On Thursday, Farhana Sultana, an interdisciplinary scholar from Syracuse University’s Department of Geography and the Environment, discussed the future of the environment at an event held by the Institute for Research on Women (IRW) as part of its Distinguished Lecture Series.
Arlene Stein, a distinguished professor in the Department of Sociology and director of the IRW, introduced Sultana as an internationally recognized scholar whose work spans fields such as political ecology, post‐colonial development, climate justice, water governance, social and environmental change and transnational feminism.
Sultana said that discussing the future of the climate is especially relevant given the recent 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) that was held in Glasgow, Scotland, that concluded on Thursday as well.
“(COP26) is the largest global climate conference involving heads of state, various organizations, researchers, activists, students and the general public who’ve been really invested in what’s happening with climate change at an international scale,” she said.
Sultana then transitioned to the topic of climate justice and how climate change is an ethical issue that affects communities disproportionately in terms of climate impacts, policy-making and interventions.
“As global events and climate-related disasters have become more profound in recent years, greater attention has been given to climate justice and the intensifying injustices,” she said.
Over the past few years, Sultana said that climate-related injustices have overlapped with coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic-related injustices and exposed much suffering and inequity in communities.
She said the climate justice framework intentionally moves the conversation away from how climate change has historically been discussed in order to deal with the social impacts and outcomes of rising temperatures.
“Climate justice is fundamentally about paying attention to and working to address how climate breakdown impacts people differentially, unevenly and disproportionately and how the resultant injustices can be redressed in fair and equitable ways to reduce the various marginalizations, exploitations and oppressions that result and are also then compounded,” Sultana said.
She said that communities that have contributed the least to climate change are the ones most negatively affected by it, which connects the issue of climate injustices to those of colonialism, capitalism and neoliberal globalization.
Climate justice is ultimately about accountability and obligation, Sultana said, because harmful global-political economic systems need to be identified and underlying structural inequities dismantled in order to enact systemic change.
“If the goal is to … not further burden impacted communities … we need to therefore bring in this investigation of the how and the why different groups of people face inequities in different ways,” she said.
Issues like fossil fuel dependency, non-participatory democracy and the extractive exploitation of natural resources are critical problems that only further climate injustice and must be addressed, Sultana said.
She also discussed the importance of recognizing differential harms between time periods and geographic locations, equitable distribution of risks and benefits and effective enactment of climate justice.
While there has been acknowledgment of historical responsibility, Sultana said that politics and power structures have obscured progress to social equity. She said feminist insight is important to climate justice because feminist analysis has revealed previously overlooked concerns and connections between people.
In addition, she discussed ways that society can move forward in critical climate justice work, most notably through transforming into a regenerative economy that values cooperation and ecological wellbeing.
“Part of (the solution) has been moving away from extractive economies to more regenerative economies that value issues of care, reciprocity, redistribution, solidarity … (and) transforming public institutions for deeper democracy,” Sultana said.
She also discussed the feminist Green New Deal in the U.S. as a potential international endeavor that could promote post-pandemic recovery and the process of shifting away from fossil fuel dependency.
The event concluded with a question-and-answer session, moderated by Sarah Tobias, the associate director of the IRW.
Throughout the session, Sultana discussed the shift to alternative sustainable food sources and how it is important to think about other factors like labor relations, trade policies and production when considering such a decision.
She also said that while it may be difficult for individual people to feel as if they have a significant impact on climate change, they can create impactful change by voting, collectively banding together to hold corporations accountable and thinking of new ideas.
“Climate justice is ultimately about obligations and ethical relations with other people and ecosystems,” Sultana said. “What we can hope for is revolutionizing how people think about climate change.”