Climate change justice is a process contesting historical inequality

25-11-2009 11:58
At the conference, South African academics Hennie Stoffberg and Paul Prinsloo launched their new book “Climate Change: A Guide for Corporates”. Caroline d'Essen has interviewed the authors about issues of climate change justice and the fairness of carbon market system.

1 – In your opinion, what were the main reasons that made the Kyoto’s Protocol fail? How can we avoid that a new agreement in COP15 takes the same way of Kyoto Protocol?

The Kyoto Protocol did not fail in the sense that there were no gains. Surely the Protocol could have had a bigger impact but we are convinced that some important gains were made since the inception of the Protocol.
In the light of the fact that the Protocol expires in 2012 the deliberations in Copenhagen are of major importance. We believe it is essential to have an expiry date for the next protocol as this will allow for responding faster to new scientific findings and adjust emission reduction requirements and targets accordingly.
What the successes and failures of the Kyoto Protocol showed us is that climate change negotiations are embedded in broader social-political and economic struggles and contestations. The negotiations and deliberations at Copenhagen will not be different.

2 – Do you think it is possible to talk about global justice if not all countries are willing to participate effectively in international environmental agreements?
We believe that climate change justice is a process contesting entrenched historical positions of inequality and geo-political clusters and discourses. If one looks at climate change justice as an example of international power relations in the same context as notions of ‘development’ and ‘aid’, then one realizes that climate change justice, although noble in its intentions, can be subverted to serve and even further entrench inequality.
Having said that, it does not take away the responsibility to continue to contest the unequal impacts of climate change and a lobbying of support for climate change justice. This lobbying is however not a neutral cause and climate change often serves as new battleground for settling old scores.
Climate change will not affect all people equally; some people and groups are more vulnerable than others. This vulnerability is itself determined by political-economic processes that benefit some people and disadvantage others – with the disadvantaged frequently being the most vulnerable to climate change.
Climate change will therefore compound and exacerbate the exponential effects of geopolitical and social-economic regimes and historical frameworks. Addressing justice in climate change has therefore to take these broader contexts of development/non-development seriously.

3 – Do you think that the carbon market is a fair tool to achieve climate change goals? What are the positive and the negatives aspects fro the rich and the poor countries?
This is not a simple question and therefore requires a less than straightforward ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The carbon market can be fair and have positive effects for both the amelioration of climate change and very importantly the transfer of adaptation technologies. The carbon market can also provide crucial funding and aid to developing nations through the development of low carbon technologies.
The carbon market’s potential to be fair should however also be evaluated and predicted within the context of the questioning of the fairness of any market when access to the market and the benefits of access to markets are embedded in broader normative capitalist discourses and social-political power relations.
Therefore the carbon market is, like all markets, open for abuse and the furthering of existing inequalities. This makes the deliberations at Copenhagen so crucial – that the carbon market as one of a range of strategies is embedded in clear and just arrangements.
4 - Is it fair that developed countries demand from developing countries some targets that they didn’t have to face when they were being industrialized?

It is very easy to start blaming the rich countries and exempting the less industrialised countries from taking necessary actions to ameliorate the impacts of climate change. The foreseen impacts of climate change on all countries warrant a global response from every single country, whether developing or developed.

We are, however, of the opinion that the current inequalities between developed and developing nations are to a large extent the result of hundreds of years’ of abuse through colonialisation, development and aid as technologies of domination. Climate change justice and fairness are therefore embedded in the broader discourses of the need for restitution and socio-economic justice.

The benefits of industrialisation in the global north were not equally shared with countries in the global south. On the contrary, the rapid growth of industrialisation was to a huge extent reliant on cheap labour and the plundering of natural resources through colonialisation.

Therefore targets cannot be equal for developed and developing countries. This does not exempt developing countries from having their own targets and taking appropriate steps to mitigate the impacts of growing industrialisation and move towards concerted adaptation efforts.

5 - From the individual point of view, what do you think people in rich countries will have to change in their way of life or even in their culture to avoid climate change? And in the poor countries?

We believe that all of us should do whatever it takes to mitigate the impacts of climate change and look for creative ways to adapt towards living in a carbon-constrained world. Sustainability has to be a key performance indicator for all governmental, NGO and business transactions. Individuals in rich and poor countries will have to make sustainability the focus of their individual and collective efforts. This will require contesting rampant capitalism discourses and neoliberal market assumptions and practices. We can no longer afford ‘business as usual’.

Individuals in developed countries will have to seriously reconsider their lifestyles built on triumphant consumerism. This equally applies to the rich in poorer countries. We need to change our assumptions and beliefs about the ‘good life’. In this regard higher education has a crucial role to fulfill.

6 – From your point of view, what can we expect from COP15? A positive or negative perspective about solutions for climate change?

Without disregarding the deeply embedded historical impacts of the power relations between different geo-political formations, we cannot afford to not hope that Copenhagen will result in an agreed framework for addressing climate change more effectively that the Kyoto Protocol.

Addressing the complexities of climate change and the inequalities that will increasingly result from the impacts of climate change will necessitate that Copenhagen broker a number of strategies of which long-term carbon markets may be crucial. Creatively exploring the possibilities of carbon markets, for example, should however not prevent us from exploring every possible other avenue, from individual loci of control to collective efforts.

7 – Imagining a very pessimistic scenario where the COP15 fails and the world’s countries don’t reach an agreement, how do you think the world would be in the future decades?

While we cannot afford to not hope against all odds, the deeply entrenched social, economic and political power relations and beliefs may jeopardize reaching agreement at Copenhagen and inevitably jeopardize the sustainability of human life on the planet for future generations.
The cost of not reaching an agreement is just to gross to contemplate. Therefore developing countries cannot afford to take climate change justice lightly while developing countries should be careful not to use climate change as an opportune moment to settle old scores. We cannot afford to fail. Not now. Not again.

By Caroline d'Essen

Category: Conference news


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