The Climate Justice Movement

COP21

COP21 follows from COP15, a climate change conference held in December of 2009 in Copenhagen with political leaders and players thought to play a part in our climate future. COP21 will be held in December of 2015, in Paris. While COP15 informed us of our last chance to resolve the 2oC warming issue before the end of the century, COP21 will not only raise this issue again (given we are almost certainly set to hit a very unhealthy 2oC more warming), but discuss social reform and the World as we know it. This blog post summarises a podcast from a number of influential players and experts regarding ‘The Age of Resilience.’

Climate Justice

The idea of the talk came from Naomi Kline’s influential book “This Changes Everything.” Themes within include social justice and socialism really explain that climate is not just a physical phenomenon – it is an interactive state and often affects us socially. For example, Hurricane Katrina caused widespread displacement and housing devastation. If this was not enough to cause social degradation, the clean-up is said to have caused racial discrimination and it only takes a Google search to find unfathomable articles relating to the matter. But, what is social justice? The podcast indicates that it is the justice of people who have policies in place to protect them by addressing climate change through the appreciation of social, economic and environmental differences.

Pierre Ducret, the special advisor for climate change and COP21 at the Caisse des Dépôts Group, suggested that we need to get governments and companies to take responsibility of climate, and particularly for climatic events (e.g. hurricane, storm surge). Unfortunately, climate justice is more complex than this, as Professor Catherine Larrère, teacher of Philosophy at Sorbonne University, Paris, and President of the Foundation for Political Ecology, explained. She indicated that while climate and social justice should be linked, it cannot be right now. This is because the national interest does not match that of the international society and therefore there is suffering at the international level. For social justice to work internationally, Catherine, suggests that we need international values which hold climate as the main objective; this is ultimately because marginalised groups are most affected by climate related events and typically hold the least power. Associate Professor Bronwyn Howard (Associate Professor of Political Science and Head of Department of Political Science and International relations at the University of Canterbury) agreed with this and described human rights as being undermined by climate change (e.g. right to water, heating, education, voice) and that those in lesser economically developed countries (LEDCs), small island states or marginalised groups (e.g. children, women or disabled people) are more likely to lose out to climate change and thus it is important to protect these groups with treaties and laws at an international level. Through the use of treaties and laws at an international level, government and those in power can accept responsibility and/or fault in extreme circumstances and therefore better protect these marginalised groups.

We’re Facing Catastrophe in Slow Time…

What struck me most about this podcast was how passionate Sir Geoffrey Palmer was. Geoffrey was the New Zealand Prime Minister (1989-90) and is currently the Distinguished Fellow of the New Zealand Centre for Public Law. Regarding social justice, he believes that “if we do not succeed, the future of our civilisation is very greatly imperilled at every level” for example agriculture, economy and climate. He states “I don’t think people understand that we are actually facing a catastrophe in slow time.” We are of course, looking at a future of mass migrations of climate refugees – this will become a new buzzword in the future, I am sure of that. Perhaps instead of war, people will be running from famine, drought or maybe people will be dying as a result of being too hot or their house being burnt down in forest fires as a result of strong El Nino. As Geoffrey says, “the science is clear. We know what the science is… It’s essential that these talks must succeed.”

On the other hand, Lucile Schmid, who works in the French Ministry of Economy, Finance and Industry and is the Deputy President of the think tank “La fabrique écologique” states that we can’t talk about COP21 as a failure or a success – “we already know that the agreement will be too limited.” She suggests that Pierre’s concepts on an economic revolution to a green economy (within the podcast; i.e. movements away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources and the inclusion of a shift of employment sectors) is not enough because at an international level we still view each other as enemies.  Lucile proposes that we need to all cough up money. We need to change the way the World works – we need people who are enthusiastic to enter this ‘new’ World (*queue applaud from the audience*).  Ultimately, we need to challenge the global economic model; it should no longer be left or right because it’s too dynamic for that, but it should include the concept of climate justice, which can be shared by citizens, globally.

Differences in the COP’s?

So, why is COP21 different from COP15? Well, thus far, 195 countries are signed up to the Green Climate Fund (run by the UNFCCC) which aims to help developing countries to adapt and mitigate in relation to climate change. Previously, agreements were only signed by green political members, but now all these 195 members have also been backed by the minister of finance – this is hugely important because it really signifies that poorer countries are on board in the mission to tackle climate change. There is a clearly defined movement, globally, that everyone is starting to realise that climate change is real and it is happening. Pierre believes that China’s pledge to cap emissions by 2030 is a reason to hope – while it may be too late to comply with the 2oC rise (which would of course be better ASAP), it is a step in the right direction and will be a massive challenge for their huge population to begin relying on new energy resources within a law binding agreement. We should certainly be hopeful, says Pierre, because for the first time, we’re making a universal agreement and for the first time, there will be revisions to policies before the next big conference. As such, in 2020, everyone will meet again to make sure everything is in check.

Conclusions

While we may not keep temperature rises under 2oC, we’re tackling the larger issue of social inequality and climate justice, which is inherently important to move forward – it’s a bit like riding a bike for the first time without stabilisers. I can’t say I’m happy for our unhealthy planet, but we’ve come a long way. What we do really, really, need to improve on is looking at long term policies – as Geoffrey said, we are afraid to look at policy beyond the 3 year period because these are the terms that politicians run on (i.e. elections); is our new World not worth more than that, I ask you?

Podcast:

http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/remote-player?id=201772917

Reference points:

See here for further information on the blog: http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/the-age-of-resilience

Green Climate fund: http://unfccc.int/cooperation_and_support/financial_mechanism/green_climate_fund/items/5869.php

COP15: http://unfccc.int/meetings/copenhagen_dec_2009/session/6262.php

COP21: http://www.cop21paris.org/

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