What do 5,000 young protesters taking to the streets in Geneva and some Bangladeshi farmers have in common? The answer, according to a group of speakers who met in Nations, Geneva on 21 January 2019 to discuss why climate justice matters and what can be done, is that both groups are trying to find solutions for climate change.
Few can deny that climate change is happening and that its effects are being felt now, today, around the world. Least of all those whose homes have been washed away by floods and who can no longer grow crops on the lands their families have used for generations because of the salination or pollution of ground water. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that the people who are impacted the most by the devastating effects of climate change are the ones striving the hardest to adapt to the challenges it brings – namely, those whose lives and livelihoods are being directly affected by it, such as youth, women and Indigenous Peoples. And, while none of us may know what the future will hold, we can focus our efforts on what we can do – strengthening those on the frontlines of climate devastation and helping to build their resilience in the face of it.
Essentially, this is the message from the speakers at the Climate Justice event that took place in Nations. Swiss-based funders Oak Foundation and Helvetas, along with Alliance Sud and the Climate Justice Resilience Fund (CJRF), came together to share their vision for promoting climate change resilience with a group of policy members and foundations based in the Geneva region. ‘One of the injustices of climate change is that many of the people who are least responsible for it are being hit first by it,’ says Heather McGray of the CJRF. ‘But let’s remember, they are also the first to respond and adapt. We need to strengthen those people to come up with solutions, not just for themselves but those who are coming behind them.’
The speakers – Douglas Griffiths and Anne Henshaw of Oak Foundation, Heather McGray from the CJRF, Barbara Dietrich from Helvetas and Jürg Staudenmann from Alliance Sud – consider climate change to be the most consequential issue of our day, and that more funds need to be mobilised to address the crisis. ‘We need to invest in a resilience fund,’ says Jürg. ‘Up till now, climate change has been seen as a technical issue and the social aspects have not really been taken into account, nor how climate change concretely affects people’s lives. But people are starting to realise – youth are starting to realise especially – that our future is being gambled with. This is not just about a negotiation with the governments, this is about people. You just have to look on the street to see what’s happening – at the protests in Geneva on the weekend and movements such as the ‘Yellow Vest’ in France and across Europe. We need to sit up and take notice.’
Climate change effects include mass migration as people leave eroding coastal areas and once fertile but now arid lands in order to make lives and livelihoods for themselves elsewhere. The refugee crisis in recent years in both the United States and Europe took on epic proportions not seen since WWII. But while climate change exacerbates pre-existing social inequities related to poverty, famine and hardship, it also has enormous social implications that people don’t even think of. Child marriage, for example. ‘What will an impoverished farmer do if he can’t feed his family?’ asks Heather McGray. ‘Well, he will marry off his daughters, even if he knows they are too young. Because starvation is the alternative. But examples like this indicate how there can be a cross-over in climate justice efforts and in other funding areas, such as women’s rights work, for example.’
The event put the focus on finding ways to join forces across domains and with other funders, governments and organisations to strengthen the resilience of those on the frontlines of the devastation climate change brings. Concrete examples currently underway include: trusting that people most affected by climate change know best what they need; supporting indigenous farmers to raise their voices and demand just policies and programmes that recognise their solutions; providing practical, hands-on training in adaptive farming techniques, such as building irrigation channels or graduated farming terraces; strengthening the sustainable livelihoods of small holder farmers so that they can trade their goods on expanding markets; and raising awareness of their situations at international levels.
‘We seek to strengthen the people closest to the problem, and respect their first-hand knowledge and their contributions to problem solving in the face of climate change,’ says Doug Griffiths, president of Oak Foundation. ‘We believe that foundations are uniquely positioned to help communities make progress on social justice, and should be comfortable strengthening from behind. We believe in the power of joining forces with other foundations, governments and projects to help raise awareness of these challenges and strengthen ordinary people on the ground.’
Would you like to find out more about climate change solutions? Watch these videos below by produced by the Swiss NGO DRR Platform and its member organisations Helvetas, HEKS EPER, Caritas and Zoï Environment Network.
Rachel McKee is Communications Officer at Oak Foundation