Who gets to speak, to tell the story?: Reflections on COP25 Madrid, Spain
As a week two observer of COP25, Madrid, Spain, December 9-13, 2019, it was very clear to me that the most compelling voices were not those in the formal deliberations of parties. The speaking truths voices were those of youth, activists of the Global South, North, Black, Brown, Indigenous peoples. While the corporate and political classes dominated the discussions inside IFEMA, the outside voices, challenging, questioning, most clearly articulated the urgency of the moment. Without mincing words, they asserted that an economic order built on growth and extractivism is at the heart of the climate emergency we face and must be transformed.
As a U of MN observer and scholar activist, the issue of environmental justice guided my observations. Social justice and climate justice are inextricably linked. Those communities bearing the brunt of the current climate devastation within the U.S. and beyond are paying the heaviest price for climate disaster. In the US, these are the frontline, poor, Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities bearing the brunt of the devastation. In the global South, one of the most compelling aspects of the crisis is the climate disasters confronting the small island nations. Their very existence and way of life is at the highest risk. I say this as I spoke with activists and scholars from the African continent who are also confronting climate disaster, a continent on fire.
Complicating the Gender Action Plan
One of the positive turns at COP25 was incorporating the gender action plan in the Paris Guidelines.
The GAP, created under the Lima work programme on gender, seeks to advance women’s full, equal and meaningful participation and promote gender-responsive climate policy and the mainstreaming of a gender perspective in the implementation of the Convention and the work of Parties, the secretariat, United Nations entities and all stakeholders at all levels.
Yet the critical insights of Black, women of color, and indigenous feminists articulate an intersectional frame which was not captured in the GAP. To complicate this plan means moving beyond the idea of gender as uniform sameness. In fact, gender(s) is the deeply intersectional realities of race, class indigeneity, sexualities, that articulate gender complexities. This complexity was captured in the press conference held by WEDO, WECAN and the NAACP on Dec 10. The press conference centered a feminist Green New Deal which explicitly articulates an intersectional approach in the plan.
There is much work to be done. Official COP25 delivered little but for those of us committed to climate and social justice, I left with even greater commitment that:
- The local and global must be at the heart of our work. This means movement building with those committed to social change, seriously involved in struggles for social and climate justice here and there. We must have an internationalist lens to our work. This also means a fierce green struggle for us living in the US, demanding that not in our name will policies of devastation be foisted on the world. We must be in conversations on how individuals/groups organize, deploy political education, research, and build leadership. As scholars, activists, organizers, radicals, teachers, we must break out of canonic silos and be in deep interdisciplinarity around the scholarship of climate justice – infuse it, change it, build new knowledge(s) from below.
- This means serious intellectual work on how the knowledge and political insights of those most impacted by climate devastation in the U.S. can be developed, cultivated and shared. This involves building real political energy and motion. It is the task of deep movement building. But hard questions need to be addressed: How, in fact, is such movement building unfolding in the US? Surely the knowledge of Indigenous peoples must be respected and centered as core. Delving deeply into the meaning and practice of participatory democracy will be key.
- Understanding the nature of capitalist extractivism, its form, function, and alternatives is essential. We must bring to the table all who are committed to new visions of society, new relations to nature and all living things. We must organize for the majority of the people of the earth and the planet. What about the solidarity economy? New socialism? Urban gardens/food sovereignty, deep participatory democracy, etc.? What do we know? What do we need to know to build another world? These are the questions we must take on. Our very lives and the earth depend on it.