The future of the climate crisis does not look pretty if the coronavirus pandemic provides any indication of our collective ability to cope with shocks.
Take the case of India. More than 1.3 billion people found themselves in a Covid-19 spurred lockdown on 24 March 2020 - with just four hours’ notice. As in many countries, those with access to savings or formal employment retreated to the safety of their homes.
This series of articles has been published in partnership with Dalia Gebrial and Harpreet Kaur Paul and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung in London. It first appeared in a collection titled Perspectives on a Global Green New Deal.
However, for a significant proportion of India’s 40 million migrant labourers – many of whom live hand to mouth – lockdown left them stranded far away from home, without income.
With road and rail networks closed and no resources to meet basic needs, many of those who keep society functioning – whether as domestic helpers, drivers, gardeners, street vendors, or as daily-wagers or construction workers – decided to walk hundreds of kilometres back to the villages they’d left behind, in some cases because of devastating climate impacts.
Many died en route. Across the world, informal economy workers are disproportionately impacted by the crisis, with women particularly over-represented in precarious work.
Within ‘developed’ countries like the UK and US, we continue to see people of colour disproportionately impacted by the virus.
Often living in densely populated, working-class neighbourhoods and working in highly exposed jobs like frontline care and transportation, black and brown people have found themselves on the frontline of Covid-19 impacts within countries most prepared for such shocks.
Those considered ‘unproductive’, such as the elderly and those with disabilities, have been sacrificed in service of an economy that sees them as burdens, rather than cherished members of our communities.
Everywhere, police disproportionately enforced lockdown measures on those most impoverished and with least access to space.
The workers being put on the frontline are the same workers penalised for demanding protective equipment, and punished by increasingly hostile immigration policies and anti-migrant headlines. In other words: it is the most vulnerable and marginalised being left to pay the highest price during this global crisis.
Is it possible to learn from this painful preview? Can we instead re-organise how we work, care, move, rest and play to prioritise people and planet, especially in times of crisis?
The need to re-shuffle and centre these needs has long been the rallying cry of climate justice advocates across the world.
Activists in the Global North have recently been re-energised by the Green New Deal framing to "build back better" from the climate crisis, creating green jobs, apprenticeships and re-training programmes to stimulate renewable energy generation, increase energy efficiency, reduce waste, promote sustainable transport and alter land use.
Renationalising energy, waste, agriculture, and transport companies to carry this out efficiently, while also addressing fuel poverty with a combination of cheaper state generated clean energy and energy savings schemes - improving home insulation, for example - are important features.
Progressive Green New Deals look to tackle the climate crisis through a transformative political and economic programme.
This means wide-scale investment in public infrastructure, the provision of free or cheap green transportation and reorienting away from oligarchal energy companies towards a democratic community or public ownership and investment model.
The Green New Deal framing also focuses on a just transition, ensuring that jobs lost in carbon intensive industries are transferred to decent work in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors, as well as reforestation or organic agro-ecology industries.
These developments represent somewhat of a shift in climate thinking in the Global North, which had previously framed ‘the environment’ and climate action as abstract categories, separable from economic and political systems.
Much of this shift is due to a long overdue lesson, learned from the holistic approaches of climate justice movements in the Global South and by Indigenous communities.
However, the Green New Deal has largely been trapped in national imaginations. Activists and politicians in North America and Europe have developed compelling visions for how such a programme could be transformative on a national scale – but the story of climate change is global and therefore its solutions, too, must be global.
If Global North activists seek decarbonisation at a pace inconsistent with keeping warming below 1.5°C – that has a direct impact on those on the frontline of seas rising, heat, water and food stress, disease spread and increasingly regular and strong storms, wildfires, droughts - often leading to long-term desertification and floods.
While record-breaking financing and state handouts for the fossil fuel intensive industries continues to abet rising emissions, the need to meet the Paris Agreement targets of keeping global temperature well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels has never been clearer.
The difference between the two Paris Agreement numbers is also stark. The difference in impacts between an increase of 1.5°C, and an increase of 2°C in global average surface temperature is significant.
In NASA’s summary of the IPCC’s October 2018 Special Report, they state that an estimated 61 million more people would be exposed to severe drought due to lack of water availability at 2°C, in comparison to 1.5°C. And 50 percent fewer people would see increased climate change-induced water stress at 1.5°C.
Between 184-270 million fewer people are projected to be exposed to increases in water insecurity at 1.5°C.
According to WWF, limiting temperature rises to 1.5°C would also result in 1.3 billion fewer people experiencing regular heatwaves, and 65 million fewer people exposed to exceptional heat waves. Further, 10 million fewer people would be exposed to sea level rise related loss and damage.
If we continue as we are, we will overreach the limits set out by the Paris Agreement. Exact estimates vary, but most see global average surface temperature rise reaching about 4°C by the end of this century.
This will likely render much of the equatorial belt uninhabitable for much of the year, with Saharan deserts spreading into southern and central Europe. Two thirds of the glaciers that feed many of Asia’s rivers will be lost.
Existing policies would limit this warming to 2.8°C, but there is no court responsible for making states follow-through with their policies, and their pledges and targets are non-binding.
While ambitious decarbonisation is necessary, many of the demands being made in the North, such as around renewable transportation, will have significant impacts on supply chains and environmental sustainability around the world.
Ushering green energy to the Global North at the expense of people in the majority Global South having access to their basic needs is antithetical to the notion of a Global Green New Deal.
Neglecting the interdependent nature of both the climate crisis and responses to it risks creating a new era of ‘green colonialism’.
We cannot accept a model of ‘progress’ that relies on exploiting workers who mine the minerals and metals for renewable energy generation, or which allows for the continued concentration of land ownership and access in the hands of a few.
We cannot replace our fossil fuel centred economy – where a country like Nigeria can derive 86 percent of its export revenue from oil and gas while two-thirds of the population live below the poverty line – with green energy that maintains the same dynamics of who has access to what.
To do so would be to miss the opportunity to not just build back, but build anew in the knowledge that another world is possible; a world where clean energy, food, water, housing, transport, care and health needs are universally met, without exception.
The way we understand and mobilise around the Green New Deal needs to change. This includes how we frame our movements, our policy proposals and our vision for change over the coming years. This means rooting calls for climate justice in global understandings of responsibility, accountability and reparation.
This book pools the knowledge of climate activists from around the world to offer an alternative frame for the Green New Deal – one that is rooted in principles of global justice, and understands the interdependent nature of the problem and its solution.
It pushes beyond abstract platitudes of ‘internationalism’, instead using case studies of concrete policy and movement frameworks from around the world to inspire further action; to challenge those working under the Green New Deal framework to think beyond national borders.
We reject the false and fanciful solutions put forward by political and financial elites, which merely continues an energy system based on extractivism and neocolonialism. Instead, this publication stands in the tradition of the 1991 multinational People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit’s seventeen principles of Environmental Justice, and the decades of climate justice leadership that has arisen from the majority Global South ever since.
The vision informing this publication is one that seeks to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This vision also sees communities on the frontline of climate change receiving the resources they need to address the consequences of our already warmed world. It looks at pathways out of the climate crisis that are rooted in principles of democratic ownership, gender justice, anti-racism and anti-colonialism.
At the heart of this, is a reparative framework that places the responsibility on historic emitters in the Global North to take on their fair share of the struggle for a sustainable world. This means striving for zero carbon by 2030, scaling up climate financing, welcoming migrants, re-thinking land access, distribution and food justice, and providing the resources, know-how, and patent waivers for clean technology to countries that need it.
Frames alone cannot challenge increased mining by Rio Tinto in Australia or on elephant sanctuaries in India. They cannot push back against the global deepening of institutionalised and mandated austerity and privatisation, which take us further away from ensuring universal social protection.
They cannot give countries the fiscal and policy space to prioritise people and planet, or stop the continued reliance on fossil fuels. They cannot overhaul extractivist trade agreements that enable the making of things by precarious workers in the majority Global South for the benefit of those of us in the minority Global North.
They cannot increase our collective capacity to experience global pandemics, climate change, or economic recessions in a way that does not ask those least responsible to pay the greatest price. What we hope this frame can do, is propose a set of broad principles and red lines within which we can collectively operate and take action. It is up to those reading this publication to build the movements and policy action that will change our world for the better.
Our world at 1.1°C is already disproportionately hurting those least culpable. The wealthiest in the minority Global North have the greatest responsibility to repair these impacts and prevent future unmanageable warming.
Current state pledges and climate action ambitions, if fulfilled, would still see around 2.8°C of global average surface temperature rise. As it stands, even these insufficient targets are unlikely to be met, as they rely on future carbon capture technologies that are at best impracticable and at worst will continue environmental racism through resource extraction and waste dumping.
At the same time, resources to adapt to and repair the harmful effects of historic emissions already in motion are concealed from those most in need. Worse, available funds are too often redirected to those causing the problem through fossil fuel and agri-business subsidies while climate, humanitarian and development financing is squeezed.
The response to climate breakdown requires a global vision that addresses the root causes of how we got here.