What is the concept of climate justice about, and how can it be put into practice? First week brought together a leading climate justice theorist and a leading activist to discuss and share their insights, making for a uniquely interesting discussion.
Henry Shue: Senior Research Fellow, Centre for International Studies.
The heart of justice is to recognise that both you yourself are entitled to a share, and other people are entitled to a share, though some are powerless to claim their share. With regard to climate, we must pay attention to these people; these are the poor who lack the ability to access alternative resources and to fight for themselves, and the people of the future who are powerless to determine what sort of world they will inherit. Must we choose between justice of the current world and justice of the future when we consider climate change?
As long as the accumulative atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide continues to rise, climate change will become increasingly severe. Therefore, carbon emission must reach zero; decarbonisation. For the poor of the future, we need to reach this as soon as possible, since the longer we take the worse the problem will be to deal with, creating conflict between the present and future. A key issue is energy poverty, whereby the poor lack sufficient energy sources. If the only affordable energy for the poorest is fossil fuel, the only way they can escape poverty is by using this and thus emitting CO2. This delays decarbonisation, worsening the future problem. We can address this by reducing emissions of the billion largest emitters, significantly reducing emissions without impacting the poorest. Furthermore, we must make aggressive change towards providing clean energy to the poorest. One objection is that it may be more expensive to sharply reduce emissions of the most emitting billion compared to that of the poorest, where people could never adopt fossil fuels. The richest, who are responsible for emissions, can pay to reduce emissions in the poorest countries, making non-carbon fuel affordable and accessible through subsidies and foreign aid transfers. This would also be a good economic investment.
Incrementalism often fails, so we need radical change. It is difficult to change the way people live, so we need to get to zero emissions without attempting this. This necessitates an energy revolution, through research and development investment, producing affordable, accessible, carbon-neutral energy. Moreover, energy companies should not sell fossil fuels for find technology to ensure its safety. The divestment movement and activists have produced a situation where banks refuse to loan money for new coal mines, potentially rendering funding impossible, preventing coal burning.
Asad Rehman: Executive Director, War on Want.
Trust is fundamental in the fight for social and economic rights through environmental issues. There is often a failure to convey the truth in the climate movement, despite having the knowledge. Temperature are rising, causing global issues, such as Pakistan reaching 53.5°C last year, and 1200 deaths in one city affected by the 2014 heatwave. Globally, 4 in 10 people face multiple dimensional poverty, where one environmental shock can push people to being unable to survive. Climate change can be articulated as impacting future generations, but many in the global south already are. Just 10% of the population is responsible for 50% of emissions, and the poorest 50% are responsible for 10% of emissions. The food system is responsible for one third of emissions, but we plough 1.3-billion tonnes of food into the ground, enough to feed all malnourished people, attributable to corporate power. This places many farmers in debt, and one farmer takes their life every half hour.
Much fear surrounds the climate movement, producing a situation where people celebrating aiming to cap global temperature rise at 1.5°C, but this will cause many deaths in the global south, continuing the current trend. The decision we make in this decade will determine which temperature goals we meet, yet many of these are not based on science. We are comparable to the titanic having hit the iceberg of climate change, and will all be impacted. The global north sits on top deck, hoping for some technological miracle, while the global south is locked in the hold.
Additionally, climate change produces many environmental refugees, predicted to be 300-million by 2050, that’s 1 in 30 people. Addressing this requires an intersectional climate movement, articulating neoliberal and corporate power, and a positive vision of the world which people can really get behind
Fundamentally, there is a need to change the energy system, the way we produce foods, and bring land rights to people. These go to the heart of an economic model. We need to open intellectual property rights to renewable energy to make it accessible, tackling the powerful corporations who must be willing to change their economic model.
OCS Media and Research Team
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