Why climate justice must be at the heart of the climate emergency declarations, not in opposition to them

Kelly Albion from AYCC recently shared a blog post arguing why declaring a climate emergency is not  climate justice:

There are several reasons why I think this stance needs broader reflection and why I think that climate justice can and must be a part of climate emergency declarations and plans.


Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

My key points are:

  • I disagree with the argument that climate emergency declarations are not able to recognise climate justice. Action and conversation to address climate justice can and must run along side/be part of action to address the climate emergency (and the nature/biodiversity emergency).
  • The climate emergency messaging is waking people up to the urgency but also, more importantly, to the availability of many of the solutions, like cheap, clean, green renewable energy. It gives people hope.
  • The climate emergency messaging woke me up to the climate crisis and my own agency to act on it.
  • Climate emergency plans are required to address the rapid response needed to address the climate crisis. They could be called other names, for example ”Green New Deals” but I think that climate activists in general would agree that bold and effective action is needed.
  • Climate justice does deserve greater focus. This is an excellent point that the article makes. I note that it is a big focus of work by the USA’s Climate Mobilization group. (https://www.theclimatemobilization.org/)
  • However, I think it is important to acknowledge the world-leading work of grass roots Australian groups and thought leaders on the climate emergency such as CEDAMIA (www.cedamia.org) and Climate Emergency Mobilisation (https://climateemergencydeclaration.org/), which this article omits to do. This idea originated as an Australian-led inititive, with input from the USA Climate Mobilization (https://www.theclimatemobilization.org/), despite it being picked up and amplified by the UK-originated Extinction Rebellion movement.

Ok here I go. This is my best attempt to address this issue and I hope the original ariticle and responses to it will  lead to broader conversations about how we can keep moving on the climate emergency while also bringing climate justice into the heart of the conversation more visibly and effectively.

In her article, Kelly Albion says that she doesn’t like the climate emergency messaging associated with recent declarations overseas, but she seems to have missed completely that the concept originated in Australia. I first signed a climate emergency declaration here in Australia in 2016, and it was the turning point for my own journey to become a climate activist. Steve Posselt took his kayak along thousands of km and Adam Bandt delivered the petition. https://climateemergencydeclaration.org/kayak/The thinking for this original idea of climate emergency declarations – that is waking up the world and penetrating despite the efforts of climate denying media corporations – originated in Australia through people like Philip Sutton and David Spratt – in groups such as cedamia.org and https://climateemergencydeclaration.org/. These guys rarely blow their own trumpets but I deeply admire what they are doing and have been doing. They have been campaigning on this for years, Climate Code Red came out in 2008. It is only now that we are seeing the movement growing with enough support from XR, Greenpeace, overseas school strikes and others to reach the masses, but it’s been a long time coming.

Climate justice and indigenous justice are critical issues. But they can be considered as part of a climate emergency declaration and plan. Based on the work done by cedamia.org and https://climateemergencydeclaration.org/and especially The Climate Mobilization in the USA (https://www.theclimatemobilization.org/), climate justice needs to be a central component of a climate emergency plan, which is expected of countries (and states and cities) declaring climate emergency.

As we saw in a recent report from the UN, in addition to facing a climate emergency, we have an ecological emergency on our hands. As climate scientist Michael Mann and Greta Thunberg and others pointed out recently on twitter, a #natureemergency and a  #climateemergency (and I would argue a #climatejusticeemergency and a #povertyemergency) can and must be compatible. We have wiped out over 50% of wild animal populations in the world in recent decades. Just as we can address the ecological emergency and the climate emergency together in many ways we also need to consider how we are addressing the climate emergency and climate justice and focus on approaches to meet both needs.

Kelly argues that the word “emergency” instils fear when we need anger, solidarity and hope. But to me, the words “climate emergency” imply an urgency to act, an immediacy of threats, as well as that there are solutions in this crisis. So the words are not simply terrifying, they are also empowering. My children are only 3 and 5. So their future is in my mind constantly, and the situation certainly feels like an emergency to me. But ever since my dad told me to “focus on the solutions” I have found the main feeling I carry is a fierce determination to do all that I can to protect the world for my own kids, for other kids and for the critters. I am going to side with Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg – we need people to panic. And then we need people to act.

The climate emergency messaging woke me up to the climate emergency, to the climate crisis, whereas climate justice messaging does not cut through in the same way. It suggests no urgent time frame. I believe that you need to message on both climate emergency and climate justice. They are both important, but climate justice messaging has not woken the world up on its own the way that climate emergency messaging is now doing. As scientist Katharine Hayhoe points out – different messaging can work best in different situations. But as we are starting to see a rise in climate emergency recognition it’s important that both messaging and action in this space do take on board principals of climate justice more broadly. Thank you Kelly for highlighting this.

I am someone who thinks of herself as addressing climate justice as best I can through amplifying indigenous and other diverse voices on social media, and respectfully listening when I have the chance to hear indigenous leaders speak. But of course I could and would love to do more. We all need to learn more about how to address climate justice, to ensure climate justice is addressed as part of the urgent ways we now must mitigate and adapt to climate damage around the world.

So I ask, How do we bring climate justice to the front and the heart of the conversation? We are seeing broad acknowledgement of intergenerational justice through the excellent worldwide coverage of the school strikes for climate. I acknowledge the work of indigenous Australians and other First Nations people, Pacific Islanders and others on the front lines of the climate crisis at climate action events I attend and on social media. We all need to be part of visioning and acting on real implementation of ways to rapidly address the climate emergency in the most bold, effective and just way possible.

I am encouraged by conversations I have had over the last couple of days with AYCC and others in regards to the elevation of climate justice in the ongoing climate advocacy work across Australia, and I also appreciated some guidelines which were sent to me by Kelly on how to reflect better on climate justice in how we talk about and address climate. I have shared these at the end of this post, with her permission, for people to reflect on. She also suggests reading the following: Leap Manifesto, Open Letter to Extinction Rebellion, Global Green New Deal. One thing I will argue is that I see a climate emergency plan as a green new deal. For me, a climate emergency declaration is a stipulation that something on par with a Green New Deal will be rapidly developed. We do need to give thought to what the ingredients for these are so we are, as people, ready to hit the ground running with the best ideas for bold climate action and climate justice. I’ve collated a few and I would love to add more that better reflect climate justice ideas. A global green new deal that provides for funding for less developed countries for adaptation and mitigation sounds like a key aspect for a climate emergency plan/green new deal.

The climate emergency declaration movement is continually gaining ground. With a declaration overnight by the ACT, the first Australian state or territory to do so. So let’s all keep talking about and acting to make sure we hold our government accountable to address the climate emergency and the ecological emergency and to do this in accordance with climate justice. Thank you for your provocation AYCC. Let’s keep going together.

Out of interest:

The first mention of climate emergency messaging in regards to the global school strikes was in Australia by one of the original strikers (Harriet) and I dare say the school strike asks (stop adani, no new fossil fuels, 100% renewables by 2030) look like they came out of the climate emergency declaration work by people like Jane Morton. Given this early mention, I can’t help but wonder whether the climate emergency work helped the school strikers in Australia find their own words that were able to convey how they felt about climate.

The work of Beyond Zero Emissions to develop plans to transition Australian to renewables rapidly can also be considered Climate Emergency scale work. But this excellent work didn’t get the media cut through when it was released in 2010 that we are now seeing with climate emergency messaging and declarations (and anticipated action).

One can argue that acknowledging the climate emergency preceded the Green New Deal in USA because Bernie Sander’s is counted as a mentor for AOC and as per this article  Bernie Sanders “succeeded in getting a Climate Emergency/mobilisation clause into the Democratic National Platform” in 2016.

So my recommendation is: a “yes and” approach: Absolutely, climate justice is critical. But it need not be presented at the expense of this powerful Australian-led climate emergency declaration movement. The movement which gives me such hope.

Additional notes on including climate justice in your climate advocacy from AYCC’s Kelly Albion (used with permission): 

We believe climate justice is the only way to quickly transition. What is climate justice, it’s not well-defined in our movements, but we think of it as:
  • Not just undoing a bad (the climate crisis by reducing pollution) but creating a good – a better, fairer, more sustainable world, where people are more connected to each other and nature, where communities thrive, with greater equality
  • Climate justice is not just where we’re going, but how we get there– led by those on the frontline, centring marginalised voices, working at the intersections of the crises and power structures, in solidarity with communities most affected, and is genuinely inclusive.
  • It is grounded on the principle of self-determination and justice of First Nations people
  • It is a massive transfer of wealth and decision-making power to people, in the world, in our country, in our movements, from those who benefit from systems of privilege and power to those who don’t.
  • It is putting power in the hands of people, and taking it out of corporations, and in doing so revitalising both our communities and democracy.
  • Here’s some links to ideas – Leap Manifesto, Open Letter to Extinction Rebellion,Global Green New Deal.


About the author: Heidi Edmonds is a co-founder of Australian Parents for Climate Action, a volunteer with Citizens Climate Lobby and is guided by the ideas and principles of CEDAMIA in her own climate emergency advocacy. This article, published on her own blog, climatekiss.com solely represents her own opinion, not that of the groups she represents


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