Global South activists connect social justice with climate justice

Millions of people all over the world have been marching on the streets, both in the Global South and the Global North, to raise awareness about the climate crisis and to put pressure on political leaders to act. On World Environment Day, it’s a timely reminder of the urgency for the matter at hand, and that more support is needed.

The latest IPCC report demands urgent measures to be taken. Science is very clear on this: If policies and practices follow on our current course, organised social life will collapse. Furthermore, the climate crisis and social injustice are linked. Therefore, the initiative ‘Debt for Climate!’ aims at connecting the fight for social justice with climate activism by bringing together activists from the Global South and Global North.

‘Debt for Climate!’ brings it straight to the point: “Developed countries of the global North owe an ecological debt to the countries of the global South.”Not only are the countries of the Global North by far those with the highest historical emissions of greenhouse gases and 100 multinational corporations, almost all from the Global North, are responsible for 71 percent of global emissions today, but these multinationals continue to plunder the natural resources of the Global South. At the same time, countries of the Global South are indebted to the IMF and the World Bank, which grant them credits which not only increase their debt, but force them to “restructure” their economies, often with enormous costs for humans and nature. Today, Argentina is under threat of economic strangulation of debt through a new loan of the IMF, what ‘Debt for Climate!’ calls ‘debt-trap diplomacy’. And Argentina is one example out of many.

Debt relations are mostly based on violence – invisible and often visible. As the late David Graeber put it: “If history shows anything, it is that there’s no better way to justify relations founded on violence, to make such relations seem moral, than by reframing them in the language of debt […].” While the history of debt shows us how debt was enforced illegally, without consent of the people of the debtor country, in violation of the credit organisations themselves or even at the point of a gun, debt can be a dubious process even under the most legal of ways. As the initiative concludes: “As long as countries are entangled in debt traps, there simply is no space and no money to finance a just transition.”

The debt situation has become even more dramatic over the last years. According to a recent debt report, 135 (out of 148) countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe are critically indebted. Often, states find themselves bound to pay off external debt, while cutting the public expenditure, which can be existential in order to handle crises like the pandemic or increasing costs for food.

“From Latin America we denounce the illegitimate financial debts imposed on our countries by the IMF, the World Bank and the Paris Club. We will fight to free ourselves from this financial colonialism that intends to condemn us to be territories of sacrifice and disposable population. That is why we demand the recognition of the ecological debt that the countries of the Global North have with the countries of the Global South”, states Juan Pablo Olsson, ‘Debt for Climate!’ activist from Argentina and Latin America coordinator of Progressive International. It is imperative that the Global North has to finally pay its ecological debt. One agreement, as the initiative points out, should be: Cancellation of debt and keeping the fossil fuels in the ground. Debt cancellation  for the sake of climate justice will bring us a big step closer to avoiding the worst scenarios facing us and especially the people of the Global South who are deemed the most vulnerable to the climate crisis. “Cancelling the debt of the African continent will be the single biggest catalyst to renewed development for 1.3 billion Africans. Nothing else comes close in scale or impact”, says ‘Debt for Climate!’ activist Sunny Morgan from South Africa.

Crises are increasing and seem overwhelming. But crises can also be opportunities. Resistance can work and progress is possible; even though it often means two steps ahead and one step back. It is obvious that we cannot wait or rely on the “generosity” of the leaders of the Global North and especially of the G7 countries. Struggles have been always won by activism and pressure coming from the streets, by cooperation and networking. We as progressives can be inspired by and learn from the fights of the Global South for debt cancellation and to finally abolish (neo-)colonial structures and exploitative measures threatening organized social life on earth. We have to force the creditor countries and the international institutions dominated by them to cancel the debt of the indebted countries.

The accelerating climate crisis requires us to march onto the streets and connect over borders and to ultimately dismantle the fossil fuel industry. People of the Global South, from Argentina to South Africa, from Asia to Africa, are calling the people of the world to join the global action to demand debt cancellation and climate justice. How could this action look like? The upcoming G7 summit, which will be held from June 26-28 in Elmau, Germany, is a fitting opportunity to mobilize. The “Stop G7 Platform”, which includes many social, climate and anti-war activists from Germany, calls to join the demonstration which will take place in Munich on June 25, right before the summit. Prior to and during the summit, many demonstrations, workshops and talks will take place. Acts of civil disobedience are also planned.

The states of the G7 de facto govern the international financial institutions and can change their policies, if we force them to do so. No violent institution or debt system lasts forever. The climate and debt crises force us to think these matters together while urging us to action. The struggle is too serious and asks us as progressives to unite with labour unions and social movements. We have to join the voices for debt cancellation and let them be heard. We need to mobilise to raise the pressure on governments and policy makers. Esteban Servat, an Argentinian activist and promoter of this initiative, says: “If we are enough people, they will feel the pressure.”

We need to build a more just world in the face of these challenges. Through organising, cooperative efforts and global solidarity, we can win. “We can come together, if we can mobilise globally against these credit institutions for Debt for Climate!”, demands Esteban Servat, to make a just transition possible. In a post-fossil fuel and post-debt era, countries of the Global South can focus on building their infrastructure around clean energy, as it is also a necessity in Europe and the countries of the Global North. Many initiatives and movements all around the world are demanding that and presenting reasonable, necessary and sustainable programs to achieve it. Fossil fuel has to remain in the ground. DiEM25 has been advocating for a Green New Deal for years, as do progressives in the US, in the UK and elsewhere.

As DiEM25, we call our fellow Europeans to join the protests and support this grassroots and Global South-led initiative. While the leaders of the G7 countries meet in Elmau, we ask all social movements and climate movements, who demand justice from the leading climate polluters of the world, to support ‘Debt for Climate!’ Click here for more information on the initiative and ways to support it.


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