Climate Justice, Just Transition and the Urgency of Consequential Climate Action; By Jaye Gaskia

Jaye Gaskia

Setting the Context:

IT should be obvious that without climate change, and its increasingly deleterious effects and impacts, there wouldn’t have been any need for climate justice, just transition, or to take any climate action at all.

It is thus important to situate the drive for climate justice, for just transition, and to take climate action, within the context of the changing climate, the causes and drivers of this change, and the rising frequency of climate change events, and the intensifying nature of the consequent devastating effects.

What therefore is climate change? These are the changes that are occurring in the climate system that are caused by global warming, that is the rise in average global temperatures over time. This rise in average global temperatures have been more rapid in recent times and are attributed to the human activities and the burning of fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels have become the primary, source of energy powering the capitalist socioeconomic system, and thus central to the politics of the capitalist system.

Some industrial and agricultural practices, as well as deforestation, in addition to the use of fossil fuels produce and increase greenhouse gases [primarily carbon dioxide and methane] in the earth’s atmosphere. These greenhouse gases help to absorb some of the heat radiated by the earth from the heat received from the sun. The larger the amount of these gases in the atmosphere, the larger the amount of heat that is trapped, and consequently, the higher the rise in rate of average global temperatures, thus causing global warming; which in turn affects and causes changes the earth’s climate system.

The impact of these changes in the climate system are many and are becoming more and more devastating and deleterious. Some of these include extreme weather events, such as intense storms and droughts; more frequent and more intense heatwaves, wildfires; rapid desertification; while biodiversity is being drastically affected, with species loss and species relocation happening in impacted mountain, coral reefs and artic ecosystems, among others.

In addition to the general threat posed by climate change to life on earth and biodiversity, increased scarcity of water and food, increased flooding, extreme heat, increased economic and livelihoods systems loss, increased diseases, as well as increased tensions and conflicts, are some of the direct threats posed to humanity from climate change.

It is important for us to restate the fact that the primary driver of climate change is human activity and use of fossil fuel as the primary source of energy; because implicit in this understanding is the fact that changes to human activities and ending the use of fossil fuels are thus decisive forms of action to prevent further global warming and reverse climate change.

However, from the foregoing, it is important to identify and underscore the systemic drivers of the current nature and character of human activities, and the fossil fuel use. At the heart of climate change are twin processes and mechanisms central to the operation of capitalism and the capitalist mode of production [that is way and manner of producing, distributing, exchanging and consuming the goods and services required for sustaining society and human civilisation]; as well as to the capitalist relations of production [that is the relationships entered into between and among human beings, and between human beings and nature, in the production, distribution, exchange and consumption of these goods and services required for the sustenance and development of human civilisation].

These twin processes are on the one hand the rabid nature and character of the processes of exploitation of environmental [natural] resources – for instance the extractive processes in oil and gas, in industrial scale logging, of solid minerals, among others -; and the ruthless process of exploitation of human labour in the course of the destructive exploitation of these environmental [natural] resources; on the other hand.

Both processes of exploitation of environmental resources, and of exploitation of human labour in order to achieve the former are both undertaken to extract value and surplus value; and are both fundamental to the running of the capitalist economy as we know it.

It follows, that if we must put a stop to global warming, and we must, if we are to have any chance of surviving as a species; then we must also put an end to the fossil fuel use, embrace renewable energy, and more importantly also put an end to the exploitation of natural resources and of human labour.

Climate Justice and Just Transition:

Climate justice and just transition are two sides of the same coin – the coin of responding to climate change and addressing its causes and impact, while seeking to mitigate current impact and prevent future impact. In this sense, they are twin phenomena, neither of which can be achieved without addressing the other.

As twin phenomena and two sides of the same coin, they derive from the twin processes at the heart of the capitalist system responsible for global warming – the twin exploitation processes of natural resources and of human labour.

So, what is climate justice? What is just transition? And what is the nexus between them? But first, let me explain my use of the phenomenon of exploitation, which I contrast to utilisation.

Exploitation is an inherently and intensely unfriendly, aggressive, and profit driven processes. It is undertaken all for the sake of producing and increasing profits. That is why it places profits above people. That is why it is inherently unjust and with an inbuilt tendency to engender and increase inequality. This why regardless of the scale and scope of wealth that the capitalist economy is potentially capable of generating; as a system, it is incapable of engendering equitable access to and distribution of wealth; and as such its natural inclination and tendency is to produce and extend, over and over again, social injustice and social inequality.

Utilisation on the other hand, is indicative of a collaborative system of cooperation, where resources and human labour are utilised for the good of the society, and within which deliberate and intentional mechanisms and efforts and put in place and made to ensure inclusion, equity, equality and fairness, both in the contribution of each to the production processes towards the generation of the commonwealth, as well as to the allocation of benefits from the commonwealth to each member of the society, on the basis of their needs.

I am contrasting here, between a capitalist and a socialist mode of, and relations of production.

What therefore is Climate Justice? The concept addresses the just division, fair sharing, and equitable distribution of the burdens of climate change and its mitigation and responsibilities to deal with climate change. The concepts of Justice, Equity, and Fairness are very central to Climate Justice. The case for climate justice is made by relating the causes and effects of climate change to concepts of justice, particularly environmental justice and social justice. Thus, Climate justice examines and incorporates concepts such as equality, human rights, collective rights, and the historical responsibilities for climate change.

Approaching climate justice through the prism of Transformative Justice, helps to very powerfully underscore the concerns of climate justice, and can enable a prioritization of the urgency of identifying and explicitly redressing inherent and existing vulnerabilities and structural inequalities in society. In this way, the responses to climate change do not simply reproduce and amplify existing structural inequalities, but actually, seek to redressing such, thus leading their transformation. In this scenario, a vulnerable, marginalised, excluded, and powerless segment of society should emerge transformed, and no longer excluded and or marginalised through the undertaking of climate justice response actions.

Mass social organising and mobilisation of grassroots movements and social movements, have played very significant roles in the development, and promotion of climate justice, such that there now exist a strong climate justice movement, pushing the agenda of climate justice, and pushing it to the front burner of public and policy discourses on Climate change and climate action.

Climate justice is concerned with the impacts and effects of climate change on communities, on humanity, on the global ecosystem in general; and as a citizen’s driven movement and initiative is focused on ensuring justice, equality and fairness in addressing the causes and impact, as well as in addressing mitigation and prevention.

Meanwhile, Just Transition deals with ensuring justice in particular in energy transition, the transition away from use of fossil fuels, to environmentally sustainable and renewable energy sources, in particular for workers in general, and workers in the industries that will be affected by this transition. Essentially therefore, the concept deals with how to address justice issues – social justice and social equality – for working people who will be directly and indirectly affected by the changes that will be necessary in making the transition from fossil fuel-based energy to renewable energy.

The import of energy transition is immensely significant for workers, because given that the human economy is powered by energy, this transition will radically transform the global economy. This new economy form is already being called the green economy.

Thus, this transition will affect the nature of work, and the world of work, not just in the energy sector, of the economy, but across all sectors of the economy. It is little wonder, that Just Transition has emerged and is evolving as an initiative of organised workers, of their trade unions. It is thus a product of the trade union and wider labour movement.

As with Climate Justice, Just Transition is also built on the pillars of Justice, Equality, Equity, Inclusion, and Fairness. In other words, both movements are dealing with and responding to the same issue of climate change, from a general [Climate Justice – The Whole Society] and specific [Just Transition – Workers] perspective respectively; but on the basis of the same, not similar, parameters.

And herein lies the nexus between the two. But, even beyond the fact they are dealing with same issue, on the basis of the same parameters, it is important to note further that, Workers are not just human beings whose labour are exploited in the workplaces [that is not just workers in the workplace], they as workers also exist and live in communities, and as such are residents of communities and citizens of specific geographic administrative entities; as well as also being workers who are members of specific families [as units of human socialiastion], and live in specific homes as well.

In this three-dimensional sense of the worker – in the workplace, in the community, and in the family -, the worker thus straddles both the Climate Justice and Just Transition Causes, and is best positioned to play a unifying role, in bridging the two movements, bringing them together, and ensuring and enabling the joint coordination of the two movements for the benefit of humanity.

It is only in the coming together of these two movements, that our planet has any chance of being saved, and that life on our planet in general, and human life in particular, has any chance of surviving climate change.

Conclusion: The Urgency of Consequential [Climate] Action:

From the foregoing, it is clear that both the Climate Justice Movement and the Just Transition Movement are key and central to not only addressing and tackling climate change [its causes, its impact and effects, its mitigation and prevention]; they are also the only social forces, working together, that can force through the changes that have become urgent and necessary, while also activating the Agency of the people. It is only by activating, enabling and facilitating the Agency of the people – communities, workers – that the Urgency of the situation can be made real, and the Urgency of taking consequential actions can be realised. Here we have the coming together of Agency in the aid of Urgency.

To tackle climate change fundamentally, Transformative Consequential Action is necessary. This will require making and taking deliberate and intentional decisions and actions. One of the very first action, on which all others depend, requires the coming together of the Climate Justice and Just Transition Movements; that is the coming together of the Trade Unions Movement and the Social Movements. And in this we must give priority to the organised worker – in the workplace and in the community – to leverage the process of the coming together and joint coordination. To achieve this, it is not sufficient for trade unions to undertake climate justice and or just transition projects. While this is a problem that requires undertaking specific projects sometimes, it is not a problem to be solved through the projectization of the challenge.

Perhaps, the time has come for a global campaign to develop, adopt, and push through the implementation – on a local to global scale – of a Global Peoples Charter On Climate Justice And Just Transition: bringing together the concerns and demands, as well as proposed solutions of the two movements, and integrating specific vulnerabilities of geography and location, demography, and social identities; and including measures to redress structural inequalities; on the basis of the common principles of Justice, Equality, Equity, Inclusion, and Fairness.

Such a global process should be co-convened by the trade unions and the social movements [that is by the two broad movements – Just Transition and Climate Justice]; and should organic expressions at regional, continental, national and local levels.

Finally, it is important to reiterate that the causes of climate change are integral to the character of the two forms of exploitation processes – the exploitation of natural resources, and the exploitation of human labour in the exploitation of natural resources -, and are thus inherent to the capitalist system – its mode of, as well as, relations of production.

The implication of this is that the ultimate consequential climate action that is needed, is that which requires the fundamental transformation of the current global socioeconomic formation and the polity erected on it. To achieve irreversible success, and one that is based on transformative justice, humanity will have to transcend capitalism in making the just transition to the green economy – one based on the common and equitable contribution to and participation in the production process; as well as common and equitable participation in the utilisation of the proceeds of labour, and the products of the production process.

Comrade Gaskia is a member of the Secretariat of TPAP-M


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