Climate Justice

Fr. Lazar Arasu SDB

February 8, 2021

“You say you love your children above all else and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes. Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible.” These are words of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teen and a popular Environmental Activist. Her September 2018 speech in BBC went viral in social media. It was effectively delivered after her climate strike made outside the Swedish parliament.

Greta continued, “Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amount of money. Our biosphere is being sacrifice so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of many that pay for the luxuries the few… Until you start focusing on what needs to be done but rather than what is politically possible; there is no hope. We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis.”

In the recent weeks Holy Father Pope Francis has praised the efforts of Greta in several audiences and recommendations. He has invited the world community to listen to this little but powerful voice that is timely and of utmost importance.

We live in a global village. The reality is both positive and negative. Life in a village is often shared. The problem of one person is often becomes problem for everyone. It is very true of environment issues. Pollution created by one person is always suffered by rest of the people in the village. Destruction such as deforestation, contamination of water, pollution of air, etc is always shared by everyone. Everyone becomes a victim of environmental wrong committed by one or a few.

In the same way, unfortunately in the global scene the effects of climate change are felt most acutely by people who are least responsible for causing the problem. Communities in the global South (majority of them form the third world countries), suffer the environmental crimes committed by the industrialised north, the rich and affluent countries who over consume our planet’s resources.

The people of the South have least access to resources (though they have resources but are unable to exploit them) and technology to adapt to the consequences and to act to reduce their emissions.

Climate justice means addressing the climate crisis whilst also making progress towards equity and the protection and realization of human rights. Justice should begin with the individuals, small communities, nations and universe as whole.

Fortunately, more and more we are becoming conscious that the environment crisis of today is caused by injustice at all levels—international, national and up to the grassroots level in any given community. Injustices are enshrined in the political systems that favour the small minority of elite and chosen class of people and discriminating and oppressing a vast majority of people.

Justice delayed is justice denied. Climate injustice needs to be addressed as an emergency; delay will surely cause catastrophe for everyone. As it addresses the injustice, it should promote equity and protection and realization of human rights—earth and its resources are meant for everyone, not just for the elite and those already developed.

One of the concrete ways of protecting environment is to go fossil free by 2030 and find alternative source of energy in renewable energy such as solar, wind, water, etc. especially by the developed European countries. The developed countries must also provide adequate and appropriate finances and transfer of clean technology for developing countries to repay their ‘climate debt’ and compensate for their ‘climate crimes’.

In our own land, we witness wetlands and public lands that having implication for the entire community are illegally given to the investors who put up factories cheaply and reap large sums of profit. Local tycoons and landlords indiscriminately cut down trees or lease large chunks of land for making charcoal that are sold expensively in Kampala and other towns. Wealthy transporters with high level connections empty river banks, lake shores and wetlands of sand and sell expensively to big construction companies real estate owners. Well to do entrepreneurs and factory owners dispose of toxic waste and fumes caring little for environment and health of those living in the neighbourhood.

For example, often ground water from areas occupied by poor people is sucked by rich bottled-water makers and sells them to town dwellers and those who afford to buy them. At the end, the poor are left with contaminated water, which is neither good for drinking or cultivation or often times left with dried wells and streams.

City dwellers who can afford bottled water and other bottled beverages dispose of the bottles carelessly causing great danger to the environment. At the same time the rich manufacturers and distillers do not have any policy on environment and are not willing to invest in the recycling process. Country seems to have excellent laws on plastic/polythene bags. Their ban was short lived. Rich manufacturers find ways to dodge laws and continue to produce them and market them with impunity. Those who really suffer from the plastic pollution are people who live in the slums and fringes of the society.

In the same way, with loose import laws, the government allows imports of sub-standard and short-lived goods making the nation a heap of garbage bin.

Justice can be implemented only when everyone are aware of the laws and dangers of not keeping the prescribed laws and guidelines. Let the government and the civil society continue educate people on climate justice and help the society to keep them.