Just Climate Futures: Building Strategies for Post-Paris Global Climate Justice Movements


Wednesday, March 25

Tag: Just Climate Futures

We seek to begin a dialogue on the problem of the most pressing global challenge of the twenty-first century – climate change. Since the treaty negotiations under the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change are at an impasse and unlikely to deliver a scientifically adequate outcome in the December 2015 meetings in Paris, we ask the question: what would it take to force the governments of the world to actually agree a legally binding, science-based, and fair climate treaty? When states have failed to address obvious social ills, social movements have risen to end slavery, win the vote for women, overthrow colonialism and make social revolutions, and more recently, to end apartheid and gain access to generic AIDS medicines which are saving millions of lives.

Concluding that only the broadest, most powerful social movement the world has ever seen has a chance of addressing climate change decisively, we will explore: 1) the current state of global climate justice movements, 2) their proposals going into Paris, and 3) the analyses, strategies, tactics, and alliances they will develop after COP 21. To do this, we will mobilize a diverse network of climate justice activists, including youth climate activists, NGOs, former negotiators, and progressive politicians to work toward two ends: to map the global climate justice movement and to generate analyses that might further its ambitious but necessary objectives. This climate justice on-line hub, and academic and more popular publications will be both our method and our product.

Keywords: climate crisis, climate justice, new social movements, political cultures of opposition and creation, sustainable development, participatory action research, global ethnography, qualitative-comparative analysis

Countries involved in this project so far:

Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Croatia, Ecuador, Germany, Ghana, India, Ireland, Kenya, Maldives, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Peru, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States

The Challenge and the Opportunity

The September 2014 publication of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate coincided almost to the day with the people’s climate marches that brought over 700,000 people into the streets around the world, most massively in New York City.

Both events raised the question of whether the climate crisis can be addressed by global civil society, and if so, what sort of changes will have to be made to both neoliberal corporate business as usual and the underlying social, economic, political, and cultural structures that support it. There is no question that at local levels, literally thousands of climate-related actions are underway, sometimes leading to surprising victories, usually of a defensive character at the site of fossil fuel extraction or combustion. These have not scaled up well, however, and this genuine set of movements has not yet found a common voice. However, at a March 2015 meeting at the World Social Forum in Tunis, the different strands of global climate justice movements came together to strategize: more than 200 representatives of Climate Justice Now! (which dates to the 2007 Bali UN climate summit) joined with members of faith-based organisations, trade unions, more recent climate advocacy institutions including and Avaaz, and even the Climate Action Network whose forces had long been opposed to the equity precepts of climate justice (Bond 2015). Many regional and national variations were obvious, and different conditions have generated extremely diverse cultures within these movements. Yet common framing, a consistent narrative, a “choreography” of action, and the elaboration of post-COP 21 strategies were all being pursued by activists with a renewed sense of goodwill and urgency.

Like Klein herself and the millions who are responding to the climate crisis everywhere, the sustainability challenge we would like to address is that of securing the best possible global future with respect to the “wicked problem” (Brown et al. 2010) of climate change, the overarching and most urgent challenge that humanity faces in the twenty-first century. Given the disturbingly clear findings of climate science (IPCC 2014) and the existence of a physical maximum carbon-budget of no more (and very likely much less) than twenty years before global warming surpasses two degrees Celsius (let alone the more defensible 1.5 degrees) by the year 2100 (Carbon Tracker 2013), and that the rate of CO2 emissions continues to grow from year to year (despite a hopeful pause in 2014), this crisis is acute and demands no less than the immediate attention and sustained effort of the world academic community.

We propose to establish a strong multi-region and interdisciplinary research team to work with significant global stakeholders on the problem of the best ways for social movements to help achieve radical or deep climate change mitigation in the quickest possible time framework. Starting from the observation that the UN climate treaty negotiations [Conferences of the Parties] are at an impasse (Foran and Widick 2013) and highly unlikely to deliver anything close to a scientifically adequate outcome in the December 2015 COP 21 meetings in Paris (Solon 2015), we ask the question: what would it take to force the governments of the world to engage in the creation of a meaningful, legally binding, science-based, and fair climate treaty in the timely fashion that is so urgently needed?

Goals and Objectives

We believe that only the assembling of the broadest, most powerful social movement the world has ever seen has a chance of doing this in the narrow five to ten year window the science imposes on us (McKibben 2015). Accordingly, we will:

1) map the current state of the global climate justice movements,

2) document the proposals they are generating going into the December 2015 Paris COP, and

3) assess the analyses, strategies, tactics, and alliances adopted by these movements as they take stock of the outcome of the summit.

To do this, we will draw on the talents of a diverse network in the global climate justice movement, including youth activists, leaders of established NGOs, and progressive national governments, on all continents, in North and South America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, Asia, and Australia/Oceania.

Our goals include to 1) document, analyze, and learn from their perspectives on the climate crisis, 2) develop collaborative projects to engage civil society and policy-makers inside and outside the UNFCCC process, and 3) generate new ideas for moving beyond the faltering treaty process to achieve radical emissions reductions that are just and prefigurative of sustainable, democratically functioning global and national societies.

Intended Outcomes

We hope to collaborate to plan and produce innovative analyses capable of achieving these ambitious but necessary objectives. Drawing from every corner of global civil society, we’d like to see this become a unique, highly interactive climate justice on-line research and idea-building hub, and to develop a strong set of on-line publications, movement strategies, policy reports, practical proposals, and high quality reporting and journalism.

Exploring the deepest foundations of the powerful, emergent global climate justice network of movements has never been done before, and to do so will require innovative approaches, methods, and collaborations.