In the spotlight

Climate justice from below

At the 2015 United Nations (UN) climate summit (also known as COP21) movements from around the world converged on Paris, France to demand that governments come to a binding agreement to reverse the global climate crisis. The movements demanded climate justice – understanding that unless serious action is taken, unpredictable and extreme weather events will continue to threaten the lives of hundreds of millions of people, including and especially peasants, Indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, small-and-medium size farmers, women and youth.
With the signing of the Paris Agreement, governments gave top priority to a host of antidotes they claimed would reduce dangerous greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Some even claimed they cared about increasing peasants’ resilience to the impacts of global warming. These false solutions, including geoengineering, carbon markets, so-called Climate Smart Agriculture, Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) and other schemes all further degrade life on Mother Earth. With the focus on green and blue money-making reforms and business-as-usual fossil fuel burning and extraction the corporate sector, backed by international finance was given a green light to grab more and more land, water, seeds, and livelihoods from the people and the Earth. Yet, in Paris and beyond, La Via Campesina (LVC) has worked with our allies to challenge capitalists’ false solutions and to put forward food sovereignty as a fundamental, ‘true’ solution to the multiple crises generated by the corporate food system.

One year after COP21 — and just days after the Paris Agreement officially came into force — La Via Campesina met on the outskirts of Marrakech, Morocco for a movement-led Climate Justice Seminar and Training held parallel to COP22. The goals of the seminar were to deepen and create a shared understanding of the climate crisis and improve our capacities to build and strengthen solutions to capitalism and its crisis. LVC delegates and allies came from Zimbabwe, Ghana, Palestine, Morocco, Tunisia, Guatemala, Venezuela, Brazil, Indonesia, India, France, Germany, Canada and the United States.

In dialogue with one another, and based on first-hand experience in popular struggle, training participants developed a framework for realizing climate justice grounded in food sovereignty called climate justice from below. Climate justice from below is a radical commitment to movement building that seeks to strengthen a fundamentally different, life-affirming society with its political economy that is controlled by and for grassroots communities, including peasants, Indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, landless rural workers, informal sector workers, and especially women and youth amongst them.

At the Marrakech seminar participants discussed and developed four themes of struggle to guide their commitment to climate justice from below:

1. False Solutions to the Climate Crisis: governments and corporations at the UN COPs are making decisions that go against the interests of the Earth and her citizens. From the perspective of the capitalists and their supporters, carbon markets, Climate Smart Agriculture and other false solutions are needed because they promote corporate profits. From the perspective of the people, these mechanisms are not solutions at all because they serve only to worsen global warming and further privatize and commodify Mother Earth and human lives. According to Dena Hoff (National Family Farm Coalition, USA), “Climate Smart Agriculture is just another scheme. It is another method for the corporations to gain more control over the food system by subordinating local food chains and extracting wealth from the soil.”

2. Capitalism as one of the root causes of the Climate Crisis: Even if all economies based on coal and other fossil fuels’ extraction contribute to climate change; the seminar participants agreed that capitalist relations are the main root cause of global economic, social and ecological crises. Capitalism is understood as a system of exploitation and dispossession that is based on private ownership over nature and the means of production while imposing a hierarchy of labour power that keeps working people, peasants, and indigenous peoples from uniting against capital. In this hierarchy, working men [Men dispossessed by their resources, working men with or without wage.], mostly white, are close to the top and are given privilege – a wage. Women, especially women of colour and Indigenous women, are at the bottom of this hierarchy, largely excluded from the wage and most exploited and threatened by capitalism. With the deepening crisis of neoliberalism, younger generations are forced into exploitative conditions at the bottom of the hierarchy. However, these groups are not just victims of exploitation but agents of change who are using their power within the commons to build movements for system change from below. Isabelle soc Carrillo (Coordinadora Nacional de Viudas de Guatemala) highlights the centrality of Indigenous women’s actions and perspectives to climate justice movements: “The women who have led our struggles have been clear when defining our position against the business deals made with the government because we don’t want companies imposing their way of life on us. We will continue our struggles, and will never stop, until the government listens to us. In Guatemala we have our own cosmovision and we are struggling so that one day it will be respected. Mother Earth is not a business, she is not a commodity, and she cannot be priced. … An understanding must be reached between the land and us, as we are the land. We are one; we are all one with the Earth. The Earth can perhaps survive without us, but we cannot survive without Mother Earth.”

3. Convergence of movements to strengthen grassroots global justice: Delegates to the Marrakech climate seminar agreed that convergence and alliance building was a priority for achieving climate justice from below. Convergence is a process of forming alliances and solidarities across movements. It is often the case that groups working on issues of energy sovereignty, human rights, desconstruction of patriarchy, Indigenous sovereignty, and food sovereignty are separate – doing their ‘own things’. This separation makes it difficult for movements to harmonize our views and develop joint actions. Collectively, grassroots coalitions, social movements, peasants and farmers working for climate justice are on the frontlines leading the struggle. By forming alliances, we are taking concrete steps to embolden our struggle. Alliances help us bring successes and therefore more hope to the hearts of people to continue to fight capitalism and defend life on Mother Earth.

4. Stories of struggle for climate justice from below: delegates to the seminar shared stories about the work they are doing in their own territories to strengthen climate justice from below and resist ‘green’ agribusiness and Big Energy. For example, we heard delegates from: Brazil fighting mega energy projects and promoting community controlled energy and food systems; Palestine working for farmers to have access to the land, water, and local seeds; Tunisia defending peasant land occupations that build agroecology and autonomous communities; Indonesia defending and reclaiming land in order to implement agroecological projects; India challenging corporate control over seeds and promoting peasant control over food production; Morocco organizing on multiple fronts to regain democratic control over land and establish social justice and; United States confronting environmental racism and colonialism through anti-fossil fuel and pro-food sovereignty direct actions and initiatives. These local solutions are globalized through our networks to create a global movement of movements with women and youth at the forefront.

Outcomes: The insights generated by participants at the Marrakech seminar are especially useful now as more and more people, organizations, and movements — with women and youth at the forefront — rise up against capitalisms’ multiple crises. In the context of dramatic evidence that climate change is happening now and everywhere, mobilizing for climate justice from below is ever more urgent. As our movements expand and multiply, we strengthen our capacities to fight successfully against capitalism and for a truly just society that benefits all peoples and Mother Earth.