CLIMATE JUSTICE AT COP26: Why we need an intersectional approach to climate activism

The climate crisis is affecting some parts of the planet more than others. But especially those most affected people and areas are not represented adequately at the COP in Glasgow. Continue reading to find out why climate justice at COP26 matters.

Same storm, different boat

One of the results of the negligence of the richest and most industrialized part of the world is the climate crisis, which impacts different populations in different ways. So, yes, we are all under the same storm, but not on the same boat. And yes, we must rely on each other to fight it, but those who started the climate emergency must take responsibility for it and act accordingly. We need climate justice now.

Our life on earth was made possible by a series of delicate balances and intricate systems. We all have a common responsibility to keep this equilibrium intact and to leave this amazing place like we found it. And we depend on each other to do it. However, the wealthiest people on this planet  have increasingly altered our planet and have overcome a series of fundamental boundaries. MAPA: the only acronym you need to fight the climate crisis.

MAPA – Who are the people and areas most affected by climate change?

Those who are the least responsible are those who are already paying the worst consequences of the climate and ecological breakdown. Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion call these populations “MAPA”: Most Affected People and Areas. This definition does not create ideological barriers and is not merely a geographic term, but considers all the different talks of life of various people. However, often the term refers to people most affected by climate change in the Global South. In the words of Fridays For Future MAPA, “The factors making us the most impacted by the climate crisis are not just limited to geographical aspects but also socio-economic aspects that systematically make it difficult for us to adapt.”

The climate injustice towards MAPA is more than the impacts of a crisis that they have not caused. It’s about how systemic exploitation and neocolonialism intersect and amplify the climate crisis for the majority of the world population. This is why we need an intersectional approach to face the climate emergency.

Intersectional climate activism – what does it look like? 

“Intersectionality” is another fundamental concept in climate action. We cannot understand this definition without recalling the work of Kimberle Crenshaw, a leading scholar of critical race theory and the creator of intersectional theory. According to Crenshaw, “Intersectionality is an analytic sensibility, a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power.” 

Looking at the climate crisis intersectionality means recognizing different patterns, including:

So while the place in which you were born largely influences your situation, it is not the only element in place: some of the most affected people live in the world’s richest countries.

So what should countries do at the COP26 to push for climate justice?

Each country needs to shift its narrative on climate. Intersectional climate policies have been acknowledged by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, the United Nation body assessing climate science findings), which made the MAPA issue clear in the Special Report on 1.5°C

The IPCC identified three big inequalities:

  • The first is “the contribution to the problem”: The countries that benefit the most from industrialization are also the ones that initiated and fueled the climate crisis.
  • The second inequality is about the impacts of the climate emergency, which “tend to fall on those least responsible for the problem, within states, between states, and between generations.”, and the capacity to mitigate the climate crisis.
  • The third asymmetry is about “capacity to shape solutions”. At the international level, this means that MAPA are not always well represented in climate diplomacy and summits.

And here lies the big problem of the COP. Climate justice is not taken into account.

Climate inequality – what needs to change?

Without taking into account the voices of those most affected, climate solutions will turn into climate segregation as stated by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. On the one hand the heads of state know exactly where to park their jet in Glasgow. On the other hand, they are not even trying to bring those who are already experiencing the worst consequences of the climate crisis. 

This is also reflected in the management of the Covid-19 restrictions for delegates by the COP Presidency, as the lack of vaccines and tests will prevent many delegates from MAPA countries from taking part in the negotiations. Realising climate justice would mean prioritising that those countries are represented adequately.

“For too long, MAPA countries have been underrepresented while the biggest global polluters had the chance to lobby in the Conferences of Parties. “

Even if polluters will have no official role at COP26, the lack of MAPA voices is highly problematic and undermines the efficacy and fairness of the negotiations. What’s even worse is that this COP is supposed to be the make-or-break on climate finance and on the 100 billions fund promised in 2009.

In theory the fund should be mostly aimed at reparations of loss and damages for those who are already suffering the devastation connected to the climate crisis. In practice, the fund will be discussed in a conference whose presidency did little to nothing to bring the most important voices to the table. As of today, rich countries have already broken their pledge as they missed their $100 promise in the 2020-2025 period. Moreover, right now 71 percent of this climate money comes as loans. These funds were supposed to work as reparation to the historic injustices but they showed to be no more than a financial trick and fake gesture of kindness.

The IPCC had foreseen a fourth asymmetry in future response capacity. It states that some countries may be “left behind as the world progresses to a low-carbon economy”. From what we are observing in the development of COP26, this is already true.

What should the people less affected by climate change do?

While the climate movement in western countries has been largely driven by the narrative of teenagers fighting for their future. For the majority of the world’s teenage population the climate breakdown is already a reality. They are not simply fighting for their future, but for their present. For this reason, every group, movement, or association that is trying to do something about the climate emergency should prioritize the demands of MAPA, listen to their stories, and pass on the microphone. We need to  put their voices at the center of the debate on climate. As MAPA activist Mitzi Jonelle Tan said, MAPA are unheard, not voiceless.

This means that we need to check our privilege as white activists from the global north and decolonize our own activism. As a matter of fact, eurocentrism and white saviorism are extremely problematic in the climate movement. White saviorism undermines the independence, strength, and agency of MAPA by framing white outsiders as heroes. It’s a tale of generosity and life lessons that embodies white supremacy and hides a colonial mindset. The fact that this blog post is written by two white activists from Europe demonstrates this problem. 

Acting to face the climate emergency in a just way means that we must recognise these patterns and accept that we won’t solve the climate emergency without uprooting the system that reiterates supremacy, exploitation, and climate injustice.

People most affected by climate change – not voiceless, but unheard

MAPA are not voiceless, but unheard. They are actively resisting and if we continue with the logic that we need to help them, we will not get out of the saviorism logic of the white man’s burden. We should not “help” them, but support, stand-aside, give space, and express solidarity.  

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."
Lilla Watson at the UN Women’s Conference 1985 in Nairobi

There is nothing wrong with being privileged. As those without privilege, nobody chose where to be born. The wrong thing is not to acknowledge it and not use that privilege in a meaningful way. 

We are just at the beginning – Join the discussion!

Remember that this post is just a starting point to discuss MAPA issues and representation at the COP26. It summarises what we have read and studied over our years of protesting and raising awareness for climate justice. 

Get in touch with us and learn more about and from MAPA:

– > follow pages like Fridays For Future MAPA 
– > follow Intersectional Environmentalist on social media 
– > and read pillar texts such as Crenshaw’s “Critical Race Theory” and “On Intersectionality”.