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Climate Justice

Concepts and Repertoires of Living Together (RePLITO)

Published onOct 17, 2021
Climate Justice

The concept of climate justice has a history in local and global resistance against environmental and climate degradation as matters of social injustice. Protest action and problem analyses by affected communities and their allies have long called out environmental and climate inequalities and injustices, and driven concept- and movement-building for environmental and climate justice. This piece aims to highlight how communities that are disadvantaged and marginalised in dominant socio-economic and political structures have been and are organising against practices that systematically harm people and planet. In providing a selection of initiatives, protagonists and documents to make the history of struggle behind calls for climate justice more visible, it is an invitation to dive deeper into the horizon of alternative proposals and repertoires of living together which they open up.

As a term, climate justice is by now used by a variety of actors ranging from transnational social movements, local activist groups, national to international governmental as well as non-governmental organisations and foundations – and as such connected and contested with different meanings, focal points, and action. The focus here is on its emergence through grassroots and community organising.

Slogans like “System Change, Not Climate Change” and “Climate Justice Now!” – now widely heard and seen through the street- and public presence of the young Europe-based, now globalised movements Fridays For Future and Extinction Rebellion

Photo by Ma Ti on Unsplash

stem from a considerably earlier global coalition, itself called ‘Climate Justice Now!’ (2007/8).  Leading up to it, actors like the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), other international indigenous peoples’ movements, and communities of colour at the margins of societies in the Global North played a major role in linking the aspect of (in)justice with environmental and climate issues (Dutta 2020).

Photo by Joe Brusky - People’s Climate March / Youth on the Frontlines, September 28, 2014.

But such earlier transnational organising for environmental and climate justice by frontline communities – which are most exposed to the consequences of environmental degradation and climate change, as well as most disadvantaged through practices driving it – too often remains neglected (Smith/Patterson 2018).

“The ‘new Climate Justice Protagonists’ include actors previously invisible or marginalized in global debates, including peasants, indigenous peoples, immigrant workers, and urban communities"(Smith/Patterson 2018: 253).

according to Smith & Patterson, who trace back how such actors have contributed to the emergence of a global environmental justice movement: for equal environmental protection and recognition of different ideas and practices how to organise societies, including human beings’ and communities’ relationship with the earth.

A manifestation of such ideas are the “Environmental Justice Principles” developed at the 1991 People of Color Environmental Justice Leadership Summit in Washington DC, which functioned as a blueprint for the 2002 “Bali Principles of Climate Justice”, endorsed by movements and networks from North and South America, Africa, Asia and international activist organisations with the words:

We, representatives of people's movements together with activist organizations working for social and environmental justice resolve to begin to build an international movement of all peoples for Climate Justice”(Bali Principles of Climate Justice 2002: 1).

The ideas stated in these seminal documents were later reiterated in events and agreements such as the Climate Justice Now! Durban Declaration on Carbon Trading (2004) and the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia (2010). Altogether these emphasise the social inequalities linked to environmental and climate degradation, “whereas climate change is being caused primarily by industrialized nations and transnational corporations”1 and

“[i]mpacts from fossil-fuel industries and other greenhouse-gas producing industries[,] such as displacement, pollution, or climate change, are already disproportionately felt by small island states, coastal peoples, indigenous peoples, local communities, fisherfolk, women, youth, poor people, elderly and marginalized communities” (Climate Justice Now! Durban Declaration on Carbon Trading 2004: 2).

They clearly name unsustainable production and consumption practices through the globalisation of corporate-led, capitalist economies as cause for the climate crisis.

“Greenhouse Gangsters vs. Climate Justice” Report Title Image, 1999.

This is further exemplified in an earlier transnational civil society coalition report titled “Greenhouse Gangsters vs. Climate Justice(TRAC 1999) on the socio-ecological crimes of the oil industry: it documented the organising of indigenous people and local communities to protect human and environmental rights, health and well-being – illustrating how the major industrial producers of greenhouse gases do not only impact the global climate but also local ecologies and struggles for democracy.

“Greenhouse Gangsters vs. Climate Justice” Report 1999: 30.

Such organising for climate justice “affirms the rights of indigenous peoples and affected communities to represent and speak for themselves”, to participate and play a leading role on all levels of decision-making (Bali Principles of Climate Justice 2001: 1-2). It demands recognition of indigenous practices and knowledges of living together as part of surrounding ecologies, of alternative solutions for locally controlled and low-impact energy and economic solutions and argues for an ecological debt of the rich in calling to attention the long history of patterns of unequal distribution of costs of industrial extraction, production and waste disposal practices. The BIPoC Environmental and Climate Justice Collective Berlin emphasised in a speech on a global climate strike of the Fridays for Future movement:

“The climate crisis is not just an issue of the future, it has long been a reality for many people and ecosystems in the Global South. […] Already for several centuries, enslavement and colonialism is happening entangled with the destruction of the environment and the depletion of resources. Anti-colonial battles have long been interwoven with environmental protection. Numerous indigenous, black and of colour communities fight for land rights, against largescale deforestation and the overexploitation of resources, especially fossil fuels! Anti-colonial battles are battles for environmental protection!” (Ituen / Kennedy-Assante 2019)

© South African Food Sovereignty Campaign 2020: Climate Justice Charter

A recent example for conceptualising climate justice and making it practical - the South African Climate Justice Charter - accordingly puts forward the explicit principle to delink from (neo)colonial, imperial domination, and affirm “an emancipatory relationship between humans and with non-human nature rooted in our history, culture, knowledge and the wider struggle of the oppressed on planet earth” (South African Climate Justice Charter 2020: 4).

The charter emerged from a cooperation of drought-affected communities and a variety of civil society organisations as an embodied example of how climate justice is about the process of naming and healing injustice, to achieve justice. It is importantly about moving beyond marginalisation, misrecognition, and misrepresentation of those facing harm, towards centring their needs for a deep and just transition through participatory processes - to redistribute both epistemic attention and material resources and benefits for socio-ecological transformation. The fruits of such justice in process are rich varieties of alternatives of living together - as beautifully illustrated here (and below).

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