Climate Justice

Writing in Bombay, Winin Pereira highlighted the significance of ‘peak oil’ when only a few people in the world were showing concern about the industry’s own figures. A recent trawl through documents has revealed similar prescience with regard to climate change, food security and water depletion.   CLIMATE CHANGE & FOOD SECURITY was written in 1987 and published by the Maharashtra Prabodhan Seva Mandal [MPSM], Bandra, Bombay: 

“The monsoon has been erratic for the fourth year running, something that has not happened for as long as meteorological records have been kept. A question many are asking is whether this is an exceptional case or whether the climate has changed permanently. The possibility of permanent change arises because of our destruction of forests and pollution of the atmosphere.

“The pollution is caused mainly by the release of various chemicals into the atmosphere and by the increased burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil which are raising the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere . . . “ 

This subject has moved up the world agenda and the latest development is that Mary Robinson, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002, has founded an organisation campaigning for Climate Justice.

She writes: “The impacts of climate change are happening today and are already of great consequence, in particular on impoverished communities in developing countries. Not so long ago, the public image of climate change impacts was a polar bear stranded on a shrinking ice floe. This image is profound, but only begins to capture the real picture. Our image of climate change must increasingly focus on people – stranded by extreme weather events – people increasingly unable to provide for basic necessities – food, water, shelter, due to rapidly changing environmental conditions . . .” 

Islanders prepare to seek a new home

Ms Robinson cites the examples of farmers coping with increasingly unpredictable weather as they plant and harvest, of people who live in coastal areas threatened by inexorable sea level rise, such as the Carteret Islands in the Pacific, who are even now moving the coastal community from the Pacific Island where they have lived for thousands of years to another country – as sea water is destroying crops and contaminating fresh water wells on the islands, making them uninhabitable, of those still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, and whose home is now threatened by a very different aspect of the world’s addiction to fossil fuels – the BP oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico. 

“People in developing countries are not responsible for this crisis, but they are paying the steepest price. We cannot afford to let our fellow human beings who are vulnerable bear the brunt. A climate justice approach demands that we distribute burdens fairly and that polluters pay. Those of us who have, over the last fifty years, rapidly used the very finite atmospheric resources we share, must be prepared to shoulder the burden of contributing to the costs of adapting to climate change and finding low-carbon growth paths for developing countries.” 

As the outcomes of international conferences have to date been disappointing, she says: “Clearly, each of us must take action in our own lives to recycle, reuse and reduce waste. But equally important, we must urge our elected officials to understand that failure to act is unacceptable.” 

Her solution? A stronger emphasis on greening our economies: “Scaling up investment in green jobs will minimize the degradation of our natural resources and expand the efficient use of labour and renewable resources.” 

That is not an adequate prescription for India and other countries with a large agricultural sector. Winin Pereira’s earlier agriculture based recommendations have been added to by Devinder Sharma over the years.  

Ten years later came another stern warning in ‘Energy & Lifestyles’, by Winin Pereira and Subhash Sule [Indranet Journal Issue Nos 28‑30]: 

“If complete disruption of the world’s climate is to be avoided, industrial countries would have to reduce their use of fossil energy dramatically by changing their lifestyles. Emissions of carbon dioxide would have to be reduced globally by between 50 and 80%.[Fulkerson, 1990]. This is an impossible target to reach without a massive shift to renewable sources of energy. Or a much‑simplified lifestyle.” 

Mary Robinson advocates the shift to green technology, but is silent on lifestyle issues. 

Twelve years after the Indranet paper, it seems even clearer that only a massive shift to renewable sources of energy and changes to the lifestyle of those on middle and upper incomes all over the world will address problems of climate change and resource depletion. 

Mary Robinson’s speech can be read here.

POSTSCRIPT

Forum for the Future’s Jonathon Porritt has been reflecting on a book by Daniel Bel-Ami: ‘Ferraris for All’. The author believes that technology and effective management will enable all to consume as much as they can – a view, Jonathon says, which  “resonates more powerfully with contemporary politicians than any of our ‘sustainability stuff’ “.

He finds it hard to be ‘upbeat’, when the single most important precept behind the very idea of sustainability – that we have to learn to prosper within nature’s limits, not beyond them – is still set aside by almost all and sundry as an irritating irrelevance.

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