Climate Justice at COP 21

An Open Letter to Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Laurent Fabius, President of COP 21, and Delegates to COP 21

We are sixteen scholars, policy analysts, and climate activists from fifteen countries on six continents. We met in July 2015 at the Rockefeller Centre in Bellagio, Italy, to find ways to inject the idea of "climate justice" into global climate negotiations. We write with heavy hearts as you host COP21 in Paris, a city besieged by recent acts of wanton violence. For the people of Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Kunduz, and elsewhere, we express our deepest feelings of grief, love, and determination.

Climate change is the biggest threat to the future of the planet. We have seen the damage done by the fossil fuel corporations who are now holding us all back from developing a treaty that such fuels be phased out by 2050 at the latest. It is an issue of survival, especially for marginalised peoples: poor women, indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, pensioners, urban slum dwellers, and rural communities who are affected by drought and food shortage, and who are forced out as displaced populations. Our letter calls for centering gender, indigenous rights, and resource distribution so that humanity can enjoy a low-carbon, sustainable, and deeply democratic future.

The people and the landmass of Africa will soon be severely affected as will large parts of people living in Asia, who will experience average temperatures of more than 50 degrees Celsius in the coming decades. The Andes and Himalayan snowpacks are rapidly melting, with implications for the people dependent on their reservoir function. These are major impacts of climate change alongside the loss of productivity, and damage to infrastructure. As Superstorm Sandy showed in 2012, there are also threats to the commercial and real estate markets on the eastern seaboard of the U.S., despite this being one of the core sites of historic emissions. We also know that the COP21 negotiations must focus more sharply on the most vulnerable, e.g. who live in the Maldives, Kiribati in the Pacific, the Philippines in Asia, and Cape Verde off the west coast of Africa, all of whom face the risk of being drowned or losing their freshwater resources as sea levels rise.

So, the question is not if something is to be done, but what, and how? As a group we are united that the health of the planet demands an ambitious, equitable, legally binding and effective treaty. At a minimum, all countries must commit to reduced greenhouse gas emissions so that global temperatures rise no more than 1.5° Celsius. To achieve this, it is essential that COP 21 recognizes the critical need to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

It is critical that corporate lobbyists are kept out of the COP process; that discussions at COP 21 go far past mechanisms such as emissions trading because that distracts us from the need to reduce emissions in wealthy countries, who must commit to massive reductions in emissions; and it is critical to pay attention to the voices of those who bear the brunt of climate change.

The COP 21 has political significance, and could be the place to change the conversation about climate action by drawing on the energy of social movements and frontline work on climate action, especially that of young people. It could also energize a true collaboration among nation states, global negotiators, and the media.

Changing the conversation demands that we jettison the market model of dealing with climate change. Such models put the fate of the planet in the hands of financial markets which are already far removed from the dynamics of our everyday economies. At the same time, poorer nations should get access to generous, no-strings attached, new public funds directly from the governments that can afford it - such as the USA, the EU and Australia.

The idea of Loss and Damage is now accepted. COP 21 should address the liability of those who caused climate change. Collectively we have to imagine and create a post-carbon society and turn our backs on the energy, transport, agriculture, consumption, and financing systems that presently structure our lives.

Going forward, we ask that you centre justice in climate negotiations. This requires a close look at issues of inequity in current economic development, the overconsumption in much of the global North, and resource use everywhere.

Justice is critical. It is crucial for the elimination of poverty and malnutrition, and the urgent provision of free and high-quality education, shelter, and meaningful work for all of the world's people. The coming generation will help find solutions to our global crisis, but they must also live full and creative lives. After all, as the old saying goes, "we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children."

Inaction, half measures, and a non-binding treaty are not acceptable. Justice is.

Signed, in our personal capacities, by the core group of participants at the International Symposium on Climate Futures: Re-imagining Global Climate Justice at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center in Bellagio, Italy, from 14-16 July, 2015: Co-organisers: Priya Kurian and Debashish Munshi (University of Waikato, New Zealand: personal capacity) and John Foran and Kum-Kum Bhavnani (University of California at Santa Barbara, USA: personal capacity); and Majandra Rodriguez Acha (Peru), Ahsan Uddin Ahmed (Bangladesh), Reem Al Mealla (Bahrain), Anjali Appadurai (Canada), Mohamed Aslam (Maldives), Patrick Bond (South Africa), Anabela Carvalho (Portugal), Anna Perez Catala (Spain), Lagipoiva Savaliolefilemu Tiatia (Samoa), Erica Violet Lee (Canada), Yeb Sano (Philippines), and Sangion Tiu (Papua New Guinea).