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Published on 22 March 2023

This essay centres the ecological and climate emergencies as the points of entry to discuss the erosion of multilateralism. Why? Because they are the locus of convergence of past and present dynamics that have generated not only the concerning structural inequalities of our times, but also an unprecedented threat to life on the planet. And also, because in a more pragmatic manner, anyone interested in any aspect of the agenda of justice, equality, liberty, dignity and others, cannot be blind to the fact that we need to re-evaluate everything we have done up until now and come up with more urgent, bolder, expedient and efficient ways to act. We are running out of time…

The betrayal by the Global North in the climate change arena

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released three Working Group contributions to its Sixth Assessment Report:[1]

  • Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis[2]
  • Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability[3]
  • Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change[4]

These reports stand in the middle of extreme tensions. On the one hand, the scientific knowledge is alerting the world about the extreme effects of global warming and ecological degradation, and also of the inherent dangers of the current economic system that is leading us towards imminent destruction. On the other hand, they reflect the crude political tensions[5] between powerful countries and low and middle-income countries, amid the negotiations to produce a text that would curate the way scientific knowledge would be presented to the world, especially in respect of their summaries for policymakers.[6] The tension was not solved, but the discourse of the powerful prevailed. That is, what the world received in the content of the summaries for policymakers is a watered-down version of what the scientists attempted to say, particularly in the mitigation agenda; upcoming segments of this essay aim to exemplify this tension. When matters of the survival of life on this planet are at stake, this should be enough for us to realise that the implications of the damage, and therefore our understanding of the right solutions, have been stolen from us from the start.

Even the ‘scientific knowledge’ that feeds into and prevails in the IPCC reports is contested. First, governments of wealthy industrialised countries have a direct role in funding the academic research that is conducting the type of studies, graphs, information, concepts and interpretation of data that is allowed to be included in the reports. This bias already erases an undeniable truth: that it is due to the overshoot of Global North countries that we are facing the dire effects of extreme global warming: Global North countries are responsible for 92% of excess global CO2 emissions:

As of 2015, the USA was responsible for 40% of excess global CO2 emissions. The European Union (EU-28) was responsible for 29%. The G8 nations (the USA, EU-28, Russia, Japan, and Canada) were together responsible for 85%. Countries classified by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change as Annex I nations (i.e., most industrialised countries) were responsible for 90% of excess emissions. The Global North was responsible for 92%. By contrast, most countries in the Global South were within their boundary fair shares, including India and China (although China will overshoot soon).

- Jason Hickel. [7]

As Jason Hickel says in his remarkable report highlighting the differentiated emissions by region, by concentration of wealth as well as through historical trends, ‘these results offer a just framework for attributing national responsibility for excess emissions, and a guide for determining national liability for damages related to climate change, consistent with the principles of planetary boundaries and equal access to atmospheric commons’.[8] Studies of this kind, denouncing the responsibility of Global North countries in the dire situation the world is facing currently, were the ones contested and rejected by wealthy countries from being included in the IPCC reports.

In a general manner, and rightly so, we are still relying on the content of the IPCC reports, but we should be extremely cautious about the landscape presented to us there. By solely relying on what has been agreed under an unfair multilateral system, humanity is closing the doors to more efficient ways to address the climate emergency, and as social movements we need to be aware of these tensions, not falling into the traps of what is ‘agreed language’ and what countries present to us as a baseline for decisions that will impact life on the planet in upcoming years. Furthermore, it is blocking us using all the tools at hand to address these emergencies under new interpretative frameworks; Jason Hickel says: ‘That the excess emissions of a few rich nations will harm billions of people in poorer nations is a crime against humanity and we should have the clarity to call it that’.[9]

Second, the IPCC report on mitigation presents a mix of structural solutions towards system change alongside false technical fixes. This is again due to the negotiating dynamics and the commercial interests imposed by wealthy countries promoting techno-fixes that would allow them to remain in the `business-as-usual´ modality, with no intentions to restrain production or consumption. Thus, the IPCC report does indeed challenge the model of exponential economic growth, emphasising its connection to increasing material and energy demand. To solve this problem, the IPCC calls for alternative solutions instead of a paradigm of economic growth, such as degrowth, post-growth, post-development and just transition.[10] Yet, the IPCC also includes references to false solutions or techno-fixes that have been questioned even inside the scientific community as well as by environmentalists and social movements. These include geo-engineering, `nature-based solutions´, net-zero, carbon capture and storage, nuclear energy and fracking. As Ketan Joshi says, false solutions are those that ‘are powered by the problem, and they both fail to solve the problem while also making it worse’, and ‘the solution cannot really solve (the problem), because it needs the problem to persist’.[11] As a matter of fact, all these false solutions are extremely dangerous in and of themselves, but the entire mix becomes criminal in the current context when urgent and decided action is needed to remain within the safe realm of planetary boundaries.[12]

Third, there are also epistemic imperial and colonial dynamics within the scientific community. The long-term scenarios that were assessed by scientists in the IPCC report on mitigation do not convey an aim towards reducing energy and resource use, instead they rely on the premise that our patterns of extraction will continue to prevail and even to grow.[13] In short, there is no pretension of promoting a system change, shifting the economic structures (not even to save life on the planet). Moreover, the long-term scenarios are grounded on colonial premises of exploitation and extraction that are considered unmovable, and therefore still maintained in future projections:

A just transition requires energy convergence—reducing energy use in wealthy countries to achieve rapid emissions reductions, and ensuring sufficient energy for development in the rest of the world. However, existing climate mitigation scenarios reviewed by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change do not explore such a transition. On average, existing scenarios maintain the Global North's energy privilege at a per capita level 2·3 times higher than in the Global South. (…). These scenarios tend to appropriate land in the Global South to maintain, and further increase, the Global North's energy privilege.

- Jason Hickel and Aljosa Slamersak. [14]

As if the omission of unequal economic dynamics was not concerning enough, the IPCC scenarios do not consider in any projection the surge of any future global crisis, any economic shock, or even the existence of a financial and banking sector.[15] Bearing in mind that crises and economic shocks are inherent phases of the way capitalism work, it is extremely worrisome, even irresponsible and criminal, that no projection about the climate crisis is taking them into consideration. Even more, it is widely known that the financial sector is the one incentivising investments in fossil fuels, despite all the global commitments to stop climate change, with reports denouncing that ‘fossil fuel financing from the world’s 60 largest banks has reached $4.6 trillion in the six years since the adoption of the Paris Agreement, with $742 billion in fossil fuel financing in 2021 alone’.[16] So by removing this factor from the equation, we can project how many scenarios we want involving all remaining sectors in the economy, while the financial sector will make sure all the efforts to save life on the planet are meaningless. From a macroeconomic perspective, we need to transcend the ‘risk analysis’ in relation to investors, and get real about the implications of the shifts that are needed in the global economic and financial architecture to face the climate crisis. Of course, a new social and economic pact needs to include an urgent regulation of the banking system.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, as Cecilia Conde says,[17] women from indigenous peoples or local communities do not write peer-reviewed papers. The bias towards Western and canonical forms of understanding knowledge also block us from seeing the extent of the damage made to ecosystems and the environment. An even deeper epistemic colonisation of our understanding is obstructing our access to a more comprehensive evaluation of the challenges at hand. When 5% of the population, indigenous peoples, are upholding 80% of the biodiversity in the world[18] and there is no room for their voices in our global assessment of: the causes of the problems, the affectation, the scenarios ahead, the existing challenges and the possible avenues for solutions we are shutting down the greatest knowledge humanity possesses at the moment to care for life on the planet.

An erosion of multilateralism that is driven by the Global North safeguarding its own interests

When in this essay we say there is an erosion of multilateralism, the ecological and climate emergencies are the best examples of it. I say ‘ecological’ and not ‘environmental’ because I want to clarify that even if ‘environmental’ has been mostly used in the policy space, it refers to an external dimension outside human logic (as a ‘surrounding’); rather, the notion of ‘ecological’ implies a dynamic and interrelated notion in which humans are part of the ecology and its cycles. Because even with the urgency at hand, the Global North has betrayed humanity, protecting corporate greed, disaster-profiteering, extraction and concentration of wealth at the expense of life. There seems to be no room for a real assessment of the real extent of the global emergency, and that is thanks to the obsession with the Global North’s own power. The way multilateral conversations have been led and overtaken by the weight of the bullying and imposition of wealthy countries have placed us as humanity not only in a situation in which we cannot know as an international community how bad things are, but also, the voices that are warning us with some certainty are being silenced.[19]

An example of this is the way the timeline for implementation of action is interpreted by what the IPCC report on mitigation says. While the G7 and G20 were aiming to reduce emissions by 2030, when the IPCC report on mitigation was released the experts warned global greenhouse gas emissions needed to peak by 2025 at the latest, and be down by 43% by 2030. That is, for a couple of months we were alarmed that we only had three years to shift dramatically towards decarbonisation.[20] Now, we don’t even have that comfort. The type of wording in the report opens up the interpretation that there is still room to continue peaking until 2025, but the choice of language is due to an internal debate about how to phrase it during the political negotiation of language for the summary for policymakers. In fact, scientists meant to say that we don’t have any more time to peak: the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions needs to start now. It should have started by 2020. We are over the line at the present moment. We are heading towards a point of no return above 1.5°C of global warming.[21]

Indeed, the awareness that we are already too late is not accessible to the international community. Because multilateral processes work in a manner that benefits the criminals, protected by the gamut of Global North representatives and decision makers.

Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the space where intergovernmental decisions are made to address the challenge of the climate crisis, there is a refusal to openly discuss and regulate fossil fuels. It is so absurd that civil society initiated a campaign during the Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP) in Glasgow on this: ‘Neither the Paris Agreement nor any decision adopted by previous COPs mention fossil fuels – a glaring omission in an instrument widely considered the most important global climate treaty adopted to date’.[22] Indeed, the Glasgow Climate Pact that emerged from COP26 in November 2021 has the first reference, but the way it is phrased is even more problematic. Article 36 calls on parties to accelerate ‘efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies’, which is extremely problematic because it implies that abated (or treated) coal does not need to meet any phase out, and it also implies that phasing down but not phasing out fossil fuels is enough, or that there are ‘efficient’ fossil fuels and those should be left untouched.[23]

For years activists and social movements have tried to include language on human rights in a cross-cutting manner within the UNFCCC, but this has been an uphill battle. In economic and ecological agendas it is of the utmost priority of wealthy countries to not agree on operative language (they only support the inclusion of references to human rights in preambular sections) because they understand perfectly well that in a multilateral instrument their extraterritorial violations are at stake.

A monumental threat: ecological integrity in danger

And yet, humanity has never been in such high risk. Or life on the planet. In fact, even if we were to stop greenhouse gas emissions today, and even if the climate change risk were to be tackled today, the way our economic system has exceeded the planetary boundaries is such that life is still on the verge of extinction. Scientists at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, led by the framing proposed by Johan Rockström, are developing the planetary boundaries concept, describing a set of nine boundaries within which humanity and life on this planet can thrive.[24] These boundaries are interrelated, and the interaction among them can promote changes towards the recovery of one or more of the planetary boundaries to the ‘safe’ level or to push other(s) to go beyond the thresholds. The nine boundaries are:

  1. Climate change
  2. Biosphere integrity, also called biodiversity integrity/loss, which includes two dimensions: genetic diversity (prevalence/extinction of species) and functional diversity (ecosystems integrity)
  3. Land-system change (related to forests)
  4. Biochemical flows (previously termed nitrogen/phosphorus cycles)
  5. Novel entities (related to chemical pollution, including plastic)
  6. Ocean acidification
  7. Freshwater use
  8. Atmospheric aerosol loading
  9. Stratospheric ozone depletion.

As of June 2022, due to anthropogenic perturbations, we have exceeded the first five of these.[25] Ocean acidification is nearing the boundary as well. Crossing each boundary itself does not mean imminent destruction, but it does mean that uncertainty is wider, the costs to face these transitions will increase over time but also, and more importantly, we may cross tipping points that could lead to irreversible collapse. At this rate, it is likely that by 2030 we will have exceeded all of the boundaries. We may have heard about the dangers posed by climate change, but the reality is way more concerning because it is only one of nine planetary boundaries that we need to be mindful of. As a matter of fact, climate change and biodiversity integrity are recognised as the two ‘core’ planetary boundaries, meaning they have a fundamental relevance for the stability or shifting of the others. And biodiversity integrity is at the moment the planetary boundary that has exceeded its threshold the most.

It is really complex to understand the extent of biodiversity loss. And frightening. Dramatic losses of plants and insect life (the world loses between 1% to 2% of insects per year[26]); one in five species of reptiles are at risk of extinction;[27] ocean warming is leading to a massive extinction at a level not seen in about 250 million years;[28] 70% of the land on this planet has been altered by humanity, and 40% of the planet’s land is already degraded due to modern agriculture, affecting half the people alive today.[29] And, in relation to land use, the world lost tropical forest in 2021 at a rate of about 10 soccer fields per minute.[30]

In May, the United Nations (UN) published its 2022 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR2022).[31] This report warns about the escalating risk of a global collapse scenario. As highlighted by Nafeez Ahmed,[32] the report, in turn, quotes another paper that maps possible scenarios in relation to human activity and the breaching of planetary boundaries.[33] In that paper, only one of four scenarios does not lead to global collapse. And that scenario, which by the way is the only one that also fulfils the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Sendai Framework, requires forgetting about business as usual and promoting ambitious shifts in policy and implementation. This scenario demands remaining below the thresholds of planetary boundaries to remain within a ‘safe operating space’ for humanity to live in. The other three scenarios consider going above the risk limits of planetary boundaries, with varying degrees of crossing. But it does consider that once they are crossed, limited international cooperation will be possible or enacted. For the most radical scenario, Global Collapse, there is an increased likelihood of global risks such as conflict, massive migration, pandemics and nuclear war. The paper warns about the trend we are heading in going beyond each and every one of the planetary boundaries, calling for the creation of a planetary boundaries goal within the review of the SDGs, including the addition of nine targets (one per each of the planetary boundaries) to track remaining below the thresholds. But, I ask, to those who know about the degree of accountability embedded in the SDGs[34], are we going to leave the fate of life on Earth in the hands of the High-Level Political Forum and the national voluntary reviews? We have our answer immediately: certainly NOT!

And this question leads to others that are key: is the UNFCCC mandate enough to confront the climate change emergency? Is the UN General Assembly willing to discuss what is needed to face the real threats to humanity and life on the planet? Is the multilateral arena ready to promote real solutions to the urgent challenges, provoked by the many elites in this world? The answers are even more complex. We are aware we need to reform the economic and financial architecture as it is now. The global economic justice movement has highlighted the need to shift key structural macro spheres to obtain meaningful results to achieve social, economic and ecological wellbeing.[35] And yet, the ecological emergency is posing even larger challenges in the articulation for new ideas stemming from different traditions of thought that are at the moment challenging power and proposing more sophisticated framings to achieve system change.

A feminist and decolonial social pact that works for people and planet

The problem, as we have pointed out, is that besides the much-needed reform of the economic and financial architecture, there is also the need to dramatically shift the way we conceive economy. And while we do so, we need to promote a social pact that eminently challenges the betrayal by the Global North, recognising that it has been the spokesperson of the large global economic and financial elites at the expense of people and planet.

The agenda of ecological integrity (the term I have used here to refer to the entire ecological agenda within the safe thresholds of planetary boundaries) is now the most crucial to be addressed from every dimension, and requires an unprecedented level of mobilisation and collective action to preserve it. We not only need a new global social contract in shaping a multilateral system as I have been demanding in previous papers.[36] I am convinced we need to renew our ideas and push harder for more radical views. We need a promotion of rising ideas from the point of view of a decolonial and feminist lens, while upholding at the centre the human rights framework.

First of all, the world’s economy and global survival relies on three main global subsidies. The reality is that today’s economy would not be possible if these three global subsidies were not operating, even if their relevance is not recognised in orthodox economic spaces. The monetised dimension is subsidised by the non-monetised dimension provided by women’s labour, the wealthy countries are subsidised by stealing (historically and presently) the resources of Global South countries, and the majority of the world is living out of the vital subsidy provided by indigenous peoples. This is why, in order to promote justice in global dynamics, the three main global subsidies need to be at the forefront of the way we formulate the solutions.

1. Women’s unpaid domestic and care work

The subsidy that is carried out by women globally and especially in the Global South by means of their unpaid domestic and care work, as a consequence of the sexual division of labour. This is the core macro-economic entry to the demands of a feminist agenda that is not solely aiming at achieving inclusion for women in the current system, but is working to achieve real system change. Proposals that remain in the scope of empowerment or on identity demands without taking a step further in transforming the macro structures will be limited in results, in time and perhaps even in the capacity for real transformation, at the expense of the groups of population that these efforts were aiming to target. This is an issue that in and of itself requires deeper understanding by those who claim to be allies but are really adding extra burden on the shoulders of women, or are merely proposing liberal ‘solutions’ that are accommodating to the predatory and extractive system that is undermining the quality of life of millions of people and destroying the planet. Indeed, when I say identity demands, I am also referring to calls for ‘intersectionality’ without having a structural component. Generality and specificity should both be our fields of transformation, without one obscuring the other. Specificity cannot take over the structural realm, since the reach is contextual. There is a widespread identity discourse takeover in the Global North among Northern feminisms, sparing them from the much-needed interconnection with structural analysis and demands. Identity demands on their own, caring only for specificity (even if they’re in the setting of ‘intersectionality’) can very easily fall into a feminism of inclusion. I am convinced the feminism of rupture, a tradition of thought stemming from the Latin American feminist economy, aiming at a real system change and questioning deeply the accommodation of women and oppressed groups of population (whether on the grounds of ‘representation’ or ‘exceptionality’ without promoting radical shifts for the generality of those who have suffered from multiple discrimination and oppression), has the real potential to promote a radical transformation at all levels. Evidently the notion of intersectionality carries within itself a structural dimension, especially given its radical inception within the black feminist movement, but the concept has been white-washed and liberalised in many circles, and therefore special efforts must be made to uphold the structural dimension at all times. I am concerned as well of an epistemic colonialism in the field of feminist knowledge, because many traditions in the Global South have for decades had many ways to address these complexities.

2. Extraction of labour, value, time and resources from the Global South

The subsidy that is carried out by the Global South by means of the extraction of labour, value, time and resources to the Global North. The obscene imperial acquisition of Global North countries of all of these at the expense of the development, liberty, safety and even lives in the Global South leaves us speechless.[37] There are those who keep on talking about neocolonialism. As if there was a moment in time in which colonial and imperial dynamics ended being. It is not so. We live in a crass colonial world and we have to call it as it is: a colonial system. The issues of debt crisis, with developing countries being bled to death by illegitimate private and public debt, prioritising obscene profits over sovereign fiscal space, or of illicit financial flows, especially corporate tax abuse, are merely examples of the way the Global North keeps on draining the South. The way that mechanisms are imposed to maintain even further this crashing of political and economic sovereignty come through tools such as investor-state dispute settlements (which indeed benefit corporations, but are upheld by the economic and financial architecture that is endorsed and defended by Northern countries); intellectual property rights, that ensure no possible technological development occurs in Southern countries, not even in the face of life or death outcomes;[38] public–private interfaces, which are many and varied, but at the heart maintain the premise that the public dimension – on which, by the way, our current global social pact relies – is dismantled at the core in favour of private profit, and in a larger manner apocryphal and illegitimate spaces of power such as the G7, G20, the OECD, the Paris Club and others – spaces in which Northern countries are appropriating of the entire decision-making field in a thoroughly undemocratic manner. It was bad enough that the Global North held the international financial institutions in their hands, particularly abusing the scope of action of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and now they are undermining the only space that could have the capacity to bring back the world some hope of a democratic global arena: the UN itself. By means of a very aggressive push for a corporate capture of the UN, we see the claws are circling every space that is meaningful and impacting the lives of all the world’s population. Every corner. And this is at the expense of the value that is stolen from the South.

3. Indigenous peoples’ preservation of biodiversity

The subsidy stems from indigenous peoples. This is an issue that has scarcely been recognised, but at this moment in time, we are living with stolen air. It has been thanks to the preservation of the 80% of biodiversity in the world by this sole 6% of the population on the planet that we, all of us, are still living and breathing. Their struggles are at the heart of a decolonial agenda, and are intertwined with a larger analysis related to race. But also, let us not forget, nowadays it is indigenous peoples who are fighting a solitary fight, with no real strategy by the rest of the social movements to put their voices at the front of the demands. All of the world lives at the expense of the oppression and extraction of the work, time, resources and the remarkable knowledge and practices they have in relation to the natural surroundings, that they are capable of upholding life despite the violent and genocidal clashes the Western civilisation has had against them and continues to have today. Indigenous peoples are the ecological defenders by definition, and yet they are fighting sovereign fights while demanding access to basic human rights.

These are elements that should guide our work. It is evident they’re interconnected and we cannot isolate one without dwelling on the others in their complexity. We have to recognise that these three subsidies should be the main guides of our actions, while keeping on engaging in more radical proposals and embedding these within those priorities.

Old battle, new configuration

I want to insist that we already have great proposals, and we need them now more than ever as an old battle with new dimensions unfolds in front of our eyes. We have been slow in recognising that it is a new frontier for social movements to engage in. Developed countries and wealthy elites globally have been proposing a ‘green’ transition to ‘clean[39]’ energy as the solution for the climate emergency. However, without a system change we will see a massive renewed drive towards mining extraction in the Global South. Estimates say that if we don’t shift the current economic system based on projections of exponential growth, we will need nine planets to deliver on all the mining and extraction needed to provide for the renewable energy projected until 2050.[40] Evidently, there are two problems here:

  1. That the ‘green’ solutions poised to solve the climate emergency, greening the current economy with renewable and ‘clean’ energy, rely on the depletion of biodiversity integrity.[41] Therefore, in the short run, it will end with life on the planet.
  2. That the economic system based on exponential growth of the wealthiest is unsustainable.

For the first problem, the old battle against extractivism is heading towards a new frontier. I’m convinced a major battle for social movements now and in the future will be around resource justice.[42] That is, the defence of biodiversity integrity in the Global South against the mega projects that will be required to deliver all the minerals and commodities required for the Global North to implement its ‘green transition’. A `green transition´ is not aiming at transforming the system, but merely to `green´ the current one. Moreover, to carry out a ´green transition´ to `fight climate change´ without reducing the aspirations of exponential economic growth in the Global North, would require such an amount of mining that the extinction of life on the planet is certain within some decades from now. The Global North, composed of just 16% of the population, is responsible for 74% of the overshoot of material resource use in the world, almost half of it extracted in the Global South for Global North consumption and use.[43] A comprehensive framework encompassing the whole ecological dimension will be needed to end the extrapolation between biodiversity measures and climate change measures. Resource justice is an agenda that climate activists will have to integrate into their demands to avoid destroying the planet as a result of a narrow analysis of the ecological emergencies. A mechanism of cap, fee and divest material resource use[44] could deliver not only resource justice and ecological justice, but could also be a starting point for the New Collective Quantifiable Goal on Climate Finance and even partially finance the Loss and Damage Fund, both of which will continue to be discussed in the climate conversations in 2023.

For the second problem, it is clear the economic justice movements need to make a larger assessment of their framework. The call for degrowth[45] for the rich is more relevant than ever, with new demands that should be integrated in the calls for the democratisation and reform of the global financial architecture. The term degrowth is often misunderstood and is, as Demaria and other authors call it, a missile word[46]: it is always a disruptor. It makes noise, it upsets people, it destabilises. But that is precisely what we need. Redistribution and reparation (with corresponding schemes of retribution and restoration) are key, but they cannot occur in a void. They need a framework of degrowth for the rich to achieve the system change that is needed.

A new social and economic pact therefore requires a radical call for degrowth on three levels:

  • Degrowth for wealthy economies/developed countries. The exponential growth of developed countries cannot keep on happening to the detriment of the dignity of people and life on the planet.
  • Degrowth for the wealthy in developed and developing countries. The social, economic and ecological impacts of concentration of wealth are widely known. A recent report from Oxfam shows that the 1% of the population concentrating the majority of wealth on the planet are responsible for a million times more carbon emissions than the average person.[47] This has to stop immediately to effectively rescue what is left of our ecosystems and wellbeing of people.
  • Degrowth for economic sectors/productive practices that are incompatible with wellbeing, that are superfluous and damaging for life and wellbeing. There are many of these sectors, such as the production of private jets, the technological practices of technological obsolescence or fast retailing. Of course, fossil fuel extraction needs to be halted, and for the climate emergency, the regulation of financial investments in the fossil fuels industry is urgent. The banking sector alone is one of the most responsible for fossil fuel extraction, and so far there is no global scheme to regulate and sanction these practices.[48]

A feminist analysis of demands for degrowth for the rich needs to expand these categories through a time use/labour lens. For reasons of space, we cannot do that here, but the discussion of just and equitable transitions need to be revised with feminist decolonial lenses. The South, the women and the indigenous peoples will not, and should not, subsidise the next economic transformation.[49]

In this landscape, decolonial demands for reparation are seeing a rise in the global movement community, in the form of loss and damage finance (more specifically, a Loss and Damage Fund). Its approval became a meaningful victory at the climate change COP27 in Egypt, despite seeing failed results in the mitigation and finance agendas. We will see how the Loss and Damage Fund will be operationalised in the coming years. As usual, we will be watching Global North countries, who have been refusing to fully deliver on this fair demand.

I just want to warn that an agenda of loss and damage alone will indeed address the historical reparations that are needed, but it won’t stop the harm done through the dynamics of the current global economic and financial architecture, nor the harm done by the overshoot of material resource use and carbon emissions by the Global North. So, all the dimensions mentioned in this essay need to happen at the same time.


In closing, for a social and economic pact that is feminist and decolonial, the economic and ecological justice movement needs to expand its dialogues with all the communities generating new knowledge to build a more sophisticated framework that addresses old demands with the current challenges. A multilateral sphere that is reconfigured has to be at the heart of our struggle, and the betrayal by the North has to be halted right now. Humanity and life on the planet have been held hostage, but not anymore. We have the ideas, we have the drive, and we have the collective power to promote the most urgent and pressing transformation in modern history.


[1] The IPCC also released three Special Reports: Global Warming of 1.5°C,, Climate Change and Land, and The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate,

[2] Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, IPCC, 2021.

[3] Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, IPCC, 2022,

[4] Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change, IPCC, 2022,

[5] ‘IPCC report on ‘Mitigation of Climate Change’ adopted after intense wrangling’, Third World Network, TWN Info Service on Climate Change, 6 April 2022.

[6] Even though all the content of the Working Group contributions to the Assessment Reports undergo lengthy review and negotiation processes (the drafts undergo rounds of comments by governments), it is the content of the summaries for policymakers, the segments that are presented at the beginning of each assessment report, that are negotiated line by line, with power dynamics at play undermining facts, evidence and the full extent of the responsibility of industrialised and wealthy countries in the overshoot of greenhouse gas emissions.

[7] ‘Quantifying national responsibility for climate breakdown: an equality-based attribution approach for carbon dioxide emissions in excess of the planetary boundary’, Jason Hickel, The Lancet Planetary Health, 4(9), September 2020, pp e399-e404.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Less is more. How degrowth will save the world, Jason Hickel, Windmill Books, UK, 2020, p117.

[10] Degrowth in the IPCC AR6 WGIII, Timothée Parrique, 7 April 2022,

[11] CCC causes the problem it fails to solve, Ketan Joshi, 15 November 2022,

[12] To see more about the false solutions promoted by global elites in the climate change and ecological agendas, see a video produced by the Campaign of Campaigns to socialise macro issues with wider audiences. The first video of The Rise Up series addresses the issue of false solutions, as well as the impact of colonialism in the current climate emergency, and the need for global mobilisation:

[13] ‘“It’s a Very Western Vision of the World:” How ideological bias and structural inequality prevent the IPCC from exploring possibilities for fundamental transformation.’ Saheb et al., Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung News, 6 August 2022,

[14] Jason Hickel and Aljosa Slamersak, ‘Existing climate mitigation scenarios perpetuate colonial inequalities’, The Lancet Planetary Health, 6(7), July 2022, pp e628-e631,

[15] Briefing at the Second Technical Expert Dialogue under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Ad hoc Work Programme on the New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance, Dipak Dasgupta, Distinguished Fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute, Bonn, Germany. 13 June 2022.

[16] Banking on climate chaos. Fossil Fuels Finance Report 2022, executive summary, p3. Produced by Rainforest Action Network, BANKTRACK, Indigenous Environmental Network et al, 30 March 2022,

[17] Cecilia Conde, Mexican Scientist, co-coordinator of the cross-cutting box ‘Gender, Climate Justice and Transformative Pathways’ of the IPCC report: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, chapter 18.

[18] ‘Indigenous Peoples: Defending an Environment for All’, Eugenia Recio and Dina Hestad, IISD Earth Negotiations Bulletin, Policy Brief #36, April 2022, International Institute for Sustainable Development,

[19] Let me share a brief note on the bullying I’m referring to. I have witnessed first-hand the bullying of developing countries by wealthy countries in countless international processes, mostly with threats to undermine access to aid or technologies. Bullying of this kind is a criminal attack to national sovereignty with terrible consequences for humanity, as potential alliances among low and middle-income countries are then smashed. It is astounding to me that international NGOs (INGOs) and NGOs in the Global North do not call out more strongly this common practice of powerful countries. And yet the role of INGOs and Northern NGOs in the aid compound is extremely problematic and colonial in its nature, and therefore these threats in relation to aid just mean a realignment in their portfolios, but ensure their colonial operations are intact. Even though this element is part of a larger analysis, the way most INGOs and Northern NGOs are complicit in the betrayal by the North is inherent in the erosion of multilateralism: their indolence, their self-complacency, their racist views of the world, and most of all their inaction in the face of the impunity of powerful governments – the governments of which they are citizens!! – is scandalous and aberrant.

[20] ‘It’s Now Or Never’: We Have 3 Years to Reverse Course, Major Climate Report Finds’, Molly Taft, Gizmodo, 4 April 2022,

[21] ‘Climate change: Key UN finding widely misinterpreted’, Matt McGrath, BBC News, 16 April 2022,

[22] ‘Real ambition vs. false solutions: What’s at stake during COP26?’, Linn Persson, Bethanie M Carney Almroth, Christopher D Collins et al, Center for International Environmental Law, CIEL Blog Post, 27 October 2021,

[23] Glasgow Climate Pact, Decision 1/CMA.3,

[24] Planetary boundaries, Stockholm Resilience Center,

[25] ‘Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet’, Will Steffen, Katherine Richardson, Johan Rockström et al, Science, 347(6223), 2015, And ‘Outside the Safe Operating Space of the Planetary Boundary for Novel Entities’, Linn Persson, Bethanie M Carney Almroth, Christopher D Collins et al, Environmental Science and Technology, 18 January 2022,

[26] ‘Climate change linked to fewer bugs, study finds’, Evan Bush, NBC News, 20 April 2022,

[27] ‘Apocalypse Papers’: Scientists Call for Paradigm Shift as Biodiversity Loss Worsens’, Kristoffer Tigue, Inside Climate News, 29 April 2022,

[28] ‘The Current Rate of Ocean Warming Could Bring the Greatest Extinction of Sealife in 250 Million Years’, Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News, 28 April 2022,

[29] ‘UN Report Says Humanity Has Altered 70 Percent of the Earth’s Land, Putting the Planet on a ‘Crisis Footing’, Georgiana Gustin, Inside Climate News, 27 April 2022,

[30] ‘The World Has Been Losing 10 Soccer Fields of Tropical Forest Per Minute’, Erick Roston, Bloomberg News, 28 April 2022,

[31] Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2022, UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2022,

[32] ‘UN Warns of ‘Total Societal Collapse’ Due to Breaching of Planetary Boundaries’, Nafeez Ahmed, Byline Times, 26 May 2022,

[33] ‘Global catastrophic risk and planetary boundaries: The relationship to global targets and disaster risk reduction’, Thomas Cernev, UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2022,

[34] There is of course a deeper conflict with the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs because, at their core, they call for economic growth (that is, exponential growth). SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production is at odds with SDG 8 that aims at achieving economic growth. During the Open Working Groups and the Political Declaration negotiations, the Women’s Major Group and diverse social movements called for the deletion of the notion of ‘economic growth’, but to no avail. Thus, economic growth is mentioned as one of the drivers and expected outcomes of the 2030 Agenda in the Political Declaration. The 2030 Agenda is indeed a political locus around which current global efforts converge in the multilateral space. However, it has to be said that while economic growth remains inherent to this agenda, it will be tied to a deadly paradox.

[35] See for instance the agenda inspired by the Civil Society Financing for Development Group and the Women’s Working Group on Financing for Development and that is articulated in the Campaign of Campaigns, an initiative to galvanise collective efforts to address the multiple crises humanity is facing. See:

[36] See ‘Shaping the Future of Multilateralism. Feminist, decolonial economic solutions to address interconnected global crises’, Emilia Reyes, Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, May 2021. Also, ‘A decolonial, feminist Global Green New Deal for our 2020 challenges’, Emilia Reyes, in Perspectives on a Global Green New Deal, curated and edited by Harpreet Kaur Paul and Dalia Gebrial, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, 2021.

[37] For an account of this criminal exploitation see: The divide: Global Inequality from Conquest to Free Markets, Jason Hickel, WW Norton & Company, New York, London, 2018.

[38] During the Covid-19 pandemic we saw the real face of Northern countries at the World Trade Organization refused the most basic measures to save the life of millions of people.

[39] The notion of `clean´ energy is problematic in many fronts. For once, governments are using the term `clean´ in relation to many unsafe modes of generation of energy, such as fracking or nuclear energy. In other cases, the word ´clean energy´ is applied in absurd and laughable ways, like ´clean coal´, or ´clean oil´. `Clean´ energy is not enough nor positive when used in isolation; we need energy that is at the same time renewable, clean, safe, affordable and accessible.

[40] See note 7: Less is more. How degrowth will save the world.

[41] In previous papers I have proposed a Feminist and Decolonial Global Green New Deal. Latest papers in the field of ecological economy prove that ‘green’ alone cannot save us from ecological destruction. The term green, it seems, is enough to assure liberals that their economic project will continue, and that is far from what I want to convey. This is why, for the time being, I will ascribe to proposals in line with the framing of a Global Green New Deal without growth, emphasising the need to degrow the rich, rather than greening the current economic system. ‘Feminist and decolonial’ are key components of my proposal as well. It is clear, as it will be seen in this paper, that without resource justice and degrowth solutions, no ‘greening’ will be good enough to save life on the planet. See: ‘Is Green Growth Possible?’, Jason Hickel and Giorgos Kallis, in New Political Economy, 25(4), 2020. See as well: ‘A Green New Deal without growth?’, Riccardo Mastini, Giorgos Kallis and Jason Hickel, in Ecological Economics, 179, 2021, 106832,

[42] I owe the term ‘resource justice’ to Jan Mayrhofer with the European Youth Forum, who in turn refers it to Meadhbh Bolger, Friends of the Earth.

[43] ‘National responsibility for ecological breakdown: a fair-shares assessment of resource use, 1970–2017’, Jason Hickel, Daniel W O’Neill, Andrew L Fanning et al, The Lancet Planetary Health, 6(4), April 2022, pp e342-e349,

[44] That is, capping material resource use, taxing a fee to extraction of material resource use, and the divestment of the new money could be used for funding ecological and climate action. A mechanism such as this one should be devised and implemented under the premise of polluters pay and conceived in a democratic operation for delivering much-needed funds in many areas. This could also be a starting point to finance a percentage of a future loss and damage finance fund, because at the heart, this cap, fee and divest mechanism should be understood as a redistribution and reparation mechanism.

[45] See: `What is Degrowth?´ in Degrowth, Giorgos Kallis, Agenda Publishing Ltd., Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, 2018. Also: Degrowth: a theory of radical abundance, Jason Hickel, Real-world economics review, 87, 2019, and ‘The anti-colonial politics of degrowth’, Jason Hickel, Political Geography, 2021,

[46] `What is degrowth? From an activist slogan to a social movement´, Demaria, F., Schneider, F., Sekulova, F. and Martinez-Alier, J., Environmental values, 22(2), 2013, pp.191-215.

[47] Carbon Billionaires: The investment emissions of the world’s richest people, Oxfam International, 2022,;jsessionid=EBA92B7E47AD92F8AEC4177D5C578BE0?sequence=14

[48] The climate justice community is calling for ‘trillions of dollars’ for climate finance. Just the banking sector alone is pouring those trillions every year into the fossil fuels industry.

[49] I am only referring in this paper to macro proposals within the degrowth framework. There is much to say about this tradition, but for the time being I will just say that local proposals, however powerful, are not sufficient to dwell on the challenges humanity is facing today. That’s why this paper focuses on a call for global and macro transformation, while bearing in mind that the need for a democratisation of the global economic and financial architecture requires as well the diversity of voices, of ways of living, and of course, of a regeneration at the mezzo (the institutional dimension), micro and ecosystem levels, that can only happen with a loving approach to the specificity and richness of life.