Feb 28 2023 - Seattle, WA, United States

Putting people at the center of corporate climate action

The Human Right to a Healthy Environment feature image.
Climate Action Climate Justice Community Health Infrastructure Sustainability Supply Chains


The B Team

The B Team outlines business implications of the right to a healthy environment and why a “just transition” should be a top priority for business climate strategy.

Climate change is a real and present threat to human rights. It not only exacerbates inequalities but disproportionately harms certain people and groups. (Source: United Nations.) The IPCC Sixth Assessment Report estimates that more than three billion people live in parts of the world at great risk of climate impacts. By 2030, drought alone threatens the displacement of 700 million people. And the business risks associated with climate change are extensive, ranging from supply chain disruptions and labor challenges, to damaged assets and infrastructure.

Business action to mitigate climate breakdown and protect nature is essential to maintaining livelihoods, preserving fundamental rights, and safeguarding economies for the future. Limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C requires urgent, ambitious action to transition to a net-zero carbon economy in a just manner.

Climate inequality, climate justice

The shift to a net-zero carbon economy will create long-lasting economic and social benefits, but it must not come at the expense of people who are disproportionately impacted by climate change because of systemic inequality. To achieve net-zero carbon objectives for the long term, we must lead a transition away from fossil fuels that is just, inclusive, and resilient, and give voice to those most impacted by climate change—including those in vulnerable situations—as designers and drivers of solutions.

“ Climate change is a story of inequality. Those most impacted are the poorest countries and communities, as well as young people and future generations, who will inherit an escalating crisis they did not create. ”

Mary Robinson

former president of Ireland and chair, The Elders

Climate justice, as articulated by the Mary Robinson Foundation, “links human rights and development to achieve a human-centered approach, safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable people and sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change and its impacts equitably and fairly.” Recent UN recognition of the right to a healthy environment provides real impetus for climate justice action.

Climate justice seeks to address climate inequality by placing people and rights at the heart of climate action. (Source: Business Fights Poverty). A central requirement of the 2015 Paris Agreement is a just transition, which the International Labor Organization defines as “greening the economy in a way that is as fair and inclusive as possible to everyone concerned, creating decent work opportunities and leaving no one behind.” UNEP defines a green economy as “one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.”

Lima Slum article image.

What does it mean for business?

An increasingly fragile interdependence exists between human well-being, economic activity, and our natural world. As climate change accelerates and ecosystems further degrade, successful stewardship of business must become synonymous with respect for human rights and responsible stewardship of our natural world.

For corporate leaders, climate justice is built upon respect for rights in alignment with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Through environmental and human rights due diligence, companies can map, understand, and embed respect for rights in their operations and across their value chains. C-suites and boardrooms can also apply a climate justice lens to both business operations and social ventures, investing in initiatives that reduce inequality and empower those who have historically faced inequities.

When it comes to implementing a just transition, corporate commitments to deliver on net-zero carbon emissions should be pursued in a way that accounts for human impacts, following an enterprise-wide process rooted in social dialogue with workers, union representatives, and community groups. Incorporating meaningful stakeholder engagement into strategic business planning and implementation can accelerate progress toward a company’s climate and sustainability goals. Through such dialogue, companies can understand the best way to support workers and communities in transition, be it through investment in skills training and working with local government and other private sector actors to improve employment opportunities. A just transition seeks to maximize positive impacts and mitigate negative impacts of emission reduction efforts on workers and communities.

“ Smart business leaders understand that healthy companies depend on a healthy planet and healthy societies. A stable climate, clean air and water, thriving nature, a strong and healthy workforce — these are fundamental to creating a resilient and prosperous private sector. ”

Paul Polman

business leader, campaigner and co-author of “Net Positive"

How can you raise awareness and prompt action within your company?

Depending where a company is on its sustainability journey, it may be difficult to make the case internally for a human-centered approach to climate action. To mitigate and overcome this challenge, motivated employees can take the following actions:

1. Be a change agent within your company. Speak with management and colleagues about the benefits and opportunities of applying a climate justice lens to corporate sustainability efforts and implementation of environmental and human rights due diligence.

2. Build and strengthen networks and communities of practice. Deeper collaboration with mission-aligned peers, experts and climate justice champions—within and beyond your company confines—will generate new learnings and insights on related issues and improve your understanding of your company’s impacts.

3. Prioritize transparency. Communicate publicly about your company’s commitments and how you are putting plans into action and assessing progress.

4. Advocate for systemic change. Beyond intra-company efforts, companies can publicly advocate for the strengthening of institutional and regulatory frameworks that promote inclusion of the most vulnerable.



Recommended resources:

- International Labour Organization, Guidelines for a Just Transition Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies and Societies for All

- The B Team, Just Transition: A Business Guide

- Just Transition Centre, Just Transition: A Report for the OECD

- Institute for Human Rights and Business, Just Transitions for All

- UN Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner, Climate Change, Human Rights and Business: Key Messages

- Business Fights Poverty, Business and Climate Justice Framework


This content is provided by The B Team, a global collective of business and civil society leaders working to create new norms of corporate leadership today, for a better tomorrow. Together, these leaders strive to hold themselves and their peers accountable for a new way of doing business—one that measures success not only by financial performance, but also by the wellbeing of people, our planet, and generations to come.