Don't Forget Justice and Equality

Bharat Dogra

If we Look at two biggest dangers facing humanity, then climate change (and related environmental problems) appears to be as the first threat and weapons of mass destruction appear as the second threat. So our first priority is to curb these threats, first by checking in a big way the threat of climate change (by reducing average global warming to 1.50C) and secondly by eliminating weapons of mass destruction.

As we mobilise all our strength and capability to meet these two critical objectives before it is too late, we should not forget two other very important and closely related objectives of justice and equality.

All though human history there have been some people who wanted to create a better world based on ending discrimination based on gender, caste, class, religion, ethnicity, colour and all such narrow considerations while promoting equality of all human beings. There has been a vision of promoting equality and justice in such  ways that all people are able to meet their needs with dignity. Even if this vision did not spread to as many people as it should have, this was one of the main factors behind true progress of human civilization, to the extent ( very limited) that true progress could be achieved.

Now we have very urgent issues like checking climate change and highly destructive weapons, but the importance of justice and equality has not diminished. These two objectives remain as important as before, and must be incorporated also in our urgent tasks of checking climate change and eliminating highly destructive weapons.

While it is so important to incorporate justice in efforts to check climate change some people take an opposite stand and mistakenly recommend steps which will destroy livelihoods of people. In India, for example, such persons and organisations demand that poor and vulnerable people should be driven away from their small cultivation fields as the land is legally in the control of the government's forest department. This will enable the government to afforest this land, they say, but they forget that this will also deprive thousands and thousands of household of their main source of livelihood and food security.

Instead of inflicting such massive injustice, it is possible to find other ways of afforestation. For example, this land can be given to these communities not for agriculture but planting mixed species (indigenous species) forests which resemble natural forests. The available funds for afforestation can be shared with them for this work. Later when the forest has grown, they can be provided rights over non-timber (minor) forest produce. They can earn from this, receive some support from the government as well, and take up the responsibility of protecting forests and wild-life from smugglers, poachers, hunters etc.

In this way the objective of increasing forest cover (checking climate change) and protecting livelihoods (justice for poor and vulnerable people) can be reconciled and advanced together in harmony with each other.

To green a lot of unproductive land and wasteland, communities of poorest people can be mobilized to create conducive conditions for creating forests of mixed indigenous species of trees, bush and other plants. They can be paid for initial work and later also get rights for sustainable harvesting of non-timber (minor) forest produce.

To promote such works in a big way,  generous support can also be given from an international green fund to check climate change.

As the richest countries have historically contributed the most to  greenhouse gases, it'll be a justice-based way of checking climate change if they contribute in a big way to a green fund which can fund such works for checking climate change and promoting livelihoods in poorer countries. These countries have contributed the least to global greenhouse gas emissions but have to bear a big share of its impacts. Hence it'll be a justice based approach to transfer funds (via a global green fund) from the richest countries to these poorer countries for projects to check climate change which also promote sustainable livelihoods in a big way.

The proposals for such a green fund  have been there, if promises were fulfilled by now we would have contributions for $100 billion per year, a big help, but commitments made earlier by the richest countries have not been kept and we are very far from reaching this targeted level of funds. Hence the cause of justice-based approach to checking climate change has been gravely harmed.

Similarly the effort to reduce in a big way destructive weapons should incorporate justice concerns. If funds are released from such weapons, then these can be diverted to helping poorest people. In addition, funds saved in this way should be diverted to a global fund for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of cities and villages (like those in Iraq and Yemen) which were devastated by highly unjust invasions and wars. Such funds can also be used for the rehabilitation of people who were displaced from war and invasion zones.

As youths take up increasing roles in movements to check climate change and highly destructive weapons, they will do well to incorporate the concerns of justice and equality within these movements as well.

The writer is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives.

May 7, 2019

Bharat Dogra

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