Part One : Decolonising Climate Advocacy
What does it mean to decolonise the climate movement, and does the climate movement succeed in reflecting the struggles of our human race, including the marginalised communities? Klima Action Malaysia, Students for Global Health and Gerimis Art project have joined forces to create Project Weaving Hopes for the Future. The project aims to empower Malaysia's Orang Asli communities to meaningfully participate in decision-making spaces climate action, in particular, COP26. This global alliance made of these three organisations have planned this webinar on Decolonising Climate Advocacy which took place on the 4th of September 2021. With the help of Dr Renzo Guinto, our guest speaker, Project Weaving Hopes intends to highlight the intersectionality of climate justice and raise the voices of the global south and the vulnerable communities like Indigenous People.
Dr Renzo Guinto is a trained physician and a leader in the international discourse around advancing health security and cooperation in Southeast Asia and decolonising the field of global, public and planetary health.
"Decolonisation", what does it mean?
There is a growing interest in decolonising everything, including mental health, scholarships and even buildings named after slave owners and racists historical figures. Instigated by the COVID 19, Dr Renzo Guinto highlights that the pandemic has opened windows for all sectors to have a deeper reflection and interrogate our long-standing colonial practices and legacies. Through cross-disciplinary learning, we can transplant this knowledge and studies of decolonisation to the growing decolonising of the climate advocacy space. Our speaker passionately confirms that we need to brace ourselves for a long historical period of an unstable climate if we do not do something through climate advocacy.
Before unfolding the decolonisation of climate advocacy, Dr Guinto opens by pointing out the correct definition behind the different terms and where these terms are applicable.
The undoing of colonialism generally defines decolonisation, the end of the period of territorial domination of lands primarily in the global south by European powers. These countries are indeed liberated from colonisers, but what demands interrogation is the culture, mentality, language, governance structures and mental models. Are the victims of these colonisations truly emancipated from these colonial legacies?
These questions lead us to the second term, which is Decoloniality. Latin American scholars describe this as Untangling the production of knowledge primarily eurocentric; critiques the perceived universality and superiority of western knowledge and culture. There is still so much coloniality in global media, universities, governance structures and generally the way our society operates despite countries having gone through the process of decolonisation, Dr Guinto explains.
With that being said, Dr Guinto argues that the usage of western knowledge and culture is not wrong or inapplicable. However, colonialism has ushered the domination of western culture and the western knowledge production system and research methods that are currently used to answer the pressing questions of our time. This puts other forms of knowledge systems on the margins, and this includes indigenous knowledge systems.
On the other hand, Postcolonialism is the critical academic study of the cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism, which focuses on human consequences of the control and exploitation of colonised people and their lands. Nonetheless, the subject of postcolonialism is not the act of attacking, interrogating or untangling western knowledge. Rather, it is more of an interest in understanding what happened during the post-liberation period of colonialism.
What is decolonising climate advocacy?
The question at hand here - Is climate advocacy even decolonisable? When this question comes to mind, one would assume that this issue is about ensuring diversity in the climate advocacy space, amplifying global south voices and allying with the global north. However, Dr Guinto reiterates that there is more to it than all of the aforementioned problems. There are underlying deep-seated issues within the climate advocacy space that need to be decolonised on a grand scale which he breaks down in the following sub-topics.
DECOLONISING THE PLANET
Dr Guinto declares, "The most scandalous manifestation of human colonialism over nature is Climate Change". Humans have treated this earth with no respect for planetary boundaries or limits. We have burned fossil fuels, extracted resources, emitted greenhouse gases, manipulated the climate to the point where we finally see the consequences of a destabilised planet.
The contemporary behaviour of individuals and social systems are rooted in activities that took place way back in the past that involved destroying natural ecosystems. This, in turn, has generated an existential crisis of our time which is the climate crisis. This climate emergency that we are facing is the direct result of humans' colonial relationship with nature, which is why our first step should be to decolonise our relationship with the planet.
DECOLONISING THE FUTURE
Apart from the planet, we are indirectly colonising the future that belongs to the children who live today and the children who are yet to be born, Dr Guinto remarks. We have colonised the youth's ability to live, thrive and survive. As the young environmental activist Greta Thunberg has said, we have stolen from the future just as colonisers have done. A question to ponder-- how do we decolonise the future so that our children and their children in the next 100 years will be able to benefit from the earth and its thriving life-supporting systems?
DECOLONISING THE MOVEMENT
At first glance, one can already tell that the climate movement is very western, senior, and male-dominated, reminding us of the long-standing colonial ways. Dr Guinto reminds us that we need to dismantle the colonial features of this movement and ensure that more voices are being heard, especially from the Indigenous People and communities that have been marginalised.
Unfortunately, it is apparent that when indigenous people are invited to give speeches and make a statement, it often becomes more of tokenism rather than a deep and meaningful engagement. Thanks to the youth like Greta Thunberg and her peers worldwide who have joined in this fight, we see more meaningful participation from youth and projects like our own Weaving Hopes, demanding for the movement to be more diverse and inclusive of incorporating indigenous voices in this discourse.
DECOLONISING CLIMATE SCIENCE
Climate science is vital as it improves our understanding of our global climate and its consequences on human health, societies and ecosystems. However, the science itself needs to be decolonised as it is problematic due to the lack of diversity in its scientific research methods, gender, geography and disciplinaries. Although Africa, Asia and Latin America are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, the scientists who provide the answers and scientific advice for these problems are not recognised and not included in these elite scientific organisations and leading climate scientific bodies such as the IPCC.
Dr Guinto expresses that there is a dire need to interrogate the scientific paradigms that underpin the evidence. The IPCC reports should do more to capture indigenous and non-western systems and research. This is especially important to learn the methods Indigenous communities use to study, adapt, and face the issues compounded by climate change.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference, UNFCCC, for the past 25 years, is still steered by the big and rich countries that have been building their wealth at the expense of poorer nations. Until today, voices from climate-vulnerable countries are still ignored. The opportunity to contribute is limited and is only notified of the new outcomes from the discussions held by the more affluent countries, which frequently happen behind closed doors.
We also do not have strong international legal instruments for climate migrants. Wealthy countries often disregard these issues as it is assumed that this is an issue for the pacific islands and poorer countries who suffer from extreme weather events. We must decolonise negotiations, and it is our responsibility to question the representation and participation at these COPs to ensure that the outputs are truly universally acceptable and responsive not to the need of some but to the needs of all.
DECOLONISING THE SOLUTIONS
Many climate solutions are built on archaic concepts and often symptomatic rather than uprooting the system. Dr Guinto reveals that industry leaders are promoting green technology and tech transfer from the rich to the developing countries without tackling the root cause of climate change, such as overconsumption and unsustainable consumption.
Dr Guinto does agree that adapting to low carbon tech in transportation and energy and reducing meat consumption does help. However, certain parts of the world are malnourished and do not even have access to food. Another issue raised by Dr Guinto is that the Climate Crisis is being taken advantage of by giant transnational corporations who do a lot of greenwashing to enhance their credibility without substantial and lasting changes in the political economy that underpins the climate crisis.
"We are focusing on the symptoms rather than the true aetiology of the disease. We are resorting to short term cures rather than coming up with a planetary vaccine which is the redesign and reorientation of the global economy to emit less and adapt more," says Dr Guinto.
DECOLONISING THE VICTIMS
We need to realise that we are colonising the victims of the climate crisis. The regions facing health, agriculture, and social consequences have layers of vulnerability, including weak health systems, energy poverty, human conflicts and a very limited capacity to address climate change issues. For smaller state islands too small to be magnified, these countries will cease to exist by 2030 due to sea-level rise. This proves inequity and injustice as the leading emitters continue to pollute, and the ones suffering the most do not benefit from the existing climate financing and legal instruments. Our failed policies and actions have exacerbated the situation and made it more difficult for these victims to adapt.
So what needs to be done ?
Read key messages and reminders from Dr Guinto in part 2 :
Author : Anise Kaz