Placement of climate justice in the overall climate change discourse

Peter Makwanya

CLIMATE justice is a component of justice varieties, many of which seem applicable to climate change. Just like the terms resilience, adaptation, mitigation, loss and damage, climate justice has also runs the risk of becoming a buzz word, meaning everything, to everyone, everytime. A bit of care and restraint is, therefore, encouraged though, in terms of usage, context, frequency, timing and relevance. Climate justice falls with the domains of environment and ecology, to which climate change is important.

Climate change raises the issues of justice in relation to nature. Climate justice is viewed as the of relevance of justice concerning the intersection of climate justice with more general issues of justice and ethics. It is for this reason, first and foremost that climate is an ethical problem or ethical issue gone wrong. In this regard, climate change should always be viewed with climate justice lenses. To make things clear for the purpose of this discussion, climate justice is not climate injustice, as what it is always assumed by the majority of climate laypersons.

Attempts to interrogate and address issues of climate change appear to have failed to factor in climate justice issues effectively and sufficiently. On the other hand, climate injustice, environmental or ecological injustice involves the propagation of harms or unfair relationships between humans and the natural environment. These include carbon emissions, entrenched systems of multinationals and corporates, pollution, deforestation, gender inequalities, unsustainable agricultural and mining practices, language use and greenwashing, among others. All these have contributed to the unenviable current status and complexion of the planet, which is sick and needs healing to prevent it from breaking apart. 

Any environmental behaviours and actions that are likely to profit corporates, while hurting people, driving biodiversity loss and contributing to loss and damage of infrastructure, livelihoods and chronic hunger and famine can be classified as climate injustice. Reinforcing dangerous actions and environmental behaviour that contributes to loss and damage constitutes climate injustices. In order to be able to participate in climate justice issues, it is in the best interest of sustainable development to view climate issues using climate justice lenses. Climate justice lenses are similar to gender justice lenses where issues of equity should always be at play.

While climate justice advocates for systems change not climate change, but fundamentals of transformation of the systems that govern and underpin human lives. This brings us to the essential nature of sustainable living, human livelihoods, ecological and biodiversity conservation, all essential ingredients underpinning human lives.

Fighting climate injustices is not only reserved for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference of parties (COPs), but it is a process of dealing with an entrenched system, antagonistic in nature. The pollution, carbon emission systems resulting from burning fossil fuels, deforestation and biodiversity losses, among others, are the systems that have brought discord worldwide and they need to be removed or toned down. The fossil fuel dominated extractive sector, instead of empowering lives through improved livelihoods and energy efficiency, leaves billions of people around the globe neck deep in energy poverty, in the dark with no electricity. It is against this background that climate justice should  be brought to the fore, through clean, renewable and safe energy. If any national development programme displaces, coerces and relocates people without compensation while setting them in conflict with wildlife thereby competing for scarce natural resources with domestic and wild animals, then it becomes unsustainable and unjust.

As emphasis is placed on behaviours that contribute to climate justice, it must be known that morality and ethical considerations are key. Climate injustices only resurface when the poor, the vulnerable, women and children, the disabled and the elderly are exposed to climate hazards caused mainly by the entrenched system of the developed countries and their multinationals. Therefore, it is a moral question and justice issue that future generations should not suffer because of the expansion systems of developed countries. It is a system that is oiled by power, politics and money including lack of conscience, dearth of ecological ethics and moral rearmament. The current unforgiving systems should be confronted head-on and compelled to advance climate justice, morality, moral clarity and humanism which should be at the heart of newfound climate justice.

One other important factor is that climate justice does not come about in a short space of time and it is realised when graduating from environmental justice to be strategically situated to realise climate justice.

Environmental justice is an integral community of practice in the overall environmental discourse arena thereby influencing climate justice. Climate justice is also context specific, as it focuses on local climate impacts, vulnerabilities, diverse community voices, among others.

As we continue to interrogate climate justice issues, it must also be realised that, there is no climate justice without gender justice, that is why women and men’s roles are always foregrounded in terms of equity, engendered planning and budgeting, among others. This is because climate change policies and other empowerment measures are likely to have wide-ranging effects on gender relations especially in developing countries. While gender equity must be chaperoned, this should not be done in isolation but in the context of the feminist communication toolkit, to deconstruct and decolonise institutional and structural gender-related barriers in order to realise climate justice.

Climate injustice is also communicated through language use, emergence of massive green vocabularies and greenwashing.  The main purpose of communicating decolonised climate justice, loss and damage is to create meaning so that interventions move forward. To help communicate climate justice appropriately, journalists need to be trained to use the language effectively to inform, educate and make people aware of problematic issues of loss and damage. For the purpose of this consultancy and mandate of decolonising the climate language, a climate change communication toolkit will be established to enhance loss and damage engagement. In communicating climate justice, loss and damage, the target audience should be put at the centre of information dissemination.

Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on: [email protected]

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