Over the past few years, advocacy for climate justice in the governance of technology has been growing, seeded by the work of diverse and growing communities and individuals committed to collective action for change.
In October 2022, the Green Screen Coalition, an emerging coalition of practioners and funders primarily working in the field of digital rights, hosted a two-day event in Berlin that explored critical issues related to technology for climate and environmental justice. Our discussions at this event in Berlin initiated a process towards articulating a collective theory of change for planetary justice in the governance of technology.
Our discussions in 2023 aimed to explore and articulate principles, visions and strategies that could provide a framework for collective action relevant to both digital rights actors and climate and environmental justice defenders. We envisioned a collaborative process towards developing a theory of change that could strengthen the impacts of our networks and communities, initially grounded by the work of the APC network and the Green Screen Coalition.
Throughout this process, we surfaced differences in community approaches, politics and values, recognising the importance of place-based community-led action for advancing climate and environmental justice. All participants in the discussions agreed that the climate and environmental crises we face is critical, but there were differences in understanding what sort of attention is needed, where the pressure points for change are, and the language we use to frame our advocacy.
While the meeting in Berlin helped us develop shared demands on digital governance and technical standards – such as pushing for divestment from extractive growth and climate reparations, rejecting false climate tech solutions, and advocating for decentralising the power and ownership the internet – what needed to be surfaced were the values and principles that underpinned these demands. In 2023, we expanded on these demands through targeted conversations at PrivacyCamp, MozFest, and RightsCon, and a second convening of the Green Screen Coalition, in Costa Rica.
Organisations that gathered in Costa Rica included strong representation from Central and South America, with many participants deeply engaged in work on socio-environmental and climate issues. There the conversation shifted and emphasised the need to make visible the harms and material costs of technology, highlighting the importance of centring bodies, land and territories in our shared demands for climate justice and digital rights.
Across the conversations that took place in 2022 and 2023, a cross-cutting priority for collective action by digital rights advocates is to identify and reject the false and misleading solutions to the climate and ecological crises promoted in the technology sector, including carbon offsets. Climate and environmental justice defenders have been documenting and rejecting false solutions for many years, and have produced resources like “Hoodwinked in the Hothouse”, which was first published in 2009 and is a critical tool for communities and individuals to resist false solutions, and offers a framework for “understanding the depth of real solutions and how they should be determined.”
Our discussions also surfaced important issues around the language that we draw on to define and frame the problems that we want to address. This is reflected in the findings of mapping research by APC and a landscape analysis by the Engine Room, and is a challenge that is not so easy to address given the important role that the specificity of language plays in our policy advocacy work, as well as in everyday communications between activists working with each other across the globe. Here digital rights actors can learn a lot from the critical approach to language taken by climate and environmental justice actors who pushed us to interrogate the language used in the “promises” of technology to address climate change.
One important example came from the meeting in Costa Rica, where the term “extractivism” became a flashpoint of discussion. The term is commonly used in discussions relating to critical mineral and resource use, and in recent years in the context of data and surveillance. In the context of environmental justice, extractivism is understood as the cause of the harms of colonialism and environmental degradation. However, one participant noted that not all communities use the term “extractivism” and that “exploitation” could be a better way to refer to the harmful dynamics at play.
Most of us, however, agreed that the language and principles of the Bali Principles of Climate Justice (2002) and the Principles of Environmental Justice (1992) still resonated some 20-30 years later, despite the Bali Principles not explicitly rejecting carbon markets, which has become a critical issue for climate justice movements over the past decade.
The meetings were also helpful in identifying further areas for exploration. These included continuing to map relationships and parallels in climate and digital governance – for example, the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP), the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) – as well as considering how existing and new policy and governance frameworks can open possibilities for advocacy, such as the Aarhus Convention, Escazú Agreement and new EU Green Claims Directive. In 2024, we aim to explore specific processes and opportunities for collective action through continuing conversations with our network and participants in the discussions in Berlin and Costa Rica.
Is a broad theory of change for digital rights and climate and environmental justice actors possible? Can we begin to articulate a theory of change from the perspective of a small group of like-minded organisations, and allow others to draw on elements of this for their own changemaking?
This process in 2022-2023 surfaced important pathways towards collective action to advance climate and environmental justice in the governance of technology, while also demonstrating the need for ongoing conversation and spaces to build trust and understanding. We have much work ahead of us.
This post has been written as part of a project funded by the Green Screen Coalition, a collaboration between Ariadne Network, Ford Foundation, Internet Society Foundation, Mozilla Foundation and Green Web Foundation.
Image: 2022-Climate-Strike-3-52858 by Mark Dixon via Flickr (CC BY 2.0 DEED)