We need climate justice

| 8th January 2020
Activists demand climate justice

Activists demand climate justice as part of the FoE Europe organised Flood for Climate Justice

Our climate movement must not repeat the mistakes of the past. This means placing justice at the heart of everything we do.

If 2019 was the year that the climate crisis returned to centre stage and the climate movement gained strength, 2020 must be the year that justice is placed firmly at the heart of the argument.

This year - 2020 - must be the year that justice is placed firmly at the heart of the climate argument, just as 2019 was the year that the climate crisis finally took centre stage and the climate movement gained strength.

No matter what you think of Extinction Rebellion, it is undeniable that they have rekindled climate activism in a way that no NGO or other group has managed to in recent years.

They’ve achieved cut-through at a very difficult time and kept serious action on climate change on the agenda. But above all criticisms of the movement, one needs to be addressed head on and that is that the justice angle has been lost.


Admittedly, Global Justice Rebellion, a group within Extinction Rebellion, is making these arguments. However, they needs mainstreaming. For climate activism to have real potency it must be in solidarity with those on the front lines of the crisis, people in the Global South.

Historically, countries in the Global South have contributed least to climate change but will feel the brunt of its effects if we fail to avert runaway climate change.

The mainstream climate movement has for years got much of its messaging wrong. While fighting for the polar bear is important and we must protect wildlife for its own sake, this is a crisis caused by people that will make large parts of the earth uninhabitable.

It’s an inherently human centred crisis, both in terms of its genesis and its impacts. If that’s not a reason for solidarity, I don’t know what is.

Climate justice must involve rich countries taking responsibility for their impact. In the short-term, justice means that many poorer countries should be allowed to emit slightly more as the richest countries slash their emissions to safe levels. A process known as contraction and convergence.


Bringing justice to the heart of the climate movement means platforming southern voices and amplifying their struggles on the international stage.

With the COP 26 talks taking place in Edinburgh in 2020, it will fall on activists from the UK to decide what role the justice argument plays in the run up to the mobilisation.

Climate change is an inherently racialised issue as it has been historically caused by white people and impacts people of colour the most. In the age of Trump, it is more important than ever that this is recognised by those seeking a sustainable future for all.

By not addressing the racial dynamics of the issue, it is easy to play into the hands of those who would seek to limit migration or retreat into old nationalisms, justified by a warped view of ecological imperative. All at a time when huge waves of migration related to climate change are likely to happen.

In the coming period, it is essential that more experts by experience are given a platform by a movement that is historically dominated by middle class white people.


As environmentalists in rich countries, we must listen to the voices on the front lines of the crisis and amplify their struggles through our approaches and action.

I’ve found Greta Thunberg’s commitment to talking about the justice angle to be refreshing and essential. We should all follow her powerful lead.

It is heartening to see groups like Global Justice Rebellion giving more time to the justice element of the climate crisis, but we must go much further.

If 2019 was the year that climate change returned to the mainstream stage as the cross-cutting issue of our time, 2020 must be the year in which the voices of indigenous people, climate migrants and those most directly affected are heard.

This Author

Andrew Taylor-Dawson has been involved with the social justice and environmental movements for over a decade. He works in the NGO sector as well as writing about civil society, campaigning and progressive causes. He tweets at @Andrew_J_Taylor.

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