Climate justice as a basis:

‘You have to shine a light on the whole chain’

5th of June

That climate justice must be included in climate research and policy is not so complicated to explain.  Yet Joyce Browne (associate professor of Global Health) and Corinne Lamain (director of the Centre for Unusual Collaborations (CUCo)) find that the issue is often not addressed well enough. They believe that this must and can be done differently. And that the KIN can make it happen.

The women already knew each other, but at one of the KIN’s prioritisation sessions, they found each other in their shared enthusiasm for justice. It should be the given and the outcome of any research project on climate. Joyce: ‘People agree that it is an important topic. As was evident when it came high on the list in both prioritisation sessions.’ On the day Joyce and Corinne attended, Joyce’s formulation even came out on top: ‘Embed (inter)national, regional, and local climate justice in all KIN initiatives so that they do not have negative social/environmental impacts on disadvantaged areas, neither now nor in the future.’

Willing to learn

Nevertheless, they could not find back the discussion in the report from the sessions. Joyce and Corinne wrote an email about it to the KIN. Joyce: ‘The KIN responded quickly and with clear explanations. We see an organisation that wants to do things differently, that is willing to learn.’ ‘The KIN does not want a separate research programme on the subject but intends to use it as a starting point in everything it will do.’ Corinne: ‘We agree with that. A huge amount of research is already available. The impact will be greater if it is indeed the basis of all steps. What is essential is the willingness to think about it and reflect on it throughout the process, from the very first moment. It’s not something you can add later, like ticking a checklist.’

Make the aspiration explicit

Corinne wants to emphasise the importance of not starting from scratch: ‘There is already so much knowledge in this field. Don’t expect every researcher to become an expert in climate justice, but make sure there are experts involved who can support this theme. I deeply believe that everyone involved in the KIN – or similar initiatives – wants to move towards a just climate policy. To make that happen, you must make that aspiration explicit and capture it in a clear vision. It should not be an obligation imposed on participants, but truly a shared vision.’

Balancing dilemmas

Joyce adds: ‘This is foremost a combination that can also make it enjoyable. By making it part of the group formation, for example. To pick climate justice as a starting point may not be so controversial, but the subject itself is, of course, complex. It’s not about simple tricks, you have to discuss the dilemmas together. It starts with the following questions: who decides what we will do; how do we involve the whole society; who are the most vulnerable; and how can we especially involve them, and make sure that they can participate in the process? You could form a moral case deliberation, as is commonly done in healthcare. You must always ask yourself what is the fairest thing to do.’

Shining the light on the whole chain

Corinne: ‘Take biodiversity, for example. Somewhere it is decided that countless trees should be planted in Asia and on the coast of Africa. But people live and work in those areas. Are those trees the only solution? Have alternatives been considered? Can we find a solution that is good for the planet as well as for the people who live there? You have to shine the light on the whole chain. The same story applies to farmers in the Netherlands, of course.’ ‘Yes, they have policies imposed on them constantly,’ agrees Joyce. ‘They were not at the drawing board. I don’t believe that many farmers necessarily want intensive livestock farming if we can work together towards other alternatives for farming in a way that supports nature instead of harming it.’ Both women understand that these are not always easy conversations to have. ‘If the farmers are at the table, another party might not want to join. But there are ways to make trade-offs that allow you to operate more inclusively and from equality in different forms of knowledge.’

International, national and local

With these examples, Joyce and Corinne want to show that the problem is relevant at every level. ‘It is always the most vulnerable parties who lose out; at international, national and local levels. That makes it so important to let justice be the starting point for any decision. In studies related to the Global South, you would expect that to go without saying, yet even there things still often go wrong. Corinne: ‘Even now, you regularly hear that “we should help people in poorer areas to develop.” The idea that we would know more about everything here is so presumptuous.’ Joyce nods in agreement. In her opinion, in is surprising that no contact had been made with, for example, a country like the Philippines when we had a serious flood here in Limburg. ‘While they have a huge amount of experience there. I’m sure we could have learned something from them.’

System changes take time

Corinne: ‘Invite the world. Don’t make decisions for people and their lives, but think about what is needed together with them. There is no difference between projects in the Global South or locally. Always be aware of your own influence and of the fact that you are the one with the money.’ Finally, Corinne wants to stress that we have to accept that significant systemic changes take time: ‘Please let go of the dogma of having to publish as soon as possible. Do share the lessons learned along the way by incorporating reflection sessions. The KIN has the potential to get out of the current bind in academia. In doing so, the organisation can really make a difference.’