Action, justice, and heroism for our climate

Join the FAUW Climate Justice Working Group on the National Day of Action for a Just Transition towards a sustainable future (Huron Natural Area, March 12, 2-4 pm)

Altay Coskun for the Climate Justice Working Group

More than two years into the pandemic and two weeks into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is difficult for climate action to make top headlines. But thanks to the heroism of the Ukrainian botanist Yakiv Didukh, the latest conference of the International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) aroused unexpected attention. He attended remotely from Kyiv and thus dropped out when required to retreat into the bomb shelters during Russian attacks, but returned to finalize his task on the final report. The Ukrainian delegation is quoted (by Reuters) to have “expressed how upset they are that this will distract from the importance of our report.” But perhaps it is rather the other way round: their courageous action will expose how shallow our own commitment to a swift and just transition has been all along. We can do better; we must do better. In Canada, we are blessed that we can explore adequate climate action and the facets of climate justice in a peaceful environment. This also means we have fewer excuses.

Most of us do not have a deficit of understanding, but one of justice and courage.

On February 28, 2022, the IPCC reported on “Impact, Adaptation and Vulnerability” (Sixth Assessment Cycle Report II) to the Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres. The report is available in multiple formats, to allow for differing levels of understanding (I recommend the FAQs version for non-specialists such as myself). The scientific evidence for human-made climate change and the devastating effects on our planet have never been presented with more accuracy or with a higher level of urgency. The current commitments by nearly all states fail to meet the challenge described in previous IPCC reports. Even worse, those earlier reports were built on assumptions about the pace of climate change that, so we are now told, were much too optimistic.

One may doubt, however, that more scientific data will be the game changer. Most of us do not have a deficit of understanding, but one of justice and courage. Indeed, the notion of justice is ever more often evoked in political and scientific declarations relating to climate change. It played a significant role in the 2015 Paris Agreement. In the run-up to the federal elections of 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to pass a Just Transition Act, for which we are still waiting.

The latest IPCC report defines three components of climate justice:

distributive justice which refers to the allocation of burdens and benefits among individuals, nations and generations; procedural justice which refers to who decides and participates in decision-making; and recognition which entails basic respect and robust engagement with and fair consideration of diverse cultures and perspectives.

We must acknowledge that there is barely any area of climate change and climate action that does not involve serious aspects of justice or injustice. Often tedious and at times conflictual negotiations are thus inescapable, but they should no longer procrastinate urgently needed action. Much climate action needs to happen while these discussions are ongoing. When a house is on fire, the anticipated costs of the fire fighters must not hold us back from calling 911. Delayed action only increases the level of injustice: imposing the cost of climate change on those who are more vulnerable is as unjust as increasing the expense of climate action on the next generation – if only there were a full generation left that could fix the problem. The IPCC report claims that there is not, the window for decisive change is going to close within the 2020s.

As we have been seeing for decades, nationally and internationally, the most effective ways of overcoming the knot of seemingly just excuses are courage and generosity: the generosity of paying more than one’s fair share is indeed a higher form of justice. It requires the courage of potentially losing votes, since democratic systems do not always reward investments into sustainable solutions. But not even this is a high risk in Canada, since climate awareness and solidarity are relatively high. And yet, when we are still hesitating, the example of our Ukrainian colleagues can give us the moral push we need.

Join us in working toward a Just Transition

The FAUW Climate Justice Working Group has been both wrestling with the complex requirements of justice as well as gaining inspiration from this powerful notion. The group is now inviting anyone interested from the University of Waterloo and Kitchener-Waterloo communities to join them in “Just Transitioning” through the Huron Natural Area, 801 Trillium Drive, Kitchener, on March 12, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. (see website and flyer with map).

While aiming to reach out more effectively into our local community, this event also follows the call of the Council of Canadians and 350 Canada for a National Day of Action for a Just Transition. The same day will also see the theatrical opening of a Ministry of Just Transition on Waterloo Town Square at 11:00 a.m., organized by students from WLU and UW.  

All of these events will try to articulate in creative ways the importance of accelerated climate action and a Just Transition into a sustainable future.

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