#PowerShifts Resources: Lessons from the Global South for Surviving the Climate Crisis

September 27, 2019

     By Maria Faciolince     

Since the start of the #ClimateStrike past Friday September 20th, I have been moved by the avalanche of actions across the world to foreground the climate crisis, its devastating effects (present and future) and the demand for collective solutions. It is a tremendous glimpse of hope that so many voices have come together to call for a world where people’s existence, and their right to a dignified life, is valued above corporate profits and short-term political wins. 

“We need to center people and communities not only bearing the brunt of extreme weather events, but simultaneously advancing proposals and solutions that embody justice-oriented responses to the climate crisis.”

But as we react to the urgency before us, it’s worth questioning who we are turning to for leadership and solutions. It seems like finally the calls for a systemic response to climate change are getting louder than ever before. Governments around the world are unveiling new policies and programs, INGOs are pivoting towards climate as a priority thematic area, and the language of climate crisis is being mainstreamed. The resonance of Greta Thunberg’s no-BS approach is testament to this, and has helped open up the space for the climate movement to grow. But the movement certainly did not start with one girl a year ago; it builds off the work of many who have been demanding intersectional climate justice and raising the alarm for centuries. 

“There are many young Gretas who are being threatened in our territories. They are young people who are being displaced and killed, and nobody is listening to them,” said Tuntiak Katan, from the Indigenous Organization of the Amazon River Basin, ahead of the UN climate conference in New York this week. Last year, Global Witness recorded 164 killings worldwide of people fighting to protect their land and ecosystems from destructive industries, with thousands more who suffered active criminalization and persecution, turning activists into ‘enemies of the state’. 

Now is a crucial moment to humbly ask ourselves two vital questions again: as the climate crisis becomes mainstreamed, whose story is being told and who is the teller? And as the amount of people engaging in the climate movement increases, who is this movement accountable to? As we’re trying to do with #PowerShifts, centering the perspectives of people and communities with lived experience of any issue is crucial for understanding it. However, this should not mean that we should start tokenizing inclusion or limiting the participation of those who endure the brunt of climate breakdown to mere anecdotes or testimonies, without taking their leadership seriously.  

In this set of resources, I’ve dug up some readings, initiatives, stories, and links that can help us listen and be guided by those on the frontlines of climate impacts in the Global South: people and communities not only bearing the brunt of extreme weather events, but simultaneously advancing proposals and solutions that embody justice-oriented responses to the climate crisis. 

(Note: This is not an exhaustive list! I’ll update this text periodically with your suggestions of other initiatives you are part of/aware of.) 

Understanding ‘climate justice’  

First, an important note on vocabulary. Though eye-opening (and alarming) scientific outputs such as the IPCC reports have rallied masses behind the science of climate breakdown, they risk framing climate change into a quantifiable and technical issue with a date stamp. Accounting solely for phenomena like rising temperatures and sea levels without seeing their roots in historical inequalities, misreads the causes of the climate crisis and leads to quick fixes that seem to only require a combination of political will and new technologies. Listening to the issues faced by activists, environmental defenders and land rights advocates helps dispel the proclaimed effectiveness of market-based solutions, and instead frames the climate crisis as an issue of justice and human rights. A notion that balances the ecological integrity of nature while supporting the needs of human populations. 

Here are some readings and useful links on climate justice:

Systems Change – a brilliant compilation of decades of thinking by global networks, curated, edited, and presented to be the simplest expression without losing important ideas. Check out the Climate justice and equity resource page.

The Earth in Brackets creatively put together some resources that explain concepts such as climate justice, food sovereignty and what is referred to as the ‘green economy’.

“Without understanding that this is about power and politics, we can’t understand what climate negotiations are really about or what the climate justice movement needs to do.”  

Asad Rehman

This incisive interview with Asad Rehman – Pakistani-British activist and one of the most prominent spokespersons of civil society at the UNFCCC negotiations on climate change – where he argues that the negotiations and debates around the climate crisis are, fundamentally, about our political economy. 

This more recent critical reflection, where he lays out some important considerations for advancing the transition to renewable energy, noting that “solutions to the environmental crisis won’t come in the shape of a battery – they come in the shape of justice, reparations and equity.” 

Climate fair shares, a report of global research on different countries’ fair share of climate actions.

Read more on what equity can mean within the climate justice framework here:  Equity Factsheet by Friends of the Earth, and What does Greta Thunberg mean when she says “equity?” by Nathan Thanki.

Ways forward

Besides urging rich countries to repay their historical climate debt and allocate more funds for adaptation in the poorest countries, here are some examples of projects that center restoration, care and social wellbeing by communities confronting the effects of climate breakdown in the Global South.

Some of these fit within proposed institutional frameworks of Nature-based Solutions or Ecosystem-related Approaches – policies that aim to protect and manage ecosystems damaged by human activity through activities such as land restoration, conservation, and regenerative smallholder agriculture. Activities that combat land degradation and build resilience to climate effects are estimated to offer a third of the cost-effective carbon dioxide mitigation needed between now and 2030, and have been recently promoted in this popular video by Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot.

However, if these don’t come coupled with securing land tenures for Indigenous, pastoralist and farmer communities, they can lead to illegal displacements, human rights abuses and armed conflict. Read what is happening to the Baka of the Congo who are being forcefully evicted from their lands in the name of conservation. And listen to the most recent discussion on ‘Beyond Nature Based Solutions’ with the Global Alliance of Peoples and Forests this week in New York. 

Platforms and storytelling:

This living list of organizations and networks put together by The World at 1°C –   it features grassroots, NGOs and collectives, predominantly in the Global South, doing good work who should be supported more. (“Put your $money$ where our mouth is”)

Yes to Life, No to Miningsolidarity network – they recently launched five case studies  exploring how communities in their network from Colombia to Myanmar are resisting mining, reviving eco-systems, restoring and innovating post-extractive ways of living.  Check them out.

Atlas of Utopias and Transformative Cities – people calling for system change are already leading transformative initiatives around the world. Check out some inspiring, people-led projects in urban areas, and cast your vote for the People’s Choice Award before October 10th.

If Not Us Then Who – a creative group that aims to highlight the role indigenous and local peoples play in protecting ecosystems. They work in partnership with communities to make participatory films and facilitate tools for them to tell their stories and voice their demands. They organized Our Village Flashtalks past Monday 23rd in New York with some southern climate justice leaders, and have published the list of collective demands from their partners: AMANAMPB, REPALEF and COICA

Radical Ecological Democracy – a media platform that features stories of change based on ecological sustainability and human equity. Every week they publish articles by environmental activists based in the Global South. 

Global Tapestry of Alternatives – a network that aims to create spaces of collaboration and exchange between various initiatives that offer systemic solutions to the climate crisis.  

Cuidanderas – If you speak Spanish, check out this beautiful web series honoring the resistance of women land defenders in Latin America.

Pacific Climate Warriors – a network of young Pacific Islanders whose goal is “empowering young people to understand the issue of climate change and to take action to protect and enrich our islands, cultures, and oceans.” They often publish creative storytelling, such as their “Dear Global West” poem-video.

The ICCA Registry– “ICCA is an abbreviation for territories and areas conserved by indigenous peoples and local communities. ICCAs achieve conservation ofspecies and the natural environment, together with other social and cultural objectives.” 

The Defenders series by The Guardian has documented some of the violent assaults on environmental activists who have stood up against fossil fuel companies on their land, as well as their clear demands for social and climate justice.


Reforestation + restoration 

  • Association of Forest Communities of Petén (ACOFOP) in Guatemala has 500,000 hectares of forest under their collective concession, accounting for 70% of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. “Along with conservation actions, the community forestry model allows the communities that inhabit and care for the forests to generate economic and social benefits, through the sustainable use of timber species and others such as ramón nut and pepper, as well as the management of tourism services.” Through the collective management of the forest, they’ve managed to reduce forest fires to 0% and the deforestation rate to 0.4%. 

“One of our projects is how to maintain the balance of the environment, reforesting the areas that have been cut down and degraded, in order to create an environment that will bring the forest back and provide food to people.”

Benki Pyãnko
  • Centro Yorenka Ãtame (Forest Knowledge Centre), set up in Ashaninka territory on the border between Brazil and Peru, is a space for knowledge exchange between different peoples of the Amazon basin. There they carry out projects in agroforestry, community organization, strengthening seed collection and sale activities, restoration of degraded areas (they have planted over 2 million trees already), forest management and production of Amazonian native species seedlings. 
  • Green Up Gambia, a youth-led national tree-planting initiative with the target of planting over 1 million trees across the country to combat severe land degradation due to deforestation and soil erosion. 
  • The Great Green Wall, 8,000km-long wall of trees crossing eleven countries from east to west across Africa, just under the southern edge of the Sahara desert.

Confronting extractive industries + reclaiming land: 

“If the world wants to guarantee the protection of the environment, then our Indigenous lands need to be demarcated.”

Dinamam Tuxá
  • Salween Peace Park was set up and is managed by the Karen people in Myanmar to protect their lands from militarism, mining and mega-dams. The “boasts fertile soil where the ‘Ku’ shifting cultivation system is used to grow vegetables and other foods on a rotation that allows nature to recover.”  
  • Arid Land Pastoralist Development Organization (ALPDO) is conformed by pastoralist groups who have joined together as a formally recognized indigenous NGO to address problems of food-security, social constraints, and climate change in Southern Ethiopia. They undertake disaster risk management projects which have a significant impact on self employment for the local pastoralist communities of Nyangatom and Dassanach. 
  • Did you know Indigenous people are the holders of 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity?

Democratic technology 

  • Indigenous peoples in the Amazon are looking to technology to combat forest destruction, land grabs and climate change. In collaboration with IPAM, they recently developed a cell phone app called Alerta Clima Indígena to help Indigenous Brazilians find and share alerts about fires, illegal practices in the forest and climate data.
  • The Waorani Mapping Project, which began in 2015, when the Waorani faced mounting threats to their livelihoods and lands due to ongoing oil operations. The project has collectively mapped over one million acres of Waorani territory, and produced powerful maps the communities are using widely in their campaign against oil concession “Block 22”. 
  • In the Collective mapping edition of #PowerShift Resources, see more ways in which OpenSource mapping technology is being used to uphold land rights.  

Direct action and campaigns

  • Reclaim Power – a global month of action by social movements around the world united by a single purpose: to confront the dirty energy industry and demand a clean, fair energy system. Check out the actions that shook up the fossil fuel industry in 2016, 2017, and 2018.
  • The Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice – a network of movements and organizations aiming to build our capacity for coordinated mobilizations during critical political moments.

Hashtags and debates to follow in the Twittersphere: 

 #DecolonizeConservation  #NatureBasedSolutions #NaturalClimateSolutions #CommunityBasedSolutions #GuardiansOfTheForest  

Do you have any of your own suggestions, or ideas? Add them in the comments below so we can keep building up these resources collaboratively.

Featured image: Wayúu woman holding waimaro seeds, La Guajira, Colombia.María Faciolince.