past injustices and avoiding new ones. This requires everyone, not just governments but also non-governmental organizations, companies, the media and social movements, to embrace and implement all three elements of fairness – procedural, distributional and restorative – on an equal footing.
Procedural fairness looks at decisionmaking processes and ensures everyone affected has a seat at the table and is treated fairly.
Distributional fairness focuses on the effects of outcomes among and between groups, including how resources and the benefits and burden of inaction are shared. Restorative fairness prioritizes repairing the harm already done, both to nature and human relationships, by putting those who have been harmed at the centre of decision making and making the historic and systemic injustices that caused the harm in the first place visible.
Not everyone agrees with this and more time needs to be spent at COP discussing fairness, equity and justice. The mainstream view in climate negotiations, especially in the Global North, is that justice-based demands detract from the ‘real work’ of COP , which should focus simply on reducing carbon emissions through technologies, tools and mechanisms.
Any justice reset should start with the recognition that we need both insiders and outsiders. Those working on pricing carbon, delivering the billions of dollars and shifting the trillions are trying to reform the existing financial system, largely through ‘insider’ advocacy.
Those calling for climate justice are, by and large, calling for an overhaul of the existing system by shifting resources and political power to those with less. These people are termed ‘outsiders’ simply because their work is undertaken locally in communities and in and through challenging political systems that are ‘outside’ the COP focus on ‘systems, not symptoms’.
The insiders may be closer to those with power, but they need the outsiders because they are closer to ordinary people, speak from experience and for those excluded from power and are, therefore, better placed to speak truth to power.
There is growing convergence of a ‘movement of movements’ as insiders and outsiders agree that climate action requires global solidarity based on systemic change and cannot be solved by a patchwork of weak policies. None of this can happen, however, without rewriting the core operating codes
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A fisherman tries to free his boat from weed in Lake Chad which has been shrinking dramatically in recent years in what some claim is the result of climate change of the current world economy which measure GDP instead of wellbeing and are based on extractive growth that is impossible on a finite planet.
Decision-making should seek instead to secure a just transition centred on the wellbeing of people and the planet. Doing so will require a shift in power so all three elements of justice – procedural, distributive, and reparative – are given equal footing in the work of the COP.
What would a justice reset look like? The most important starting point is simply an official acknowledgement that poorer countries, indigenous people, small-scale farmers, children and the poor did not cause the climate crisis and will bear the adverse consequences.
An acknowledgement that fairness matters would bring insiders and outsiders closer together. This bridge building is needed because since when the UN negotiations first started, richer countries have not paid enough attention to the injustice faced by those most affected. Those raising social justice issues are regarded as naive. But they should be bolder and demand diplomats go through gender, racial and decolonization training so they can better support solutions to injustice and inequality. All too often the COP mindset has regarded the links between gender, race and poverty as tangential issues that shouldn’t take up negotiators’ time. This is staggering considering billions of people are affected.
A second suggestion is a reform of the proliferating agenda items and the institutions that handle them. In general, delegates from developing countries have dozens of agenda items they are trying to follow compared with those from better resourced developed countries. Perhaps, in the light of Covid , every country can be given proper digital access as well as the same number of in-person delegates so small countries are not outnumbered on these key fairness-related issues.
It is true that savvy climate diplomacy by vulnerable countries, especially banding together in coalitions such as the Climate Vulnerable Forum or the Alliance of Small Island States, has kept the climate regime on track and that equalizing their representation would not necessarily guarantee