For the last couple of years, I have been researching the intersectionality of climate change and disability and how climate change acts as a “threat multiplier” having a domino effect and undermining all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and having a disproportionate impact on vulnerable communities, including children, women, old adults, and persons with disabilities. They are more vulnerable due to greater exposure, higher sensitivity and lower ability to adapt and mitigate effecters related to physical and mental health, access to livelihood and decent employment, environmental migration and displacement, cost of living and quality of life, affordable and accessible housing, access to water and sanitation, security, menstrual hygiene, exposure to disasters induced losses and damages, and beyond.
The major finding of my data-drive and evidence-based primary and secondary research is that persons with disabilities, despite contributing least and being most vulnerable to climate change, are at the forefront of climate change impacts and are subject to eco-ableist climate action that often overlooks their disability-specific needs (Sustainable Development Goal 13, related to Climate Action).
Following my research into the disproportionate impact of climate change on persons with disabilities, I’ve been advocating for disability-led climate action - understanding, with an intersectional lens, that persons with disabilities also comprise other identities like being children and women. The best way to protect people from climate change is by tackling “inequities such as those based on gender, ethnicity, disability, age, location and income”.
I also believe people with disabilities need to get involved in every stage of climate action, from decision-making to implementation, recognizing the principle of “Nothing about us without us”. That’s why I have participated at various regional, national and international forums, including Civil 20 India Summit, the creation of the Disability Inclusion Strategy (UNDIS), and the United Nations Disability Inclusion Marker (DIM) led by the United Nations India office, the elaboration of the CRC Committee's Draft General Comment on climate change led by the UNICEF Headquarters in New York, General Comment on Persons with Disabilities in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies led by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and other initiatives, to highlight the intersectionality of climate change and disability and advocate for disability-inclusive and led climate action.
I’m also curating the ‘Build Forward Better’ Campaign, an initiative to build an all-inclusive, climate-resilient, and universally accessible world that 'leaves no one behind' and mainstream climate justice discourse within the disability sector and vice versa. As part of that effort, I have started a representation petition that everyone can sign to support in achieving the shared goals of the campaign. Additionally, I’m the founder and curator of the initiative The Sangyan, which works on the intersectionality of Law, Environment, Disability and their intersectionality and curates various initiatives - Project Drishtikon (sharing ideas, opinions and perspectives on climate change, disability, and beyond), Ulgulan Talks! (postcards and interviews documenting lived experiences of climate change-induced impacts on persons with disabilities), Know Your Concept (Lexicon Series on the intersectionality of climate change and disability disseminating jargon and concepts). I have delivered guest lectures and recorded interviews and podcasts, spoken at webinars and panel discussions, authored blogs, and run social media campaigns, among other research, advocacy and campaign activities. I’m also a research expert on climate change and disability on 'The Global South Climate Database' by Carbon Brief and Reuters Institute's Oxford Climate Journalism Network that connects climate scientists and experts from global south and help them engage and collaborate.
The world just doesn’t need disability-inclusive but disability-led climate action. Disability isn’t an homogenous identity but forms the bedrock of diversity as persons with disabilities include children with disabilities, women with disabilities, older persons with disabilities, and so on. Disability-led climate action will ensure that no one is left behind and ensure all-inclusive climate action. We need to integrate vulnerability assessments, universal accessibility and climate-resilient architecture, disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), accessible early-warning systems, disaggregated data, use of artificial intelligence and geographic information system (GIS), among other innovative and inclusive ideas, concepts, and approaches, into the local, regional, national and global climate action laws, policies, plans and strategies.
* Abhishek Kumar is an advocate for disability-led climate action from India, who lives with a visual impairment.