Climate Justice: The Unwanted Relative in Climate Change Negotiations
“If the climate were a bank it would have been saved.”*
It is been absolutely perplexing since the signing of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 to see how official representatives in climate negotiations bargain over the increase in temperature the world can handle. The future of the planet and all life in it are discussed in terms of economic figures. Greed and profiting are placed above the lives of millions of people, and ultimately the future of the Earth. Those who hold economic, political and military power in the world and who make the decisions regarding climate change policies emulate Nero: they continue to set the planet on fire while carelessly playing their lyres. Today, considering the state of negotiations and nonexistent political will to address the root causes of this problem, we face nothing less than a terrifying scenario, first and most devastating for those who have contributed the least to climate change: the most vulnerable and impoverished people in what industrialized nations call the developing world.
The strategy of depoliticizing the issue when addressing climate change has been notorious. Often, when we hear speeches and read reports in mainstream media on climate change and its impact, we find a variety of scientific terms and technical economic definitions. Government officials at climate summits argue that they cannot afford the costs of fulfilling their commitments to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. In the meantime, the human face of the crisis is invisible. For those strongly struck by extreme weather conditions linked to climate change, the increase in global temperature is more than just a number. My country, Nicaragua, is very vulnerable to the impact of a changing climate. In 2007, according to a Global Climate Risk Index report, Nicaragua was the third country most affected by extreme weather conditions in the world. It is not rare to hear people in rural areas explain the difficulties they face every year. They expect a good rainy season for their crops, but it is becoming more usual to have either droughts or heavy rains, both causing dramatic consequences for food security and access to water for people already struggling to survive.
True, there are also those who even deny the existence of climate change or consider that what we are facing is just a natural phenomenon. However, in 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of 1,300 independent scientific experts from countries all over the world, concluded that, “there's a more than 90 percent probability that human activities over the past 250 years have warmed our planet.” More than 95% of scientists working on climate studies dispute claims that there is no consensus on the causes of climate change and accept that climate change “is almost certainly being caused by human activities.”
When scientists consider historical and current global greenhouse emissions, the evidence shows industrialized countries are the ones that have contributed the most to the climate crisis. Nevertheless, those who suffer and will continue to suffer the most devastating impacts are the poor in the developing world. Therefore, we face an issue of global justice that demands a radical transformation of the predatory development paradigm ruling our societies. This “justice factor” behind the climate crisis has been the unwanted relative crashing the party of the United Nations official negotiations. Climate change unequivocally brings us to a fundamental principle that says when you hurt someone you have two obligations: stop causing damage and help the other person cope with the damage done.
Viewed from the perspective of justice, it is obvious that those who have caused the climate crisis are the ones who should bear the costs of adaptation to climate change, not as a charity but as a compensation for the historical, social and ecological debt acquired over centuries of exploitation and contamination. Social movements around the world are taking steps in proposing alternatives to false solutions that are market based. The governments of the developing countries, including Nicaragua, should join them in demanding climate justice rather than accept the solutions that primarily protect the interests of rich countries and the status quo.
*Slogan used at 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.