Blog Post

How do we conceptualise the intersection between climate justice and future justice?

We are approaching an important 12 months in the global climate change negotiations. The Peruvian Government is currently hosting the COP20 from 1-12 December in Lima. This will pave the way for the COP21 next year in December in Paris.

It is in this context that we feel the need to explore the connections between our work on the institutionalisation of the protection of future generations at all governance levels and the debates and negotiations on the global challenge of climate change. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Article 3.1, states that ‘the Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind’.

The greatest threat to sustainable development is climate change. The effects of climate change will make it extremely difficult to generate “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland 1987). This is because current generations whose subsistence rights, such as right to food, water and shelter are imperilled by the effects of climate change are unable to act in a long-term manner. People faced with existential challenges brought about by drought, flooding and climate migration are unable to work towards sustainable development because their day-to-day lives pose a major survival challenge.

Individuals in such situations do not have the luxury of making choices that enhance the opportunities of future generations such as environmental protection or ensuring their children can receive an education. Even some entire governments are too preoccupied with the immediate threats to their populations (think of the serious flooding in Bangladesh and the immediate dangers of rising sea levels to Small Islands States such as Samoa and Nauru) to be able to meaningfully engage in long-term planning.

The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice (MRFCJ) has developed seven principles of Climate Justice that inform the foundation’s work:

  • Respect and Protect Human Rights
  • Support the Right to Development
  • Share Benefits and Burdens Equitably
  • Ensure that Decisions on Climate Change are Participatory, Transparent and Accountable
  • Highlight Gender Equality and Equity
  • Harness the Transformative Power of Education for Climate Stewardship
  • Use Effective Partnerships to Secure Climate Justice

Climate Justice is intended to protect and give voice to the peoples most affected by the impacts of climate change. MRFCJ defines these groups as the poor, the disempowered and the marginalized across the world. This is where the intersection of Climate Justice and Future Justice lies. Future generations are precisely these vulnerable groups in decades and centuries to come.

Brundtland’s definition of sustainable development perfectly encapsulates this intersection: “development that meets the needs of the present” is the Climate Justice aspect, referring to the commitment to support the right to development. “Without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” refers to an intergenerational commitment to ensure future generations will have the ability to meet their needs. And as Brundtland says – the two aspects need to be achieved in sync. We cannot have one and not the other. Ensuring justice for the future at the expense of current generations would be a violation of Climate Justice because the progress for current generations to develop and lift out of poverty would be slowed or halted. However, pushing development of current generations that is unsustainable by foreclosing opportunities for future generations would be in contravention of Future Justice. Thus, seeking win-win solutions is vital. Innovations and negotiations must strive to protect the present poor and vulnerable peoples whilst protecting these same groups in the future.

Posted by Future Justice on 8 December 2014

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