‘What is Climate Justice?’ – by Jessie Dennis of the New Zealand Youth Delegation to the UNFCCC
You’ve probably heard the term before- and you might have used it. But what is this climate justice thing all about? The term is used by so many different groups with such vastly different ideologies, it can be tricky to decipher the agendas behind the term; the truth from the greenwash.
I am going to attempt, then, to outline what I believe many climate justice groups mean when they identify with the term; those groups that I feel have real climate justice as their guiding principle.
The first word that comes to mind when I start looking at different group’s definitions of climate justice is ‘holistic’. Climate Justice links climate change to all the other symptoms of the type of society we live in. For those involved in the climate Justice Movement, climate change exists for very similar, if not identical reasons, to the other social and environmental issues we face. Racial and gender discrimination, neo-colonialism, massive economic inequality, war, environmental destruction; they are all linked by common causes and a solution to any of these problems must take the others into account.
Climate Justice is about recognizing the inequalities inherent in climate Change. We are not ‘all in this together’, but rather developed industrialized countries are largely responsible for the CO2 in our atmosphere, and any response to climate change needs to recognize this. Likewise, those who will be most affected by climate change are the poorest and also those least responsible for it.
That all makes perfect sense, right? But the truth is that climate change negotiations, at the government and international level, have not taken these factors into account (enough?)- and the results so far prove this. There’s not enough adaptation money, by a long shot, being coughed up by rich countries for those on the frontlines of climate change. Many of the ‘solutions’ on offer will have horrendous affects on those already being the worst affected by climate change. Forestry offsetting could mean indigenous communities losing their land. Geo-engineering could mean farmers losing their livelihoods. Carbon trading could mean industrialised countries palming off their responsibilities to others while they continue business as usual. The list goes on.
This is why Climate Justice is so crucial, and why it is so important to understand when entering the crazy and somewhat hypnotizing world of UNFCCC negotiations, as I will be doing as part of the New Zealand Youth Delegation this year. Climate negotiations can feel like something of a large and complicated board game. And sometimes you can get so caught up in the detail; so bogged down by article this, paragraph this of chapter that, that you can easily forget that the words that go into this international agreement have very real effects on people’s lives.
It is worth keeping in mind that Climate Justice is not some new counter-ideology, or a term to be tacked on to any groups press release, but a global movement. The climate Justice movement has its roots in the anti-globalisation movement that climaxed in the early 2000’s, and other grassroots social movements around the world. It offers very different solutions to the climate crisis we find ourselves in than those currently being discussed at inter-governmental climate negotiations, many of which are supported by large environmental NGOs. Climate Justice focuses on solutions that stem from the ground up. It looks to communities and grassroots groups to act and provide answers where governments are failing to do so. It recognizes the knowledge many indigenous communities hold that could help get us out of this crisis. It acknowledges that until we operate within a different economic system, any intergovernmental climate agreement will be negotiated within the paradigm of that system.
There is currently debate within civil society circles about whether the term climate justice still holds relevance, as some believe that it has been ‘hijacked’ by groups who have used it in ways which contradict its original meaning. But I would argue that you don’t throw away your bed because someone you don’t like slept in it- you just kick em’ out. Give your sheets a thorough wash.
Climate Justice Action , a networking umbrella group of climate justice groups around Europe, seems to be in the process of disbanding. This is indeed a critical time for the climate Justice Movement. But there is a level of self-sustaining momentum in the movement now that could see us through to the next phase.
For me, climate justice is about attempting to be part of the real solutions rather than the problem. It’s about talking about the real reasons why climate change exists even when people roll their eyes and call you a ‘radical’ or ‘idealist’. Climate Justice is about speaking truth to power, even when it is uncomfortable to do so.