In early June, JA! Activists were in Stockholm to participate in the Stockholm +50 People’s Forum for Environmental and Climate Justice. This event was a gathering of activists and civil society taking place parallel to the United Nations (UN) Stockholm +50 Conference. This event is a commemoration of the 50 year anniversary of the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment. The UN refers to this as the summit “that first made the link between environment and poverty and placed it at the forefront of the international agenda.”
It also marked the first of parallel civil society meetings and protests that have been held during UN summits ever since. It was one of the foundations for the process of bringing together social movements from around the world, including from the global South, to discuss and strategise together and strengthen the work for social and environmental justice, while also broadening narratives and bringing critiques to the formal UN event. From this came a system where civil society began engaging in formal spaces at UN meetings.
The People’s Forum was three days of activities developed by the Stockholm +50 Coalition, who describe themselves as a “collective of civil society and social movements fighting for environmental, social and climate justice,” and the aim of the event was to be a place where “social movements are planning parallel activities to highlight principles, demands and actions that respond to the depth and seriousness of the crises we are facing – with global justice and challenging of power relations at the core.”
For more detailed information about the people’s forum go to: https://stockholmplus50.se/en/start-english/
JA! spoke on four panels which focused on some elements of our work. These were on the need to stop corporate abuse and privileges by saying ‘yes’ to a UN Binding Treaty on business and human rights and ‘no’ to ‘free’ trade agreements that threaten democracy; the danger of false climate solutions; the complicity of Swedish pension funds in fossil fuel destruction in Mozambique and elsewhere; and ideas for the way forward after 50 years of struggle for system change.
The forum included a manifestation, or protest, in the centre of Stockholm where activists from communities around the world, including JA! Spoke alongside activists including people from Mexico, Namibia, Colombia and Lebanon to a crowd of at least 300 people about what Swedish people can do to fight climate injustice, such as demanding that their pension funds divest from fossil fuels.
The forum raised the greater question of what has changed in these five decades of fighting for climate, environmental and social justice and how we can use learnings from this to collectively strengthen these struggles. But to answer these questions, it is important to look at what has not yet changed.
For example, even though companies like Shell were well aware of climate change in 1981 we still do not have a binding treaty at the United Nations level, which would force companies to act with basic humanity. Corporate capture has only become more prevalent, bilateral agreements remain advantageous to northern and former colonial states, and processes like Investor State Dispute Relations have strengthened the skewed unequal power relations even further towards wealthy transnational corporations.
The legacy of colonisation remains crippling to former colonies, with Mozambique being a good example of this. By looking just at the gas industry in Inhambane and Cabo Delgado provinces, countries like the UK, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands and South Africa, are benefiting, or will continue to benefit from fossil gas projects led by Total, Eni, ExxonMobil, Sasol and many others, while Mozambique’s economy continues to collapse and its level of debt grows. Northern governments are well aware that their companies are destroying the global South but their narrative of ‘gas for development’ merely enables them to the benefit from the historical colonial structures of poverty, debt and corruption they themselves created.
There remains a lack of accountability for the impacts of the industry – communities losing their homes and livelihoods and being ripped apart, many in refugee centres and devastated by a violent war, fuelled by the industry, that has killed thousands and created almost one million refugees.
What has not changed is shown just by the very need to hold events like Stockholm +50. How is it that the most powerful countries and most respected international regulatory body in the world is still unable to control fossil fuel companies and banks, and still refuse to cut their investment into fossil fuels? How is it that we have treaties like the Paris and Glasgow Agreements and yet still have to fight for companies and northern states to invest in the vast renewable resources the earth has to offer? How do we still not have a Binding Treaty on Transnational Corporations at the UN when companies have shown time and again that they will not voluntarily abide by human rights regulations?
However, there are also those things that have changed. The introduction of the climate treaties mentioned above show that pressure from civil society and Southern peoples has been working. While there remains a struggle to get companies to act in accordance with them, and although they leave much to be desired, the mere fact that they exist means that institutions of power, like the UN and European Union are at least heading in the right direction. As governments of countries where extractivism is taking place are clamping down more and more on journalists and activists, people continue to stand up; as transnational corporations continue to evade tax in the countries where they operate, people continue to fight for their rights to basic services.
Another very promising thing the Peoples Forum showed was the large number of young people from around the world taking up the climate struggle, and radicalising their local fights. They made a crucial point: The narrative that needs to change, and has already begun changing, is that the struggle for climate justice must be inclusive, and a fight that goes beyond environmental damage, but is also a fight for justice for the poor, and people worst affected by climate change.