the imbalance of representation in the visual arts and creative industries - let us know.


The rights and treatment of art workers is another vital part of this conversation. Providing fairly paid, decent work with strong workers' rights and fair conditions will shape a just transition in the visual arts.


If you are an artist or freelance art worker with access requirements, Access Documents are a useful way of clearly communicating your needs to an organisation you are working with. 


If you are part of an organisation, how can you reallocate resources to ensure that the treatment and fair pay of your workers is a priority? Consider writing a JEDI (justice, equity, diversity and inclusion) policy if you don’t already have one. This should highlight the importance of environmental and social responsibility to your organisation and can be shared publicly to inspire transparency across the industry, as well as with collaborators, funders, partners and freelancers.



We can't talk about environmental responsibility without talking about climate justice, and we can't take climate action without recognising the current climate and ecological emergency’s deep roots in colonial histories. 

Climate justice must be built into climate consciousness, and this is perhaps more true for the arts and cultural sectors given its significant global audience and ability to influence the ways in which we understand and act in the present. 

We’ve aimed for this guidance to be a starting point for GCC members. Below, we’ve selected some brilliant resources and further reading on the subject and encourage our members to go further than the actions outlined here. 

As an organisation, we don’t yet have all the answers. But as an international coalition, we hope that we can work together to collectively consider solutions. Get in touch if you have thoughts on climate justice, or would like to take part in ongoing discussions on this topic: 

These guidelines were produced in consultation with Harpreet Kaur Paul. GCC would like to thank her for her guidance and expertise in building this resource. 



Effective Actions

  • Map and monitor your suppliers: Where is your biggest spend and where could effective supply chain due diligence and workers-led environmental, climate and human rights monitoring have the biggest impact?
  • Map and monitor your programmes:  Take a decolonial and reparative approach to the stories you tell
  • Map the communities impacted by climate and environmental injustice in your community and raise their voices 
  • Understand who makes up the workers and decision-makers in your organisation, and collaborating with justice, equality, diversity and inclusion specialists 
  • Refuse to receive funding, collaborate and partner with polluting and extracting companies, and including fossil fuel companies and other carbon-intensive industries, such as industrial agriculture or mining, for example.




Further Reading