There’s a seismic shift underway in the climate world. If you’ve spent any time with youth activists, you’ll have heard one word over and over and over. It’s the word shaping much of the climate coverage in the media today. And it’s the same word setting the agenda for green recovery and action for climate organizations across the board.
That word: Justice.
At its heart, justice is about dismantling systems of oppression and privilege that systemically mistreat, disadvantage, and prevent people from accessing the resources and opportunities to flourish (e.g., racism, sexism, and the other “isms”). Since we were kids, we knew when something was fair or unfair. But as adults, the language we use to call out these injustices becomes incredibly important.
This especially matters when we talk about the climate crisis, where invariably the people suffering the most from the lethal heatwaves and hurricanes on steroids we see more and more often aren’t the wealthier communities and countries burning the lion’s share of emissions. They’re people of color and poor families who’ve done the least to cause the devastation unfolding across the planet.
The fight to end this deep injustice and create a healthy and sustainable world for all – what we call “climate justice” – looks different all around the world. And if there’s good news here, it’s that this fight is increasingly led by activists and communities on the frontlines of this crisis. After all, these are people who not only know firsthand what climate change looks like, but are also increasingly creating innovative solutions the movement as a whole could learn from.
Over the months ahead, we’ll be exploring the fight for climate justice throughout continents and time zones. We’re starting today with perspectives from Canada, Indonesia, Latin America, and Brazil. By no means are these examples exhaustive – rather they’re a glimpse into the systemic inequalities that can be found in our movements, and that need to be identified so that they can be dealt with.
Canada: The Battle for Indigenous Rights
In Canada, land and Indigenous rights are a crucial battle when it comes to environmental and climate justice.
“We sustain ourselves off the land, so if there are issues such as declining populations of caribou, moose and what have you, we’re certainly the first to know and also be affected by issues of climate change” - says Jarret Quock, a Tahltan First Nation Man, describing the specific impacts climate change has on his livelihood to the Globe and Mail.
His story is common among First Nation, Métis and Inuit people all across Turtle Island. Indigenous lives, culture and traditions are so inherently tied to the land, so they’re disproportionately impacted by climate impacts in comparison to non-Indigenous people.
As just one example, more northern First Nation communities often use winter roads to transport goods and services, and with warmer winter seasons, these key paths of service disappear. Indigenous communities already have uneven access to water, and the climate crisis will only further exacerbate these inequities. Water is vital for all life on earth, but Indigenous people also rely on water for many of their sustenance and economic activities, such as fishing and farming.
Indonesia: Education Is Critical
In Indonesia, children are among the most vulnerable to the harsh realities of climate change.
“Indonesia’s location makes it vulnerable to natural disasters, further worsened by climate change. These disasters will have devastating impacts on the country’s more than 80 million children,” writes Dr. Amanda Niode, manager of The Climate Reality Project Indonesia and former special assistant to the Indonesian Minister of Environment. “They are most vulnerable to vector- and water-borne illnesses and poor nutritional access in the face of the climate crisis.”
What can we do? Start by educating young people about the challenge they face and how we can solve it. Which means getting teachers and parents comfortable talking about the issue too, which can be challenging in the middle of a pandemic that can make even getting through the day a struggle.
Dr. Niode adds, “[C]limate education is important to help young people understand and address the issue. Although climate change education is important, a recent survey and interaction with educators concluded that teachers feel they do not have sufficient knowledge to educate students about climate change. If teachers feel inadequate, then there is a possibility that parents do not feel comfortable talking about this issue to the children, which has become more important in the pandemic situation. Policies, programs, and actions are necessary to face the challenges of such climate injustice experienced by Indonesian children.”
Brazil: Overcoming Racism in the Movement
In Brazil, the environmental movement has work to do to overcome its own struggles with racism.
Andréia Coutinho, a journalist and communications coordinator with Instituto Clima e Sociedade, explains, “There are some contradictions in the concept of representativeness versus who is part of the decision-making process for the application and implementation of climate policies.
“What I mean is: we need to incorporate the concept of climate justice in Brazil. Although we have many references from activist movements that made headlines around the world, led by social movements, I realize that the Brazilian climate community has not yet appropriated these principles.”
What principles does the community need to embrace?
Coutinho goes on, “Among the values of climate justice are the pillars of the community, marginalized groups, popular power, and equality. Mitigation and adaptation cannot reinforce climate racism. We need an anti-racist perspective for climate decision making. It is not ethical to treat the population directly affected by climate extremes only as vulnerable. Anti-racism is part of the fight for climate justice. How will we support the Black community in Brazil to be part of the structural changes for a fair low-carbon transition?”
Latin America: Lives on the Line
In Latin America (and around the world), people referred to as “environmental defenders” are putting their lives on the line for our planet.
As As Itzel Morales Lagunes, Climate Leader Engagement Coordinator at Climate Reality Latin America, notes “Communities around the world are rising to protect the environmental legacy that has been part of their culture and that has regulated our climate for generations. Global Witness reports that in 2019, we lost 212 Human Rights Defenders; cruelly, half of them were from the Philippines and Colombia.
“They were protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, and thousands of species that live in our ecosystems from carbon-intensive industries and exposing unsustainable practices from companies. The fearless work of environmental defenders makes them a target for repression and violence that aims to silence their voices. The number of fatal aggressions against the defenders continues to increase year after year in Latin American countries.”
There are clear steps governments can take to fight this worrying trend. As just one example, the Escazú Agreement seeks to guarantee access to information, public participation, and access to justice in environmental matters in Latin America and the Caribbean.
This regional agreement aims to fight inequality and injustice while ensuring the right of us all to a healthy environment and sustainable development projects and practices. It provides special attention to vulnerable communities and holds equality at the center of sustainable development.” Ratifying the Escazú Agreement would be a step in the right direction to protect those protecting their land, communities, and culture.
Taking on the Fight
The fight for climate justice looks different depending on where we live, but wherever we live, there’s a fight for climate justice. To learn more about this effort and stay connected, join our email activist list today. We’ll keep you posted on climate justice and other key climate issues and show you how you can personally make a difference.
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