An Appeal

Climate Change, Justice and Peace

Bharat Dogra

It is now widely understood that climate change will have a very important impact on human life in the near future and this can be particularly serious in the context of various weaker sections. Even without climate change related factors they face many serious difficulties which are to a significant extent the result of unjust policies towards them. The single most numerically important group of landless peasants, for example, has suffered due to successive governments rolling back the promised land reforms. Farmers have suffered due to wrong policies which increased their costs and indebtedness at a rapid pace. Handloom weavers suffered as the protective policies promised for them were not implemented. Tribal farmers were promised protection but actually their land was taken away on a large scale. Interests of rickshaw pullers were many times ignored in urban transport policies. This denial of justice increased discontent among various groups. When this discontent remained festering for a long time without any effective remedial action being taken, this began to be manifested in violence at various levels and in various ways.

Now the new factor is that the problem of various vulnerable groups can worsen in many ways in times of climate change. Exposure to intense heat, prolonged dry weather and other adverse conditions can also lead to behavioral changes making people prone to outbursts of anger and violence.

Thus while there was clearly need for justice based reforms to reduce the problems and distress of vulnerable groups, there is now even greater need for this. In the absence of such justice based concerns, discontent will increase even more rapidly and on an even larger scale than presently. Hence the possibilities of manifestation of this discontent in violence at various levels will also increase.

On the other hand if we are committed to finding justice based solutions to the crisis of climate change, this will necessarily involve efforts to have a real understanding of their problems and how these can be solved or reduced. There can be remedial actions which, while reducing GHG emissions, will also solve or reduce many of those problems of small farmers which are becoming a cause of discontent.

On the other hand if climate change concerns are sought to be resolved merely by technocratic solutions ignoring the real concerns of the vulnerable groups, then this will merely increase the discontent of people. For example sometimes costly and gigantic water projects are mentioned which are likely to cause massive displacement. If such a distorted approach to resolving climate change related problems is adopted, then several aspects of poverty and deprivation can get worse. On the other hand careful and caring solutions can pave the way for reducing discontent and violence. Thus it is clear that climate change solutions should be linked to justice and peace.

These inter-linkages between climate change concerns, justice and peace  should be used at a world level to strengthen the most pressing challenges of resolving climate crisis in a framework of justice, equality and peace.

But there is a big problem here. The way in which GHG emission reduction issues are framed today generally fails to excite most people, understandably as they are too engrossed, too involved in the day-to-day struggles of survival and coping with many-sided problems. This situation can change if the great environmental challenges can be linked to the no-less important challenges of meeting the basic needs of all people.

To be more specific, there is a strong case for preparing a plan for adequately reducing greenhouse gas emissions which is also linked to a plan for meeting the basic needs of all. Both plans, and components of a single integrated plan, should be accepted as equally crucial. When such a plan is in place, then we will have something over which mass mobilisation will be truly possible.

The preparation of such a plan will also bring out forcefully that if these two objectives of critical importance (adequately reducing GHG emissions to keep temperature below 20 C and at the same time meeting the nutrition, health, housing, water and sanitation needs of all people) are to be met, then there is no scope for consumerism, for wasteful production and consumption, and above all there is no scope for any weapons and war!

With such a strong plan in place, the three movements of justice, environment and peace can come together to mobilise the people who in turn can compel their governments to implement this plan!

It is being said that the failure so far to reduce GHG emissions adequately has revealed a crisis of world leadership like perhaps never before and therefore clearly a bigger space has to be now occupied by peaceful but determined people's movements. But these movements need to have an agenda which can obtain people's support on a mass scale. This is why it is so important to link up the task of GHG emission reductions with the task of meeting the basic needs of all and preparing a common plan linking up these two crucial objectives of the greatest importance.

If we have a world-level plan, a common plan for meeting the basic needs of all and for reducing greenhouse gas emissions adequately - then it will be a plan with which most people in the world can identify closely. Thus it will be possible to build a mass movement, a worldwide movement, to accord the highest priority to this plan.

At present there is a danger that the funds for climate change mitigation and adaptation will be misused by big industrialists and other vested interests. But when the objective of basic needs for all is closely linked to the plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, then it is much more likely that funds will be used according to priorities based on justice and real needs.

The very pressing need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions adequately is now widely recognized, but a plan to achieve these needs to be integrated with a plan to meet the basic needs of all.

This plan will have the following components -
1.         All wasteful forms of consumption will be listed carefully and quantified. Those forms of wasteful consumption which involve particularly high GHG emissions will also be identified and quantified. A time-bound plan will be prepared to reduce all wasteful consumption as much as possible.
2.         In particular an effort will be made to stop the production of all weapons to the maximum extent possible. In addition to the previously known reasons for disarmament, we now have the additional reason of trying to curb all wasteful/harmful manufacture due to the urgent need to reduce GHG emissions.
3.         Possibilities of war and civil strife should be minimized, as apart from causing enormous distress to people modern wars and the preparation for such wars involve a lot of GHG emission.
4.         A plan to increase the production of food, other goods and services to meet the basic needs of all in the world should be prepared, together with the most environment friendly and least GHG emitting technologies that can be used for this purpose. This plan should be implemented in such a way as to ensure maximum local self-reliance in meeting basic needs, so that unnecessary transport is avoided and maximum local employment is generated.
5.         The socio-economic changes that are needed to ensure that the adequate availability of all goods and services to meet all basic needs can actually be accessed by all should be identified and implemented.
6.         Energy planning should focus on replacing fossil fuels with solar, wind, hydrogen and other technologies which avoid or minimize GHG emissions and are environment friendly.
7.         All new technologies that are necessary for reducing GHG emissions and related objectives should be free from patents so that these can be used as widely as possible whenever needed. But technology transfer has its limits and local solutions for local problems should get the most encouragement while keeping the door open for any input from outside when needed.
8.         As far as possible, no remaining natural forests should be cut. Timber needs should be curtailed as much as possible. Forest-dwellers or people living near forests should get first rights over minor forest produce, while also accepting responsibility for protecting forests. They should not be displaced but instead should be involved (with adequate incentives) in the protection of forests and wild life.
9.         Very high priority should be given to reducing pollution and protecting habitats so that conditions for the healthy living of all life forms, whether on land or in water, can improve significantly.
10.       Farming and village based life and livelihood patterns should get more help and priority compared to big industry and city based life and livelihood patterns. Small-farmer based farming using environment friendly methods to produce healthy food with kind care of farm-animals should get the top-most priority and help.
11.       Top priority should be given to protecting fresh water sources and conserving water.
12.       All hazardous products, technologies, substances and chemicals should be carefully monitored and reduced.

An important role of this plan will be to make it very clear that if the constraints relating to carbon space (keeping emission levels low enough to restrict global warming at most to 20C) and other related constraints are to be respected, then now there is no room for wasteful consumption and energy-use, for weapons production, wars, deforestation and increasing exploitation of fossil fuels. Once the constraints are clearly understood, then the case for strictly using the available resources and carbon space for meeting only the basic needs of all becomes very compelling and strong.

Similarly the case for world peace will become very strong.


Sep 14, 2017

Bharat Dogra [email protected]

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