A Concept to Place at the Heart of Foreign Aid and International Development?
In the course of reflecting on our Scottish Government-funded schools project in Malawi, and how we would like to take this work forward, we have developed the concept of restorative climate justice. It is described below, and you can also download a PDF version.
Let us know if you think this is a useful concept and, if so, how we can all take it forward. Feedback is most welcome.
Leith Community Crops in Pots proposes a new term: ‘restorative climate justice’. The concept it describes brings together elements of restorative justice, climate justice, agroecology and food sovereignty. While it is arguably already implicit in many effective projects, it has not, to our knowledge, ever been made explicit. We believe the concept could contribute to the field of international aid and development, boosting the fight against climate change, enhancing climate resilience and, not least, greatly increasing the status and wellbeing of indigenous peoples.
Restorative climate justice in a nutshell
Restorative climate justice brings together many of the elements of restorative justice and climate justice, and adds a further one: a more literal interpretation of the word ‘restorative’ than is necessarily always involved in the former. It empowers people, in accordance with the principles of climate justice,
- to research, explore and rediscover their traditional/indigenous agricultural practices and varieties of crops and livestock, as well as their beliefs and customs relating to agriculture and land stewardship, and their historical land tenure/ownership, in order to identify (in particular) elements which could combat climate change or help climate resilience, and/or
- to transmit, implement, revive or use such elements of traditional/indigenous practices, varieties of crops/livestock, beliefs and customs, and tenure/ownership, and/or
- to combat forces threatening the above.
Restorative climate justice is fundamentally about respect, and meaningful contrition, on the part of those responsible for climate change and those who have disparaged/displaced/destroyed the traditional cultures, technologies, etc., which did not/would not have caused climate change, and which could help combat it and/or boost resilience in the face of it.
*For the Appendices and Bibliography, please see the PDF version of this briefing.*
Appendix I: The Value of Traditional/Indigenous Agricultural Practices, Crops and Beliefs Affecting Land Stewardship and How These Were/Are Threatened [see PDF]
Extract 1: Lessons from Zimbabwe [see PDF]
Extract 2: Information on Selected Crops and Approaches to Agriculture [see PDF]
Appendix II: The Principles of Food Sovereignty [see PDF]
Bibliography [see PDF]
Why is the concept of restorative climate justice needed?
Restorative climate justice is already implicit in many enlightened and effective projects and approaches to aid/development (e.g. probably most of those which embrace the principles of food sovereignty – see ‘Examples of restorative climate justice’ and Appendix II). Such projects contrast with damaging and counterproductive ones which do not comply with this concept (for examples see Curtis, 2016, and Dodwell, 2016).
By promoting the concept of restorative climate justice, one decreases the chances of the latter ‘slipping through the net’ and receiving support.
Leith Community Crops in Pot believes that this concept should be discussed in schools, as a means of fostering a holistic approach to global issues, and should become an accepted framework for projects, or criterion/suite of criteria against which they should be evaluated.
The general principles of restorative justice are described by the Crown Prosecution Service (Crown Prosecution Service, n.d.) as follows:
Restorative justice (RJ) has been defined as a process through which parties with a stake in a specific offence collectively resolve how to deal with the aftermath of the offence and its implications for the future. RJ can take the form of victim-offender mediation either through direct contact between the offender and victim or indirect communication involving third parties. It can also involve restitution or reparation where this is agreed between offenders and their victims.
The aims of RJ are commonly stated to be:
Victim satisfaction: To reduce the fear of the victim and ensure they feel ‘paid back’ for the harm that has been done to them.
Engagement with the perpetrator: To ensure that they are aware of the consequences of their actions, have the opportunity to make reparation, and agree a plan for their restoration in the community.
Creation of community capital: To increase public confidence in the criminal justice system and other agencies with a responsibility for delivering a response to anti-social behaviour.
Properly administered, RJ processes produce individually tailored solutions involving interaction between offenders, victims and the community. RJ can give victims answers to questions about why they have been victimised that information or support on their own cannot. Victims are more likely to receive an apology through an RJ process than at court. Similarly for offenders, RJ processes offer a unique opportunity to face up to what they have done, take responsibility and make up for the harm their offending has caused.
Climate justice has been summarised by Mary Robinson (Canzi, 2015) as follows:
Climate justice is a moral argument in two parts. Firstly it compels us to understand the challenges faced by those people and communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Often the people on the front lines of climate change have contributed least to the causes of the climate crisis. This is an injustice which can only be rectified by swift and ambitious climate action, including reducing emissions to zero as rapidly as possible.
Climate justice also informs how we should act to combat climate change. We must ensure that the transition to a zero carbon economy is just and that it enables all people to realise their right to development. This requires that the global community acts in solidarity and ensures that the necessary resources are available to allow all countries and people to make the transition to clean, renewable energy on the same timescale.
Implicit in the above is that the most well-resourced (often the most responsible for climate change) have a duty to help the less well-resourced (often the least responsible for climate change but the main victims of it).
Restorative climate justice could be considered to be a subdivision, or type, of climate justice, and so is fully in line with it. Restorative climate justice is also related to restorative justice, but differs from it in that restitution/reparation are essential, not optional, and that the perpetrator can be viewed as an economic system or philosophy (e.g. neoliberalism), or country or group of countries (e.g. the Global North), as well as legal persons (be they people or organisations such as corporations). Accordingly, the mechanisms for engagement may not always be the same as those in used in simple restorative justice. Acknowledgement of responsibility, and to some extent awareness of the consequences of their actions, is implicit in perpetrators’ acknowledgement of the concept of restorative climate justice. This could be done at government level, with governments explicitly funding projects aligned with the principles of restorative climate justice.
Restitution/reparation of what?
Restorative climate justice’s interpretation of restitution/reparation (possible elements of restorative justice) flows from its acknowledgement of the following:
Many traditional/indigenous agricultural practices, crops and social systems had/have great survival value, and served/serve to maintain/foster biodiversity and provide environmentally sustainable and highly nutritious diets. Though sometimes dismissed as superstitious and primitive by westerners (or should that be northerners?), ‘tribal’ beliefs and customs can embody significant wisdom and be invaluable in safeguarding critical elements of the biosphere in addition to serving social purposes. This is illustrated by the culture and traditions of Zimbabwe’s Shona people, which is discussed at length in Appendix I. They not only developed and transmitted wisdom, in relation to how to live sustainably and foster community but, integrated with this, they also developed and preserved an array of highly adapted crops and livestock. Furthermore, (one author writes) their sacred groves were effectively the first national parks in the world.
To use one of today’s most important buzzwords, many aspects of traditional/indigenous practices, crops, beliefs and customs were/are highly ‘climate-resilient’ or contribute/contributed to ‘climate resilience’. They also had minimal or negative carbon footprints. However, they have been/continue to be displaced and destroyed by colonialism, land grabbing, and the ‘green revolution’/productivist approach to agriculture (typically monoculture-based and requiring high inputs of fossil fuels, artificial fertilisers and pesticides) allied with neoliberal/‘free-market’ capitalism. (In reality, markets are often rigged to benefit large corporations and the subsidised agricultural sectors of the global north.) Climate change is significantly contributed to by the very forces of agro-industry which are also destroying this priceless legacy which could combat it and build climate resilience.
With regard to land grabbing, indigenous peoples historically had tenure and control of their land, which is the same as saying that they had power and agency. However, they may not have a system of land ownership considered valid by forces seeking to dispossess them. They may also not have the means to defend themselves against violent attempts to harm or dispossess them, or access to formal justice.
Restorative climate justice may help people recover/protect/transmit elements of their heritage and/or restore their agency with regard to their land.
Projects funded by ‘perpetrators’ to benefit ‘victims’ of climate change (restorative justice terms), and which are in alignment with the principles of food sovereignty (Appendix II), are likely to be examples of restorative climate justice. Restorative climate justice is a broader concept, however, as it would include projects that have no direct relationship to food. They might involve, for example, the restoration of ‘sacred groves’ which, while indirectly benefiting agriculture and food sovereignty, more directly protect/foster biodiversity and protect watersheds and water sources. Combating land grabbing would also fall within the sphere of restorative climate justice (see ‘Examples of restorative climate justice’, below).
- Restorative climate justice does not maintain or imply that all indigenous traditions/practices are good, or that all ‘modern’ practices are bad. It is not against science or technology, per se, and is compatible with integrating the best of the old with the best of the new, seeking to draw intelligently on indigenous heritage to combat climate change and boost climate resilience, to add to/improve the mix of agroecology, agroforestry, permaculture, conservation agriculture, etc., already developed which can be used to meet these aims. (However, it is hard to envisage the circumstances in which the term ‘restorative climate justice’ could be applied to projects promoting GM crops, for example.)
- It will not promote elements which flout fundamental human rights.
- It does insist that all projects should be led and approved by the people they seek to benefit, and that costs should largely be borne by ‘perpetrators’ or those representing them.
Because projects aligned with restorative climate justice must also respect fundamental human rights (see above), and because women were/are the bearers of much indigenous knowledge and, for example, played/play a major role in saving seeds and preserving crop varieties (Shiva, n.d.), while restorative climate justice is not primarily about women’s rights per se, restorative climate justice projects will often necessarily have elements relating to gender justice, empowering women and supporting their rights.
The denigration and destruction of a people’s belief systems, tribal identity and sense of agency can have dire consequences for individuals’ mental health, self-esteem and general wellbeing. Bruce K. Alexander (Alexander, 2010) and Gabor Maté (Clark, 2013) argue that psychosocial dislocation is the major cause of harmful addiction and therefore it is little wonder that dispossessed indigenous peoples often suffer high rates of harmful addictions and other mental health issues. Conversely, by restoring what has been damaged or destroyed, by assisting people to reconnect with the best aspects of their heritage, one can enhance self-esteem (pride in heritage and identity), foster wellbeing and combat such problems. This is illustrated, for example, by the highly effective Family Wellness Warriors Initiative in Alaska, which uses an approach grounded in traditional values and Alaska Native strengths to promote family wellness and tackle abuse (Scottish Government, 2014; Southcentral Foundation, n.d.).
Obviously, another benefit expected to flow from many restorative climate justice-compliant projects is the (re)discovery of practices, crops, etc., which may have wide application (i.e. not only benefiting those whose heritage they come from).
The five extracts from articles/websites below obviously do not constitute a comprehensive list, but should give a good idea of the types of projects which could be considered to be outstanding examples of restorative climate justice. Refer to the bibliography to access the full original material online.
Recently, the Wake Forest University’s Center for Amazonian Scientific Innovation (CINCIA) experimented with an indigenous farming technique to support tree growth, which has been successful. Biochar, a compound made from slowly burning discarded Brazil nut husks, is added to fertilizer and used with transplanting seedlings. The results are improved height and growth of seedlings and an increase in the number of leaves developed.
The experiment was performed in the Amazon region called Madre de Dios in Peru, where the height of illegal mining has occurred. Dirt that comes from the mining sluice has no nutritional value for the soil nor any organic matter that supports plant or microbe life. This makes it difficult to grow anything, but adding biochar to the mix improves the soil. The native peoples of Amazon started using biochar thousands of years ago and still use it today. Biochar improves the soil’s ability to hold water and reduces acidity. This creates a favorable environment for microbes, which supports plant life, and decreases the need for fertilizer re-application. The mining soil is extremely limiting, but treating it with biochar makes it something plants can grow in.
(UNDP Republic of South Africa, n.d.)
Mupo Foundation, with funding from the UNDP Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP), implemented a project called: Securing local food sovereignty and enhancing climate resilience through ensuring the custodianship and access of local communities to biodiversity and healthy ecosystems. The primary objective of the project was to conserve and protect biodiversity, having a specific focus on sacred natural sites, which was supported by local knowledge systems and food control.
When the project came to Venda in 2013, Joyce was one of the 315 females who joined and benefited from this initiative. Today, these women are bringing food to their families. They are able to plant and get enough food for their families due to the association and guidance they get from the project. They underwent a training which covered identification of indigenous trees, seeds, and food, methods of plant multiplication including establishment of plant nursery. The training also covered seed selection, saving and storing seeds, further on how to grow crops organically and to manage flower pollination.
They also developed skills in selecting the best crop for seeds, packaging and labeling for future production.
Farmers who participate in the MAFFA project get training on agroecological principles along with nutrition and social equity issues. They then can choose what they want to experiment with, including growing edible legume intercrops, diversifying their cropping system with additional crops such as sorghum, finger millet, sweet potatoes or cowpea, adding compost manure or legume residue to their soils, mulching and growing local orange landrace varieties of maize. The farming systems that farmers are experimenting with are mixed systems. While many of the crops are ones that they or their neighbours might have grown in the past, some crops would be ones that they have never been exposed to, because there has been a significant decline in crop diversity across the country.
Some of the crops are indigenous, such as finger millet and sorghum, but were widely discouraged by previous governments. Sorghum and finger millet are indigenous grains that can be substituted for maize, the main staple in Malawian diets. These two crops are drought tolerant and can be used to make a range of food types, including breads, sweet beer and popcorn. Landrace varieties of orange maize, known as Mtinkinya, provide a source of vitamin A, an essential nutrient for human nutrition. They are harvested earlier than other maize varieties, and are relatively drought tolerant, thereby reducing risk of crop failure. Other crops, such as sweet potatoes, are not indigenous, but have multiple benefits, such as soil cover, a source of both leafy greens and tubers, and early harvest, thereby spreading out the harvest period and increasing food security for households.
We support indigenous peoples
IWGIA is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights.
We have a global focus
IWGIA follows and reports on the situation of indigenous peoples worldwide. Every year we publish a global report with detailed country reports.
We advocate, document and empower
The key drivers for change in IWGIA’s work are documentation, advocacy and empowerment of indigenous peoples.
(Survival International, n.d.)
How we work
We work in partnership with tribes to amplify their voices on the global stage and change the world in their favor.
We helped the Yanomami people create the largest area of rainforest under indigenous control in the world.
We were partners in the “David and Goliath” victory of India’s Dongria Kondh tribe against mining giant Vedanta.
Alongside the Kalahari Bushmen, we won a landmark case to see them rightfully returned to their ancestral land.