By Christiane Kliemann

By Christiane Kliemann

With the Summer School in the lignite-mining area of the German Rhineland, for the first time the degrowth and climate justice movement are explicitly thought together. This is why the opening panel “No Climate Justice without Degrowth” had the interesting task to draw the very big picture and join the dots between climate change, degrowth, climate justice and the struggle against fossil fuels. Apart from mapping out such framework, the four panellists managed to shape a clear vision for addressing the root causes of climate change while highlighting points of alliance between movements from Global North and South. At the same time they emphasized the importance of concrete actions such as the resistance against coal-pints in the Rhineland for bringing forward social change.

Lyda Fernanda Forero, Columbian economist from the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam introduced the concept of climate justice from a Southern perspective and made very clear that the official UN climate negotiations fail to address the root causes of climate change. She identified the so- called “Green Economy” as one of the widespread “false climate solutions” that ensure the continuation of the economic system rather than questioning the underlying logic of anthropocentrism, growth and development. She emphasized that the market system that puts a price on everything has caused the climate crisis in the first place and can therefore not be taken to solve it: “You cannot pay for nature and you cannot pay for life itself”. This is also why the historical debt of the global North that arose from the exploitation of Southern wealth cannot be compensated with money but only with systemic change, as Forero pointed out.

“Get out of capitalism as a patriarchal system”

She added that the peoples movements from the South over the years have developed alternative solutions for the climate crisis that can bring about such systemic change. Examples are the concept of food souvereignity, rooted in the peasants movement, as well as community-based energy-souvereignity, agroforestry, the claim to leave fossil fuels in the ground and to establish different kinds of relations between humans and nature and humans among themselves. “Nature does not belong to us; we belong to nature”, Forero said. Pointing to the concept of eco-feminism, she also mentioned different gender relations and respect for the role of women as key “to get out of capitalism as a patriarchal system”

Joanna Cabello from Carbon Trade Watch explained why “market solutions” favoured by UN climate negotiators and large corporations not only fail to address climate change but even add to it, as they legalize pollution and bring a new wave of seemingly green but destructive projects to the global South. These are for example mega-dams, monocultures and agrofuels, mostly financed by the new stream of “climate money” stemming from UN-mechanisms for offsetting dirty production. Thanks to carbon trading, companies can continue polluting as long as there is something else that can compensate for it. This is why Cabello calls for resistance against the official UN climate process, as it distracts attention from the real issues that need to be addressed. “How can the emission from flights be compensated by forest plantations elsewhere that take 100 years to absorb emitted amount of CO2?”, she asks.

Degrowth as emancipatory project

Economic historian Matthias Schmelzer started from the question whether degrowth could be understood as a movement that simply reflects long-term economic trends, considering that economic growth seems to be entering a phase of stagnation anyway and that growth critique is raised all over the political spectrum. According to Schmelzer, however, this is exactly why it is so important to frame degrowth as emacipatory project focused on equity, solidarity and critique of hegemony. In this context, he defines degrowth as a conscious, democratic decision to reduce consumption and production in the global North in order to enable the good life for everyone within the natural ecological boundaries. Due to the close relations between growth and CO2 emissions, he considers degrowth in the North as a necessary but not sufficient condition for climate justice in the South and identifies the following levels for radical transformation:

– Radical redistribution of, labour, income and wealth
– Economic loclization in an open manner, leaving room for freedom of mobility
– Maximal and basic income
– Sufficieny-based infrastructures, more public and less private control
– Small-scale local experiments.

Schmelzer describes degrowth and climate justice as natural allies; climate justice stemming from the global South and being rooted in concrete local struggles while degrowth emerged in the global North and roots in theoretical critique of growth, alienation, neo-colonial hegemony and own privileges in conjunction with experimental projects. As for the commonalities between both movements, he mentions critique of the social and economic system, markets and capitalism as well as the concepts of climate debt and the agreement to leave resources in the ground

Local fights for global change

Last but not least, Timo Luthmann from the local anti-coal movement highlighted the importance of resistance against lignite-mining in the Rhineland for the international climate movement, which is an interesting parallel to the struggles of the climate-justice movements of the South. With the extraction of 100 million tons of coal equalling 30 million cars, the area is the largest source of CO2 in Europe and therefore one of the root causes of climate change. Luthmann sees the annual climate camps right at the coal pits as “laboratories of resistance” and an important place to fight for climate justice. In the light of the recent union-led demonstrations for jobs in the coal sector in Germany, the area is also one of the frontiers of social conflicts that he considers essential to bring about social change. Rather than appealing to those in power, the movement focuses on self-empowerment and direct action, thereby challenging existing power structures. Here on the edge of the coal-pits, the challenges in the face of societal transformation become visible and can be directly felt. This year, the climate camp will culminate in a mass action against coal-mining that draws on experiences with smaller actions in previous years. According to Naomi Klein, this August there is no more important place to be.


Christiane Kliemann is a freelance journalisting writing on postgrowth, alternative economies and social change. Before she has worked at the UNFCCC secretariat and the German Broadcaster Deutsche Welle