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Climate justice, decolonization and the role of cultural relations

The grim toll of climate change is becoming clearer every year. Debates about possible ways forward highlight the need for interdisciplinary approaches to find solutions. An international perspective on climate justice and decolonisation.

Building solidarity across borders is essential in working toward climate justice. Yet some of the most intractable international negotiations rest on questions of responsibility and financial compensation for those suffering from climate-related loss and damage. While the Global North bears responsibility for the majority of historical CO2 emissions, poorer countries and individuals bear the brunt of the consequences, often while simultaneously suffering the impact of colonial exploitation.

A keynote speech by Ann Pettifor, director of the Policy Research in Macroeconomics (PRIME) group and specialist on the Green New Deal, set the stage for the panel discussion "Climate justice, decolonisation and the role of cultural relations" with a presentation on the “billionaire economy.” In introducing the injustices present in a global economic order that serves the interests of wealth, Pettifor kicked off a roundtable discussion with Nnimmo Bassey, a veteran environmental activist from Nigeria and founder of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, and Tonny Nowshin, a climate and degrowth activist from Bangladesh and campaigner for The Sunrise Project.

We have a lawless global system that is very unequal and does not care about those who have been trampled upon – Nnimmo Bassey

The panel discussed the ways in which inequality stands at the core of the climate crisis. As wealth builds on one end, others are left behind. Pettifor shared research showing the richest 1 percent in the world account for over 15 percent of cumulative emissions, and the richest 10 percent account for just over half. Supposed solutions like net zero, she argued, mean not cutting emissions but rather postponing them into the future or exporting them to Global South countries in a system that allows the reassignment of blame and is rigged against majority interests. “We have a lawless global system that is very unequal and does not care about those who have been trampled upon,” Bassey added.

He argued structural challenges make it difficult to address climate change because the root causes remain unchallenged. He called for the 99 percent who are not benefitting from this system to join forces to stop the 1 percent from “trashing everything.” In short, only by re-ordering economics do we have any hope of tackling the global warming crisis.

Nowshin also pointed out the importance of looking at the issue through the legacies and present challenges of colonialism. She explained that even among actors motivated to work together toward climate justice, existing relationships and hierarchies between Global North and South actors must be understood and addressed in order to construct effective solidarity. Bassey concluded with a suggestion: as international meetings like the COP climate conferences fail to produce meaningful solutions quickly enough, building on the productive side-line conversations that do take place at these events could produce alternative sites of encounter in the form of “counter COPs.” Yet he emphasized that only by establishing a different financial system will we be able to seriously address the climate crisis from other interdisciplinary angles.

About the Author
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Clare Richardson
Journalist and TV Presenter

Clare Richardson is a journalist and TV presenter with more than a decade of experience in international news covering many of the world’s biggest stories for major organizations. As a news anchor and reporter for Germany’s public international broadcaster DW News she has presented rolling coverage on stories including pivotal elections in the United States and Germany, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Covid-19 pandemic, and high-stakes conferences of world leaders.

Clare was previously the World Editor of Reuters.com and World Editor of The Huffington Post in New York City. She has since reported from Brazil and Mozambique with fellowships from the International Reporting Project and taught video and audio journalism at the University of Melbourne in Australia. She also has directed short documentary films from the Solomon Islands, Australia, Cabe Verde, and Brazil for outlets including DW News, Business Insider, and BBC Reel.