- What feminist perspectives can show us
- So, where do we go from here?
- Where we (almost) were: South–South vision from the past
- The New International Economic Order
- The rise of Global North transnationals
- Where we are now: climate, pandemic and debt
- How the Global South is locked in a lose-lose situation
- The pandemic’s legacy of debt and hunger in the South
We live on a planet where it is becoming incomprehensible to fathom ecological collapse and the depths of despair and destruction that is unfolding around us. The scorching temperatures are burning forests, suffocating oceans, parching lands and drowning cities and villages. Biodiversity loss is endangering critical species and affecting food systems. Millions of people are displaced, dispossessed and no longer able to recover and rebuild. This is happening at just over 1°C of warming since the industrial revolution.
This human-induced crisis began with colonialism and imperialism. An elite, racist and patriarchal Western regime established a predatory neoliberal system that consolidated wealth and power to the Global North. This system was enforced ruthlessly and created its own class of wealthy and powerful (mostly) men in colonised countries who in turn have become modern day oppressors.
These elites manipulate capitalism to keep burning fossils to serve a neocolonial ‘development’ model of relentless extraction, production, consumption, pollution and waste to make profit. The world’s richest source their wealth from carbon-intensive industries that include technology, finance and investments, mining, oil, fashion and retail, media and entertainment. From 1990 to 2015, the richest 10% of people were responsible for 52% of cumulative carbon emissions. The richest 1%’s growth in emissions was three times higher, and their per capita consumption was more than 100 times higher, than that of the world’s poorest 50%. A select ultra-rich few are consuming and contributing the most in global emissions, while wilfully ignoring limiting global heating to 1.5°C.
What feminist perspectives can show us
Feminist perspectives criticise the intersecting forms of power and norms that accumulate wealth in the hands of an elite class at the expense of gendered, marginalised and poor people. This system of oppression is reinforced by neoliberalism and its tools of globalisation, privatisation, competition and liberalisation that exploit black, indigenous and coloured people on the grounds of gender, sex, race, class, age, caste, ethnicity, religion and more. Marginalised and poor womxn, including black, indigenous, womxn of colour, womxn refugees and migrant workers experiencing pre-existing inequality and discrimination are bearing the worst brunt of the global polycrisis.
Feminists interrogate stereotypes that play out in cultural and social relations that inform legal, political, economic and social systems that contribute to the growing power of elites. Discrimination, inequality and violence against woman is perpetuated by economic growth aided by corporate controlled media and the domination of ‘Western masculine’ science and technology. Womxn’s central role in food production, conservation, caring and reproduction is invisibilised and devalued as ‘non-production’ in the economy because it does not meet the ‘patriarchal construct’ of market-oriented gross domestic product. The life-giving value is replaced by market price.
The capitalist patriarchy has attacked traditional and indigenous ways of sustainably managing natural resources that are led by womxn. In the Global South, womxn primarily depend on natural resources for their livelihoods but the scourge of limitless growth has violently grabbed their resources displacing entire communities from their land, forests, water and seeds. Recognising the structural and interconnected exploitation of womxn and nature, feminist movements since the 1970s have organised to defend the environment, demand equal rights and respond to the gendered impacts of ecological destruction, food and water insecurity, and loss of land and livelihoods.
The fossil-fuelled obsession with supply and demand to keep up the unsustainable lifestyles of an ever-growing rich middle class is not only wreaking havoc on the environment but also creating disinterest towards identities and bodies of racial, gendered and sexual minorities who are disproportionately represented in supply chains. The capitalist engine uses market fundamentalism to distract and deceive the public from the violent appropriation and commodification of natural resources and woman’s labour that produces material consumerism and competitiveness.
With all the progress and enlightenment that came with so-called modernisation, this is the dark reality of how we live. Daily reports from around the world show the backlash against womxn’s rights from Iran to the USA. Long-entrenched labour rights are regressing with increasing privatisation, deregulation and trade liberalisation. Human rights are under attack in democracies. Billionaires are thriving from the pandemic, food, energy and climate crisis. Capricious right-wing leaders are wielding xenophobia, racism, sexism and hate with impunity. Far-right populism is on the rise. Entire economies have collapsed from Yemen to Sri Lanka. The frequency of disasters caused by natural hazards has increased five-fold over 50 years with more than 91% of deaths occurred in developing countries. The economic losses are $383 million per day globally.
In 2021, 51 governments spent $697.2 billion subsidising fossil fuel industries. The same year, global military expenditure reached a record high of $2.1 trillion with the US, Russia, China, India and the UK accounting for 62% of spending. Military budgets have steadily increased over the last seven years. The Panama Papers revealed a secret ‘offshore’ financial system that hid at least $11.3 trillion in private tax havens likely accumulated through tax evasion and crime. This ‘offshore’ system was enabled by multinational banks, top-tier law and accounting firms headquartered in the US, UK and elsewhere in Europe. There is no shortage of wealth on this planet. It is with who and where this wealth accumulates and is spent that is grossly unjust.
So, where do we go from here?
Why are we facing a climate, food, pandemic and debt crisis when we have advanced technology and enormous wealth? There are sophisticated global supply chains so why does food not reach those who need it? Trillions of dollars lie hidden (and protected) in safe havens so why do governments tell us that there is no money to eradicate poverty, redistribute and value care work, pay for universal healthcare, free education, living wage or tackle the climate crisis? Technology and medicines can be easily shared so why are they made inaccessible and unaffordable by slapping patents and copyrights? We have an advanced system of laws designed to protect and fulfil the human rights of people but is it working? Does it matter who we vote anymore since corporations and banks wield the real power?
Instead of doing what is right or moral, humanity keeps failing humanity (and the environment). And for no better reason than sexism, racism and greed. Our social contract is broken. This is the time to envisage a new social contract that is fair, feminist, anti-racist and redistributes power and wealth equitably to serve the wellbeing of people and planet. A contract that is bold and visionary to eradicate the patriarchal, colonial and capitalist neoliberal establishment and live within our ecological limits. A contract that restores our connection to care for species and life on earth with power and hope.
Against this context, this essay considers how a feminist and anti-racist social contract for people and planet can be envisioned.
Where we (almost) were: South–South vision from the past
At a time not so long ago, colonial and imperial powers waged the First and Second World Wars, leaving the world to reel from the injustices of the Great Depression, holocaust and nuclear bombs. A trail of death, ruin and bankrupt economies redrew borders and began relinquishing colonial-imperial control across the Global South. It heralded a new era of international cooperation and solidarity culminating in the United Nations (UN) built on a foundation of human rights, peace, security and socio-economic development.
There was hope and optimism in the years leading up to the 1970s when the global economy rebuilt. Colonial and imperial nations remained the dominant powers carrying out nuclear testing in the Pacific, forcing the Arab oil embargo, starting the Vietnam War and instigating the Green Revolution. People across the Global South suffered famines and conflicts, and the rise of post-colonial dictators became common. Notwithstanding, the Marshall Plan along with an appetite for social democracy had taken wings. The rise of feminist, black, environment, labour and social movements took hold.
The New International Economic Order
Leaders in the Global South recognised that political colonisation was replaced by de facto economic colonisation which increased extraction, trade barriers, wealth inequality, debt and aid dependency. The leaders had a gender blind but bold vision that advocated for a more equitable international system that fairly redistributed wealth, created political and economic parity and respected the right to self-determination. In 1974, the UN General Assembly endorsed the New International Economic Order (NIEO)13 signalling decolonisation and setting a new geopolitical agenda. NIEO offered to restructure the global trade rules, address historical wrongs and fairly recognise the Global South’s political and economic sovereignty.
The key principles of NIEO included:
- Cooperation of all states based on equity.
- The adoption of special measures in favour of the least developed land-locked and small island developing countries as well as those developing countries most seriously affected by economic crises and natural calamities, without losing sight of the interests of other developing countries.
- The right of states to adopt the economic and social system that it deems the most appropriate for its own development.
- The right to self-determination – full permanent sovereignty of developing countries and the peoples of territories under colonial and racial domination and foreign occupation to achieve their liberation and to regain effective control over their natural resources and all economic activities.
- The right of all states, territories and peoples under foreign occupation, alien and colonial domination or apartheid to restitution and full compensation for the exploitation and depletion of, and damages to, the natural resources and all other resources of those states, territories and peoples.
- A just and equitable relationship between the prices of raw materials, primary commodities, manufactured and semi-manufactured goods exported by developing countries and the prices of raw materials, primary commodities, manufactured and capital goods and equipment imported by them with the aim of improving their unsatisfactory terms of trade and expanding the world economy.
- Extension of active assistance to developing countries by the whole international community, free of any political or military conditions.
- Regulation and supervision of transnational corporations in the interests of the domiciled countries.
- A reform of the international monetary system and other financing mechanisms and align them to development needs.
- Granting of preferential (nonreciprocal) trade preferences to countries in the South.
- Giving developing countries access to the achievements of modern science and technology, and promoting the transfer of technology and the creation of indigenous technology for the benefit of developing countries in forms and in accordance with procedures suited to their economies.
- The need for all states to put an end to the waste of natural resources, including food products.
- The forgiveness of certain debts that states in the South owed to the North.
- Call for global redistribution – including financial, resource and technology transfer – from rich to poor countries.
NIEO did not survive. The US systematically rejected NIEO because it would require reforming market-oriented economic globalisation and threaten the dominance of the US and its allies. The US secretly undermined developing countries by pitting their diverse political and economic differences against each other. For example, the Arab states discovering the riches from oil were not willing to ‘redistribute’ their oil money for the greater good and poor states were also forced to buy the oil at hiked prices.
NIEO sought equality, justice and historical responsibility for the poverty in former colonies which the Global North never acknowledged. Instead, the Global North declared NIEO as ‘radical’ and ‘socialist’ during a highly-charged Cold War period and prescribed a Western version of ‘development’ by drafting policies under international law that prevailed. Developing countries were ‘lured into expensive development projects that they could not pay for’ that trapped them in intergenerational debt.
The rise of Global North transnationals
At the time NIEO was being proposed, an elite group of white, transnational (male) lawyers developed a competing legal-regulatory framework for transnational corporations that gave them ‘a central and powerful role in the global marketplace’. Their tool of domination was international arbitration on terms that would favour the Global North. The Bretton Wood market-based reforms to address economic downturn across the West, and ‘bail out’ the debt crisis through structural adjustment programmes and agricultural trade liberalisation in Africa, Asia and Latin America, fortified the unfettered rise of Global North transnationals. These unfair trade and investment rules across all global ‘free trade’ agreements are designed to expand corporate capture leaving behind destroyed farms, displaced people, devastated habitats and disappearing biodiversity – resulting in greater violence against womxn.
Where we are now: climate, pandemic and debt
International agreements, plans and processes
Since the 1990s, the G77 as the collective South bloc is still using NIEO principles to bargain at the global climate change negotiations at COP every year to hold the Global North responsible for the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases to industrialise, militarise and enrich their economies. The 2015 Paris Agreement provides a framework for global climate action by countries to set ambitious targets to address mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage. It acknowledges human rights, gender equality and womxn empowerment including the right to health, right to development and the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations. The Gender Action Plan (GAP) creates a positive shift in the level of representation, participation and leadership of womxn in all their diversity across all the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) processes.
There are significant challenges to the UNFCCC’s ability to respond effectively to the urgency of the climate crisis. The dismal national climate commitments by countries are setting us on a catastrophic path to a 2.5°C temperature rise by 2100. The UNFCCC lacks the mandate to hold states accountable or implement these voluntary commitments. There is a greater shift in UNFCCC to support and monitor implementation however this depends on the implementation actions being agreed by consensus which takes years. The protracted delays in negotiations hinders planning, funding and implementation of real action as politics divide the ambitions between the Global North and Global South. The severe limitations placed on civil society in accessing, affording and meaningfully participating in COP is growing worse over the years. Greta Thunberg refused to join COP this year accusing it of being greenwashed. COP27 was sponsored by Coca Cola, one of the world’s largest polluters. Hill+Knowlton Strategies, the leading PR agency of ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and Saudi Aramco was hired by the Egyptian Presidency to head the conference’s communications. The stifling security and surveillance is putting frontline environment defenders, particularly indigenous, black and coloured activists at greater risk. The corporate capture of COPs where false solutions are being freely marketed and CEOs influence climate policies behind closed doors is undermining UNFCCC credibility.
The principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’ enshrined in the UNFCCC set a shared moral compass on all countries to tackle the climate crisis but places the onus on the developed North to halt its emissions and allow the Global South the right to development by setting reduction targets to accommodate their national circumstances. It creates a framework for the Global North to take historical responsibility and with fairness and equity, support the sustainable development and adaptation of the Global South by providing ‘untied’ assistance through the transfer of finance, technology and capacity building. The Global North counter the ‘common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’ principle by pointing to the high emissions of the emerging economies of China and India to take more ambitious measures and offer South–South support instead. This tactic ignores the fact that half of the emissions of the richest 10% (24.5% of global emissions) are from the consumption of US and EU citizens and a fifth (9.2%) from citizens of China and India.
Not surprisingly, most of the Global North, in particular the US, UK and EU, reject an interpretation of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’ that implies any international obligations or liabilities for climate change, and are still lagging in contributing their fair share to climate finance. Nearly 30 years later, a ‘historic deal’ was announced at COP27 in November 2022 where a fund for loss and damage was agreed when the EU finally reversed its position of blocking this and then the US followed. It may yet take years for the finances and operationalisation of this fund to reach affected communities.
How the Global South is locked in a lose-lose situation
The infuriating paradox of the Global South is that it was coerced to rely on capitalism and is now stuck as the largest producer and supplier of raw materials and commodities to serve the consumption needs of the rich North. To generate its economic development, the Global South burns fossils to meet the demands of Western lifestyles while $2 trillion flows from the world’s poorest to the world’s richest nations through trade mispricing, debt servicing, illicit financial flows and unfair trade rules every year. A study has found that the true value of unequal exchange when measured in the value of appropriated resources, labour and trade goods from the Global South in 2015 amounted to $10.8 trillion, a figure that could end extreme poverty 70 times over. Between 1990 and 2015 the total drain from the South amounted to $242 trillion. This study concluded that the South’s losses due to unequal exchange outstrips their total aid during this period by over 30 times. This injustice drives ‘global inequality, uneven development and ecological breakdown’ in the Global South while benefits accrue to the Global North. The Global North owes an ecological debt to the Global South.
As developing countries face escalating and disproportionate impacts of climate disasters and are unable to make existing debt repayments, they are forced to keep borrowing more with higher interests while creditors keep making more profit. The cost of loss and damage is predicted to be between $290 billion and $580 billion annually by 2030. This does not take into account non-economic losses such as cultural loss, mental wellbeing and loss of biodiversity. Till the loss and damage finance facility is set up and running, developing countries continue to rely on insufficient humanitarian aid. Existing climate finance is provided for mitigation and less so for adaptation. Over 70% of climate finance is provided through loans (rather than grants) and even this is nowhere near the level or scale that is required. This is pushing the South into further debt where it ends up spending five times more on debt repayments rather than addressing climate impacts.
The inability of developing countries to raise revenue to repay debt allows the World Bank, rich countries, private sector, industry-body lobbyists and the like to promote ‘innocuous but highly dubious market-based initiatives and so-called solutions to help fill this ever widening financial gap’. False solutions such as carbon markets, climate-smart agriculture, biofuels, genetically modified crops, reforestation, fortress conservation and geoengineering are designed for profit and traded as carbon offset credits on financial markets. These solutions are pushed by rich countries to create new markets that benefit the Global North. Intellectual property and technology are not transferred to developing countries and these projects are run by transnational corporations and firms.
Oil rigs, mining and fracking by foreign transnationals in developing countries attract foreign direct investment. Developing countries rely on fossil fuel revenues to generate revenue which at times requires further investing in extractive infrastructure by borrowing more. This is a self-defeating exercise that the Global South is locked in. These projects result in spiking food and fuel prices, land grabs, biodiversity loss, environment degradation and violence, and violate the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. Womxn excluded from legal ownership and access to land including decision making experience further marginalisation. False solutions weaken environmental, gender and social safeguards and increase climate risks.
The pandemic’s legacy of debt and hunger in the South
In addition to private and public debt, the Covid-19 pandemic drew low and middle-income countries into further debt to tackle the economic and health cost of the crisis. Low-income countries’ debt rose 12% to a record $860 billion in 2020. The combined debt of low and middle-income countries rose 5.3% to $8.7 trillion in the same year to cope with addressing the pandemic. Vaccine apartheid saw 31.7% of developed countries receiving at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine compared to 1.3% of people in low-income countries. The Global North hoarded vaccines and refused to waive patents (with the exception of the US) forcing developing countries to divert resources to buy vaccines at higher prices than their Western counterparts. At a time when global solidarity was most needed, the cruelty of colonial power, racism and obscene profiteering of big pharmaceutical corporations pushed millions of people into greater inequality, poverty, hunger and death. Womxn again bore the worst brunt of the pandemic in formal as well as informal and precarious jobs that exposed them to greater risk, longer work hours and lost income and increased their burden of care while economic vulnerability led to gender-based violence.
Following the pandemic, the number of people affected by hunger rose to 828 million in 2021, affecting 31.9% of womxn compared to 27.6% men. The war in Ukraine is disrupting the international supply chain from two of the world’s largest producers of staple cereals, oilseeds and fertiliser, pushing up the price of energy, food and commodities, and worsening the dire socio-economic situation in low-income countries already facing extreme climate events. The implications for food security and nutrition are disturbing particularly in light of this crisis creating 40 new pharma billionaires and 62 new food billionaires in just 24 months from the beginning of the pandemic. They profit from the pandemic and hunger because the neoliberal system is designed to allow disaster capitalism.
Developing countries are facing extreme financial distress compounded by a debilitating debt and food crisis with insufficient monetary and fiscal space to invest in public goods and services. Countries are forced to choose between addressing the economic fallout from the pandemic, investing in climate resilience or making repayments on pre-existing loans. The G20 launched a debt moratorium called the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) ending in November 2021 that provided temporary relief to 48 low-income countries (but not middle-income countries) through a suspension of debt service payments. Private creditors, who hold the biggest share of developing country debt, did not participate. The ‘Common Framework for Debt Treatments beyond the DSSI’ failed to restructure or forgive debt as it lacks incentives and mechanisms to align debtor governments and private creditors. No countries have had their debt cancelled. By 2021, 132 of 148 Global South countries were critically indebted with 21 in partial default.
How the Global North protects its own self interests
The obvious pattern is the Global North weaponising debt to continue its fossil fuel expansion for economic growth and profit. It has the wealth and resources to mitigate emissions, avert, minimise and address loss and damage, release aid for Covid-19, forgive debt, provide fair climate finance, development and humanitarian aid but chooses not to. For every recession or payout to a war created by the Global North, funding and aid to the Global South is cut to protect its political and economic self-interest. This corners the Global South into a vicious cycle of rising debt, austerity, unemployment, poverty, hunger and political instability while facing extreme climate impacts from crises that it is not responsible for. The Global South (except China and India) is losing economic and political power which inevitably reinforces the dominance of colonisers.
Where we could be: another world is possible
The hard-won rights of womxn, girls and gender non-binary are regressing with the escalation of interconnected crises. ‘Transnational business feminism’ has co-opted feminist and queer perspectives into the language of policy responses to the crisis by influencing the public to support them. [Elite] women leaders in corporate, government and finance sectors are showcased as champions of gender equality (when it is individual empowerment) while avoiding challenging structural roots of gendered oppression in markets. The information and news that we see, read and listen to stereotypes a neutral, white, rational, financial or technological solution to multiple crises. The media mimics what the political class requires – neoliberalism is the saviour.
The power of mainstream media spreading misinformation is prolific, obscuring the lines between truth and fiction. The activists, the movements, the people who are resisting colonial capitalist patriarchy are not seen in the mainstream media. There is a deliberate agenda to distract from the politics of who is responsible for these crises and demonise the critical voices of those resisting.
How capitalism normalises gendered and racial inequality
Feminist political economy recognises that gender relations are historically and socially constructed. Gender shapes behaviour, identity and roles and is significant in its symbolism in our social, legal, political and economic order that reinforces gender structures. Political leaders ‘combine neoliberal economics with religious fundamentalisms to cut funding for family planning and health care for women’. Cuts to the public sector disproportionately impact womxn who are primary caregivers. Womxn’s dissenting voices in authoritarian regimes are swiftly and violently silenced. Womxn remain underrepresented in political leadership and organs of the state and private sector.
Climate justice is a feminist issue
Womxn in the Global South are hit hardest by the polycrisis because they constitute the world’s poorest people. The natural resources that womxn depend on for their livelihoods is threatened by climate change making them more vulnerable to its impacts.
Black, indigenous, womxn of colour are based in urban slums and rural areas experiencing epidemic levels of inequality, violence, poverty and hunger. The lack of social protections, labour laws and human rights in developing countries blocks access to education, information, political and economic participation, justice, pensions, childcare, land and property ownership and economic independence. The crises act as a threat multiplier pushing womxn to work longer hours; increasing the burden of unpaid care and domestic duties; diminishing food and water sources; increasing insecurity, risk, sexual and gender-based violence, mortality, poor health and nutrition; decreasing access to sexual and reproductive health; and increasing early and forced marriage, trafficking and more.
Feminists demand a system change because they fundamentally recognise that searching for solutions and reforms within the existing system no longer works at the urgency and scale needed. There is growing scepticism over the UN, multilateralism and international cooperation. The overwhelming inequality driven by the Global North and the impunity of transnational corporations wielding power and committing abuses demonstrates the need for movements to drive gender, economic and climate justice, human rights, democracy, equality and solidarity ‘to directly confront and overthrow existing neoliberal and anti-rights hegemonies that are driving the world toward further crises and disaster’. The bold vision of NIEO was an angry reassertion of the colonial-imperial injustices that were continuing under international law and processes biased in favour of industrialised nations. Advocates of NIEO ‘argued that agreements made during the decolonisation transition particularly if those agreements had been concluded by pre-independence administrations or with private corporations should not be binding on Global South’.
NIEO had foreseen ahead of its time that continuing business as usual would lead to the entrenchment of corporate hegemony, racism and inequality. The resurgence of violence, xenophobia, hate, attacks on bodily autonomy and religious fundamentalism are tools that the patriarchal capitalist establishment is using to control, oppress and diminish the agency of womxn, girls and gender non-binary peoples, feminist movements and its allies who are uniting to challenge the power, control, exploitation and appropriation of nature and peoples.
Alternative agendas, movements and collaborations
Despite the backlash on womxn’s rights, human rights and environment-rights movements are advocating for alternatives to the neoliberal capitalist agenda. The feminist and decolonial Global Green New Deal proposes intersectional feminist principles to existing Green New Deals to restructure power relations in the system to:
- centre the care economy, and extend this to indigenous communities
- address gender gaps, redistribute and reduce unpaid care work in a just and equitable transition to clean renewables
- provide subsidies and other incentives to support womxn to access highly skilled work in the green economy
- encourage womxn and girls into male-dominated green sectors and encourage men and boys into green caring sectors
- protect biodiversity
- uphold the commitments of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, put the justice demands of marginalised and exploited groups at the front and centre of policymaking
- divest funds from fossils, agribusinesses and military to public services and goods
- eradicate poverty
- end hostility for immigrants
- agree on common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities
- reform consumption and production systems
- reform the international financial architecture
- pay reparations
- enable equitable technology transfer and dismantle intellectual property rights, develop fair trade policies, bring about economic diversification
- deconstruct colonial knowledge systems that continue to separate nature and people.
The Global Working Group Beyond Development is following alternatives to seek a non-essentialist, plural, feminist, eco-social transition that examines the dominance of class, race, capitalism and colonialism versus nature and its connectedness to peoples. They interrogate the role of the nation-state including concepts of dignity beyond the Western-framed human rights. Their work follows the resistance and social reorganisation led by grassroots and local communities, indigenous peoples and cities around the world. The group challenges the dominance and privilege of science and technology, the automisation and digitalisation of the labour market, capital accumulation, and the economic praxis as the foundation of measuring human wellbeing. The group connects how individualism, far-right populism and corporate power influences the imperial mode of living embedded in the Global North that is proliferating the middle class and elite of the Global South. Their analysis deconstructs the sexual division of all forms of labour including care work, informal work, community work, subsistence work, representation, agency and decision making.
The Global Tapestry of Alternatives began in mid-2019 as a confluence of ideas, visions and practices that celebrates collective collaboration, cooperative, local, national and community-based management systems such as buen vivir from Latin America, ubuntu from Africa, Care for Country from indigenous Australians, Swaraj from India and Kyosei from Japan among others. The work connects these alternative systems at the regional and global level to create a critical mass against patriarchy, capitalism, racism, colonialism, the nation-state domination and anthropocentrism. The alternatives consider ‘sustainable and holistic agriculture, community led water, energy and food sovereignty; solidarity and sharing economies, worker control of production facilities, resource/knowledge commons, and inter-ethnic peace and harmony.’
Hickle’s work on degrowth discusses the need to reduce energy use by slowing down extraction, production, consumption and the pace of our lives while equitably redistributing income and resources. He promotes relinquishing unnecessary work based on capitalist accumulation and instead focusing on human flourishing and ecological stability. By choosing to slow down material use of resources, we can lessen deforestation, protect habitats and biodiversity. He proposes that a faster transition to sustainable renewables can be met without extracting rare earth minerals to build more solar panels, wind turbines and batteries as long as excessive energy consumption is significantly reduced.
There are many incredible stories of grassroots resistance and social reorganisation from young climate strikers, La Via Campesina, Black Lives Matter, #NiUnaMenos feminists to the Indian farmers’ protest of 2020–2021 that need greater awareness, momentum, collaboration and connection to build a new social contract.
The world is waking up. Every degree of warming moves the planet towards irreversible tipping points that are destabilising our living ecosystem. The unbridled power of the fossil cartel’s wanton destruction of the last of our wild forests, lands, oceans, rivers and water systems dispossessing indigenous peoples and local communities for profit can no longer be ignored. The rapidly changing climate is transforming our lifestyles from cities to villages, testing the resilience of our human abilities.
The colonial, patriarchal, capitalist establishment remains entrenched and is waging a silent but violent climate war against the world’s poorest people by relentlessly appropriating wealth and burning fossils. The exploitation of unpaid labour is a care crisis. It is a misplaced demand that social reproduction and ecological regeneration are infinite resources. The very institutions that have been set up to protect the rule of law, democracy, peace, security and human rights are failing. Lives and our environment are being traded for money. The people most impacted by climate change are the ones least responsible for global emissions.
Debt forces the Global South to buttress capitalism and contribute to its own exploitation. This debt has been paid many times over by the peoples of the South in financial, social, ecological and human cost. The countries are not in a position to demand reparations for climate injustices as they are competing for climate finances, development aid and debt relief from the Global North. The cost of the polycrisis will not be equitably shared in the existing capitalist system.
NIEO’s vision is as relevant today as it was four decades ago; however, any attempts to revive it will fail as long as it continues to rely on the benevolence, goodwill and cooperation of the Global North. If we have learned anything from our history it is that only radical organising by the people against colonisers will change the future. Developing countries have a lot of power because wealthy nations continue to depend on them for raw materials, resources and energy. However, under the current system developing countries are made powerless. Collectively, if political leadership in the Global South truly commits to working for the people and the environment, change is inevitable.
The greatest irony about our way of life is the illusion of meritocracy – our urban middle class, elite and privileged lives are providing us with a false security. Media and pop culture deceive our reality. In truth, we are trapped in aggressive debt, exploitative working conditions, an overwhelming mental health crisis and are being constantly ushered both digitally and socially to have ‘more’. The global middle class accounts for 41% of cumulative emissions whereas poor people account for just 7%. Capitalism's greatest victory has been its ability to so deeply convince so many to keep aspiring for wealth, success, power and privilege. This is an unattainable goal. Self-preservation has replaced our relationship with nature and community. The work of alternative futures is yet to spread and take hold. In the meantime, our resistance has to target these mass classes and influence them to join the fight against capitalism.
A new social contract has to ground equality, dignity and respect for people and the environment in an alternative system. Communities across the world are choosing to no longer play the capitalist game. They are resisting the lure of accumulation to instead build a way of living that no longer harms. To achieve this at the scale that is needed, radical grassroots activism must begin in cities to dismantle institutions, structures, processes and systems that keep us shackled to capitalism.
In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness. To reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now. Wangari Maathai
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 ‘Pandora Papers: Global overview – Offshore havens and hidden riches of world leaders and billionaires exposed in unprecedented leak’, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, 2021, www.icij.org/investigations/pandora-papers/global-investigation-tax-havens-offshore
 ‘The New International Economic Order: A Reintroduction’, Nils Gilman, in Humanity Journal, 2015, http://humanityjournal.org/issue6-1/the-new-international-economic-order-a-reintroduction/
 The Green Revolution of the 1960s was a tech-driven corporate initiative that vastly increased agricultural production worldwide but at the cost of destroying biodiversity, water resources, soil fertility and exponentially increasing greenhouse gases from industrialised agriculture. It led to the emergence of super pests and weeds increasing the use of herbicides and pesticides. In Punjab, the Green Revolution led to communal violence killing thousands, ecological scarcity and pushing farmers into debt. See The Violence of the Green Revolution, Vandana Shiva, Zed Books: London and New York and Third World Network: Malaysia, 1991.
 Towards a new international economic order, Mohammed Bedjaoui, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 1979, https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000035806
 Resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly 3201 (S-VI): Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order, UN General Assembly, 1 May 1974, A/RES/S-6/3201, www.un-documents.net/s6r3201.htm
 See note 10: ‘The New International Economic Order: A Reintroduction’.
 ‘Losing the Battle, Winning the War: Neoconservatives versus the New International Economic Order, 1974–82’, Michael Franczak, Diplomatic History, 2019, 43(5): p.867-889, doi:10.1093/dh/dhz043
 ‘The Dawn of a New, New International Economic Order?’ Ruth Gordon, Law and Contemporary Problems, 2009, 72(4): Race and Socioeconomic Class: Examining an Increasingly Complex Tapestry, pp144-146
 Dealing in Virtue: International Commercial Arbitration and the Construction of a Transnational Legal Order, Yves Dezalay and Bryant G. Garth, University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1996.
 See note 4: Ecofeminism.
 The UNFCCC treaty was developed in 1992 with the objective to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions and prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system. The Kyoto Protocol 1997 was the first implementation framework and in 2015, the Paris Agreement became the current framework that is shaping international climate action: UN Climate Change, https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement
 The Gender Action Plan, UNFCCC, https://unfccc.int/topics/gender/workstreams/the-gender-action-plan
 ‘New Climate Plans Remain Insufficient: More Ambitious Action Needed Now’, UN Climate press release, 26 October 2022, https://unfccc.int/news/climate-plans-remain-insufficient-more-ambitious-action-needed-now; ‘UN emissions report: World on course for more than 3 degree spike, even if climate commitments are met’, UN News, 26 November 2019, https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/11/1052171
 ‘Greta Thunberg to skip ‘greenwashing’ Cop27 climate summit in Egypt’, the Guardian, 31 October 2022, www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/oct/31/greta-thunberg-to-skip-greenwashing-cop27-climate-summit-in-egypt
 ‘Corporate Greenwashing at COP27’, Lauren Wolfe, Women Media Centre, 4 November 2022, https://womensmediacenter.com/climate/corporate-greenwashing-at-cop27. See also: Climate Action Network Position on Conflicts-of-interest and polluting industry obstruction of climate policy in the UNFCCC Process April 2020, Climate Action Network, 2022, https://climatenetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/can_position_on_conflicts_of_interest-2.pdf
 ‘The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.’ Article 3(1) The United Nations Framework Convention, 1992, https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/conveng.pdf
 See note 1: ‘Confronting Carbon Inequality’, p.6.
 ‘COP27 reaches breakthrough agreement on new loss and damage fund for developing countries’, UN Climate press release, 20 November 2022, https://unfccc.int/news/cop27-reaches-breakthrough-agreement-on-new-loss-and-damage-fund-for-vulnerable-countries; ‘Cop27 agrees historic ‘loss and damage’ fund for climate impact in developing countries’, Fiona Harvey, Nina Lakhani, Oliver Milman and Adam Morton, the Guardian, 20 November 2022, www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/nov/20/cop27-agrees-to-historic-loss-and-damage-fund-to-compensate-developing-countries-for-climate-impacts
 ‘Imperialist appropriation in the world economy: Drain from the global South through unequal exchange, 1990–2015’, Jason Hickel, Christian Dorninger, Hanspeter Wieland and Intan Suwandi, Global Environmental Change, 2022, 73, 102467, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S095937802200005X
 The debt and climate crises: Why climate justice must include debt justice, Tess Woolfenden and Sindra Sharma Khushal, 2022, https://debtjustice.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Debt-and-the-Climate-Crisis-Briefing-October-2022-UPDATED.pdf
 Ibid p.4
 False Solutions for Real Problems, Alex Wijeratna, Action Aid, 2018, https://actionaid.org/sites/default/files/false_solution_for_real_problems.pdf
 ‘Climate non-negotiables’, Anite Nayar in The Remaking of Social Contracts: Feminists in a Fierce New World, Gita Sen and Marina Durano (eds), Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), Zed Books Ltd, London, 2014.
 ‘Land grabs, food security and climate justice: a focus on sub-Saharan Africa’, Zo Randriamaro in The Remaking of Social Contracts: Feminists in a Fierce New World, Gita Sen and Marina Durano (eds), Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), Zed Books Ltd, London, 2014.
 ‘Low-Income Country Debt Rises to Record $860 Billion in 2020’, World Bank press release, 11 October 2021, www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2021/10/11/low-income-country-debt-rises-to-record-860-billion-in-2020
 ‘Vaccine apartheid: This is not the way to end the pandemic’. Vanessa S Lanziotti, Yonca Bulut, Danilo Buonsenso, Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 2022, 58:2, https://doi.org/10.1111/jpc.15805
 ‘Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna making $1,000 profit every second while world’s poorest countries remain largely unvaccinated’, Oxfam International press release, 16 November 2021, www.oxfam.org/en/press-releases/pfizer-biontech-and-moderna-making-1000-profit-every-second-while-worlds-poorest
 ‘5 ways women and girls have been hardest by COVID-19’, Oxfam International, www.oxfam.org/en/5-ways-women-and-girls-have-been-hardest-hit-covid-19
 ‘UN report: Global hunger numbers rose to as many as 828 million in 2021’, World Health Organisation, media release, 6 July 2022, www.who.int/news/item/06-07-2022-un-report--global-hunger-numbers-rose-to-as-many-as-828-million-in-2021
 ‘Profiting from pain’, Oxfam International, 2022, www.oxfam.org/en/research/profiting-pain; see also: www.oxfam.org/en/press-releases/pandemic-creates-new-billionaire-every-30-hours-now-million-people-could-fall
 Addressing the Debt Crisis in the Global South: Debt Relief for Sustainable Recoveries, Ulrich Volz, Kathrin Berensmann, Sara Burke et al, Think7 Policy brief, 2022, www.think7.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Recovery_Addressing-the-Debt-Crisis-in-the-Global-South-Debt-Relief-for-Sustainable-Recoveries_Volz_Berensmann_Burke_Gallagher_Griffith-Jones_Ke.pdf
 Scandalous Economics: Gender and the Politics of Financial Crises, Aida A. Hozic and Jacqui True (eds.), Oxford University Press, 2016, https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190204235.001.0001
 ‘Global South Perspectives on “Why the Climate Crisis is a Feminist Issue”’, Akina Mama Wa Afrika, 2021, ‘www.akinamamawaafrika.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/AKINA_Technical-brief-2021-Global-South-perspectives-on-Why-the-climate-crisis-is-a-feminist-issue.pdf
 Gender-based violence and environment linkages: The violence of inequality. Itza Castañeda Camey, Laura Sabater, Cate Owren and A. Emmett Boyer, Gland, Switzerland: IUCN, 2020, pp272, https://doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.CH.2020.03.en
 Democratising global governance and multilateralism, Action Aid, Steph Ross, 2021, https://actionaid.org/publications/2021/democratising-global-governance-and-multilateralism
 See note 11: Towards a new international economic order.
 Green New Deals re-emerged as a response to the financial and climate crisis in 2007. They proposed a commitment to a socially, just and equitable transition to a green (decarbonised) economy, strengthening participatory democracy, international cooperation, preserving the natural environment, governance, oversight and reforming finance and banking systems. Towards a feminist green new deal for the UK: A Paper for the WBG Commission on a Gender-Equal Economy, Maeve Cohen and Sherilyn Macgregor, Women’s Budget Group, 2020, www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/files/170845257/Cohen_and_MacGregor_Feminist_Green_New_Deal_2020.pdf; see also A Feminist and Decolonial Global Green New Deal: Principles, Paradigms and Systemic Transformations, Bhumika Muchala, Women Environment Development Office, New York, 2021, https://wedo.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/FemEconClimate-ActionNexus_Brief_FemGND-1.pdf
 The Brussels office of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation established its Global Working Group ‘Beyond Development’ in 2016. The group focuses on resource extraction and its socio-ecological impacts in different parts of the world. It set out to outline a context for its debates that would intentionally be global, and seek to address the colonial matrix of power. The group seeks to build a space where the Global North can learn from the South, and vice versa, where scientific knowledge is not the only form of knowledge, and to build an ecology of knowledges, a plural dialogue between different systems of knowledge and between different epistemologies, without preestablished hierarchies (de Sousa Santos, 2017). As a result, the Group brings together very distinct threads of critical thinking from areas as diverse as ecology, ecofeminism, Marxism, decolonial thinking, social movements, and academic, grassroots and indigenous knowledges. See Alternatives in a World of Crisis, Miriam Lang, Claus-Dieter König and Ada-Charlotte Regelmann (eds), Global Working Group Beyond Development, 2018, https://globaltapestryofalternatives.org/_media/publications:en:alternatives-in-a-world-of-crisis.pdf; The resilience of abyssal exclusions in our societies: Towards a post-abyssal law, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Tilburg Law Review, 2017, 22, 237-258.
 ‘Earth Vikalp Sangam: proposal for a Global Tapestry of Alternatives’, Ashish Kothari, Globalizations, 2020, 17:2, 245-249, https://doi.org/10.1080/14747731.2019.1670955; see also: https://globaltapestryofalternatives.org/weavers:criteria
 Less in More: How Degrowth will save the world, Jason Hickle, Windmill Books, London, 2020.
 See note 1: ‘Confronting Carbon Inequality’.