Justice Based Planning Needed to Tackle Climate Change

climate justice 1

Various development models which sought to reduce poverty and deprivation in the past tried to link the production/availability of various essential goods and services with the available financial and natural resources. However with the accentuation of the environmental crisis there are new challenges and pressing needs. It is well recognized by scientific opinion that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions have to be decreased rapidly. Hence availability of various goods (capital as well as consumer goods) and services has to be linked not just to the availability of natural and financial resources, this must also be linked to greenhouses gas emissions being kept at certain predetermined low levels.

It follows from this that there is need for more careful and improved planning, and for higher skills in planned economic development. However at precisely the moment when there is greater need for planning and for better and more skilled planning to take care of more complications, there is actually a strong and widespread tendency to discourage planned economic development in most countries, a rapid drift towards laissez faire and the reason for this is that this drift is best suited to the interests of big business. As soon as you carry out careful planning exercises bringing in the carbon space, the available resources and the needs of all people, several ventures of big business involving wasteful use of resources for luxury consumption are revealed to be non-viable, ecologically and socially if not in a narrow economic sense, and this is what big business wants to hide.

Actually the challenge before us in these times of ecological crisis is an even bigger one, as the ecological crisis is much more than just climate change, and we need to learn to operate within several kinds of planetary boundaries. But even as we prepare to do so, we cannot forget the big justice-based challenge of meeting the basic needs of all people. While there are several proposals being discussed regarding the challenge of functioning within various planetary limits, there is very little discussion on meeting the needs of all people of world in satisfactory and sustainable ways while remaining within planetary limits. What is more, even when one sees rare examples of such attention being given, there is absence of voicing the need of planned economic development for this as planning is somehow associated with a socialist model of growth which is to be discouraged. Hence the clear need for more planning, for better, more detailed and in some ways more sophisticated planning which is clearly needed is being brushed aside from the international agenda. Least of all attention is given to the fact that in order to meet the twin objectives of remaining within the planetary limits and meeting the needs of all people in sustainable and satisfactory ways, it is absolutely essential to increase equality and justice at the international level as well as within various countries. This thinking is discouraged despite its obvious great relevance and need because this is entirely the reverse of the dominance driven agenda of imperialism.

Hence most of the agenda actually discussed even at international conferences is generally highly reductionist even taken at its best, and ignores wider realities, needs, possibilities and potential. The urgency of reducing GHG emissions is widely recognized at least in principle but much of this discussion has been in terms of replacing fossil fuels by renewable energy resources. While this is obviously very important, the question is whether this is adequate?

Most honest opinions appear to suggest that this by itself will not be adequate. We need to think also about eliminating or significantly reducing a lot of wasteful production and consumption. Since most of the wasteful consumption is by the rich, reduction of inequalities is likely to lead to a reduction in wasteful consumption, particularly if it is guided carefully keeping in view this wider objective.

At the same time the objective of meeting the basic needs of all people  must be reframed and linked to the new additional constraint that the needs of all have to be met within a certain limited carbon space or greenhouse gas constraint ( as well within other planetary boundaries). . If the carbon space is very limited and the needs of all are to be met within this then clearly again it is very important to curb all wasteful production and consumption as much as possible and for this reduction of inequalities is also very important and useful.

Hence the need for a more equal world gets additional and very important support from the need for environment protection. When the issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is linked to meeting the basic needs of all then it is much more likely to get large-scale support of people, particularly people from economically weaker sections.

The extremely important issue of reducing GHG emissions has not yet become an issue of mass mobilization particularly among weaker sections. The reason is obvious – people are too involved in their day to day problems. On the other hand, if any world level planning for reducing GHG emissions is linked to meeting the basic needs of all people, then this will be a plan in which all weaker sections will have a vital stake. Hence mass mobilization on such a plan for meeting GHG emission reduction targets while meeting basic needs of all will be possible. This will also increase the opportunities for movements of justice and environment protection to work in close collaboration with the environmental movement.

One can think of several wasteful and harmful products ranging from pesticides and herbicides to tobacco and alcohol whose production and consumption can be curbed significantly without reducing welfare in any way, rather adding to it, and the challenge is to achieve this in creative and democratic ways using education and public campaigns. However the most harmful and wasteful production line is that of weapons, the only product whose success and worth is actually measured by how many people it can kill and how quickly. Hence while searching for ways of reducing wasteful production the number one target should be weapons; the less these are produced and used at world level, the less will be the destruction caused by them.

Actually as soon as  a comprehensive plan linking reduction of GHG emissions with meeting basic needs of all people is prepared, it becomes obvious that in terms of the constraints of carbon space and other related constraints, there is no place in such a plan for most wasteful production and consumption as well as for weapons. Hence disarmament and concerns of the peace movement are built into such a plan.

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

This plan can 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 and their ammunition 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 and 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 of communities 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 renewable energy sources 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 as far as possible to 1.50 C) 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 the basic needs of all becomes very compelling and strong.

This also implies that the agenda of environment protection, justice/equality and peace/disarmament must be integrated together very closely, also providing many opportunities for close cooperation of movements of peace, justice and environment protection, and also that there is increasing need for more, better, comprehensive and sophisticated planning.

 Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children and When the Two Streams Met.

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