The ethical management of the environment and the support of fundamental human rights are the central pillars of climate justice. It is the idea that justice should be balanced for the natural world and the humans that live in it. We examine some of the climate justice organizations and examples leading the way.
Climate Justice Definition
Officially recognised by the United Nations, climate justice is a concept built upon the notion that the impacts of climate change are not distributed equally across the world, with different groups being more affected than others regardless of national origin or wealth. Since the 1990s when it was first popularised, climate justice has encompassed the struggles of minority groups such as indigenous people, people of colour, women, and disabled people. In most cases, minority groups within developing nations are impacted the most due to how globalisation has established the world order, with the wealthy and the powerful profiting off the poor and the powerless.
The essence of climate justice is that existing issues of social, economic, and political inequality are further exacerbated when exposed to the encroaching impacts of climate change. As such, ongoing debates have shifted to incorporate considerations for certain principles that address these inequalities, with the overall goal of improving the lives of current and future generations. These principles are as follows:
- Respect and protect human rights
The greatest priority is to uphold the basic minimums and standards for human life. Based on moral imperatives and legal precedents, appropriate climate justice measures should be based in equality and fairness for all people.
- Support the right to development
Developing nations have historically produced wealth for developed nations while sustaining all of the environmental harms. Wealth gaps and other disparities have driven additional wedges between the global north and south, and therefore, it is crucial to bring the worlds closer together for balance.
- Share benefits and burdens equitably
The positive outcomes of actions taken to respond to climate change must be distributed in a fair manner, and the same is true for negative outcomes. Those who profit by producing environmental harms have an obligation to share such benefits with those who suffer from its burdens.
- Ensure that decisions on climate change are participatory, transparent, and accountable
Opportunities for participation within multilateral institutions and important decision-making processes must be open and accessible. It is important to provide a platform for those who are the most vulnerable to climate change, allowing them to make their voices heard and their issues validated.
- Highlight gender equality and equity
Impoverished women are more likely to bear the burdens in situations where climate change has impacted their livelihoods. Therefore, there must be greater consideration and support for their struggles.
- Harness the transformative power for education for climate stewardship
Responsible management of the climate necessitates the inclusion of enhanced education geared towards raising environmental awareness, consciousness of new insights, and scientific data within political discourse. As a fundamental human right of its own, education is the most important factor in pushing the agenda of climate justice.
- Use effective partnerships to secure climate justice
International organisations and intergovernmental bodies are the primary drivers of climate justice, since the issue itself requires collaborative action on a global scale. Resources, knowledge, and expertise must be shared and distributed in order to foster more cooperation on key issues.
A climate rally in Quezon City, Philippines. Photo by: 350/Leo M. Sabangan II
Climate Justice Organizations
Climate justice is a global issue, seen in different forms and experienced by different groups on every continent. In practice, here are some examples of how the agenda is being pushed forward around the world by climate justice organizations.
Climate Justice Alliance
In North America, the Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) is a non-governmental organization that brings communities together to form a holistic, grassroots-type movement. Established in 2013, the CJA has worked to provide solutions on extractive industries harming human livelihoods through civic action, encouraging the transition to renewables, and the reduction of carbon emissions as well as community development within urban and rural societies for underrepresented minority groups.
The Nature Conservancy, Latin America
As part of a global collective, the Latin America division of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) employs the scientific method when it comes to dealing with issues of climate justice. Using evidence-based research, TNC incorporates insights from scientists, industry leaders, and most importantly, local communities and indigenous peoples to inform environmental policy, educate youth, drive technological innovation, and encourage investment into preserving Latin America’s natural capital.
The European Environmental Bureau
The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) is a network of citizen organizations spread across the entire European Union within 35 different countries. As the largest citizen-led organization, the EEB advocates for progressive and sustainable policy aimed towards reducing the impacts of climate change, encouraging the role of good governance, and ensuring that democracy remains as open, fair, equitable, and representative as possible.
350 Africa, The Climate Justice Coalition
Across Africa, local movements, campaigns, and organizations are affiliated with 350 Africa, a coalition of members who all share the common goal of fighting climate change and improving human livelihoods. Under the 350 Africa umbrella, activists are given the instruments to address issues of climate justice such as economic inequality, poverty, and environmental degradation through the mobilisation of civic action groups.
Climate Action Network Southeast Asia
The Climate Action Network Southeast Asia (CANSEA) is part of the much larger international Climate Action Network, focused on addressing social and political issues stemming from the impacts of climate change. Designed to create synergy within the Southeast Asia region as well as other partners around the world, CANSEA advocates for sustainable development, social equality, climate justice, and green economies through lobbying and giving a voice to developing nations.
Environmental Justice Australia
Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) works to empower local communities and indigenous peoples, preserve nature, and achieve social and environmental justice through the provision of legal assistance and advocacy support. EJA accomplishes these goals by fostering collaborative action within community groups, conducting research to inform public debates, and holding the government and corporations accountable in court.
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Climate Justice Examples
Aside from climate justice organizations, many individuals and smaller movements are doing their part. To highlight an ongoing case study, the Fairy Creek protest in Canada provides a good example of climate justice principles being put into action.
Last summer in British Columbia, the largest movement of civil disobedience in Canadian history took place over the issue of old-growth forest logging. The Fairy Creek protest, which started in 2020 and continues to this day, concerns a rainforest watershed located on the southern end of Vancouver Island. Home to a unique array of wildlife and biodiversity, the trees there are some of the oldest in Canada, with some as long lived as 250 years old.
A logging company, Teal-Jones, acquired government approval to cut down 12.8 hectares within the Fairy Creek region, attracting the attention of hundreds of protestors who blockaded logging roads and barricaded access to the trees. More than 1,100 protestors have been arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and most recently, a court ruling extended an injunction which effectively bans logging protests.
Regardless, the issue has gained the support of activist groups, indigenous peoples, and concerned citizens alike. As an issue of climate justice, the Fairy Creek watershed and the surrounding forests provide a vital ecosystem service by acting as a carbon sink, absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. Still, the police, the logging company, and the courts have impinged upon public interest by allowing the logging of old-growth trees to continue.
Cases like Fairy Creek are unfortunately common. In Indonesia, Astra Agro Lestari, a palm oil company which supplies larger companies like PepsiCo, is linked to illegal deforestation and land rights violations of local farmers. Similarly, in Papua New Guinea, palm oil suppliers to brands like Nestlé and Kellogg’s have been reported to use illegal child labour, inflicting abusage of human rights.
No matter where in the world, issues of climate justice remain prevalent and at the forefront of public discourse. That being said, it raises the question of what else can be done to address it?
What Else Can be Done?
As per the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there is now a greater call to climate action than ever before, stressing the need for urgent responses to ensure the security of present and future generations. Increasing risks from inclement weather and extreme climate events necessitates immediate measures to reduce their harm, aimed towards conserving nature and sustainable development. Cities around the world and other urbanised areas present the most significant environmental damages, yet they also provide the greatest opportunities for innovation in renewable energy, transportation services, and cleaner infrastructure.
With these focus areas in mind, there is also more room across the board, whether nationally or internationally, for climate justice organizations to play a larger role. In rolling out community-led initiatives, lobbying governments, influencing policy makers, and raising awareness on important intersections of the environment and social equity, they can ensure that the process of climate justice is as open, fair, accountable, and representative as possible of impacted minority groups. As such, all hands are needed on deck, and to live up to the principles shared by so many organizations, the top-down approach of multilateral institutions needs to be harmonised with the bottom-up approach of grassroots movements.
On all fronts, climate justice and the fight against climate change has unquestionably become the defining issue for not only this generation, but future generations as well. Therefore, it is better to learn hard lessons now and put them into practice, ensuring that the message of climate justice is heard all around the world.
Featured image by: 350/Flickr