Asad Rehman on climate justice: ‘Now we are seeing these arguments cut through’ | Climate crisis

Aunhappy Rehman, who emerged as a key determine among the many coalition of activists who took to the streets throughout final month’s climate summit in Glasgow, admits to being “considerably of a reluctant environmentalist”.

Tucking into his lunch in a restaurant in east London, Rehman – the director of the charity Battle on Need – says having cut his enamel as a younger, working-class man preventing the Nationwide Entrance in his residence city of Burnley through the 70s and 80s, he initially noticed the setting motion as distant and largely irrelevant to the causes he was championing.

“It was framed as about saving polar bears or no matter, and of actually solely being a priority to white, center class environmentalists.”

However as his political work expanded – from the miners’ strike to the Stephen Lawrence marketing campaign, the police taking pictures of Jean Charles de Menezes to varied social justice campaigns within the international south – his view modified. He started to understand that removed from being a distant, technical drawback for others to fret about, the climate crisis – and the injustice it created – have been central to the whole lot he was preventing for.


“I used to be actually struck … on racial justice, on financial and social justice, [the climate and ecological crisis] was an epitome of all of these points. On the identical time, it was additionally clear to me that it was one thing that may exacerbate these issues … it was not rocket science, you simply wanted to hitch the dots.”

Rehman mentioned he was influenced by social justice actions within the international south, which frequently noticed the climate crisis in numerous phrases to the mainstream environmental NGOs within the UK, Europe and North America.

“That they had a really completely different method of speaking about climate – they noticed it as half and parcel of the larger anti-colonial combat.”

In Glasgow, on the UN climate summit, Rehman was on the forefront of a worldwide community of indigenous activists, civil society campaigners, commerce unionists, anti racists and youth climate strikers that put that perspective on the coronary heart of the talk.

Underneath the banner of the Cop26 coalition, the activists ensured climate justice, reasonably than easy environmentalism, was centre stage, with activists, delegates and plenty of politicians recognising that the climate emergency couldn’t be solved with out addressing the underlying financial system that produces it.

“We now have spent years and years constructing the motion,” mentioned Rehman. “Making the argument that this can be a systemic crisis, that it’s about racialised capitalism, making the case that you just can’t perceive the climate crisis with out understanding that there’s an arch from slavery to colonialism and imperialism to the climate crisis … Now we are seeing these arguments cut by means of.”

The origins of this climate justice motion return greater than a decade. In 2007, Rehman remembers sitting underneath a tree in Bali, the place that 12 months’s UN climate summit was being held, discussing what to do subsequent with dozens of justice campaigners from world wide.

The activists had turn out to be more and more disillusioned with an strategy that – as they noticed it – had turn out to be dominated by highly effective western nations, international companies and mainstream NGOs.

We determined then to launch a community that may take the wrestle ahead not simply within the climate talks, however on the bottom and within the streets,” mentioned Rehman. “We wished to construct a various motion to place justice – social, ecological, racial and gender – at its coronary heart, and be a robust voice to carry wealthy nations to account for inflicting the crisis.”

Rehman says a key second for this embryonic motion got here two years later on the Copenhagen climate summit, with climate justice campaigners calling for a 1C warming goal lined up in opposition to richer nations pushing for a aim of 2C.

Lumumba DI-Aping, ambassador to the G77 countries, pictured in 2009 at the Cop15 summit in Copenhagen.
Lumumba DI-Aping, ambassador to the G77 nations, pictured in 2009 on the Cop15 summit in Copenhagen. {Photograph}: Jens N Rgaard Larsen/AFP/Getty Pictures

Because the gathering closed in turmoil Lumumba Di-Aping, the then chair of the G77 group of 130 growing nations, made a tearful enchantment, saying: “2C is a demise sentence for Africa.”

Rehman says that second revealed that wealthy governments have been “calculating that sacrificing black, brown and indigenous folks was extra acceptable than something that threatened their financial pursuits”.


Quick-forward 14 years, and though the notion of climate justice that got here to prominence on the advert hoc assembly in Bali was central to this 12 months’s Cop26, Rehman is clear-eyed in regards to the scale of the challenges and alternatives that also lie forward.

“That is an epoch second in human historical past … as profound and much reaching as the economic revolution. What folks want to understand is that elementary change is occurring – the true query is what sort of transformation we are going to get and who will it serve.”

People stage a climate justice protest in Glasgow on 12 November.
Folks stage a climate justice protest in Glasgow on 12 November. {Photograph}: Ian Forsyth/Getty Pictures

This overt politicisation of the climate emergency has ruffled feathers throughout the mainstream setting motion and with politicians. Critics argue that by saying the climate crisis can’t be solved with out addressing and rewiring the worldwide financial system you are setting your self as much as fail, with catastrophic penalties.

However Rehman is unrepentant. He argues that “fossil fuels and the logic of extraction and exploitation” are woven into the material of the financial order and subsequently to sort out emissions it is advisable tackle the system of capitalism that creates them and different crises concurrently, placing “justice and fairness” on the coronary heart of the marketing campaign.

“[I would say to critics] reveal to me in 26 years of your technique to sort out this crisis how your principle has labored … You’ve gotten tried your method repeatedly and once more, and it has not delivered, as a result of how do you transition the worldwide financial system when on the identical time you are signing commerce offers locking within the energy of fossil gas multinationals and companies, when you have got monetary establishments at a worldwide degree persevering with to financial institution on fossil fuels and the meals and power techniques that go together with that?”

He says the one option to “make that equation work” could be to “consign three-quarters of the world’s inhabitants to real catastrophe” and the worldwide north to chaos, inequality and militarism.

Protesters at the Cop26 conference last month.
Protesters on the Cop26 convention final month. {Photograph}: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

“If that isn’t the longer term you need, should you are not keen to just accept that for your self and your youngsters, we should ask how are we going to transition an financial system that’s geared to development and extraction of revenue from supplies and labour in a significant method?”

Regardless of the size of the duty, Rehman says the rising recognition of the systemic nature of the crisis and the hyperlinks being constructed between actions within the international south and people within the north, means the climate justice motion has by no means been stronger.

The important thing within the coming months, he argues, shall be to make the climate crisis related to the lives of strange folks – about heat properties, free public transport and clear air – and to construct solidarity.

“Successful on the climate is rarely going to be doable with environmentalists alone; we have to construct social licence for the change that’s wanted and which means bringing in different actions – the labour motion, folks working on financial justice and poverty, you need to deliver within the power of Black Lives Matter, migrant rights teams.”

Ending his lunch because the rain beats down, Rehman recollects the Marshall plan to rebuild Europe after the second world battle.

“That is what the commerce union motion did 100 years in the past when it satisfied those who one thing higher is feasible, that issues can and do change,” he mentioned. “That’s the job going through us now … Constructing energy is about collective motion, about solidarity and it may be finished.”

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