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UW scholar says latest UN climate report finally connects climate with social justice

Stand With Standing Rock Nov 11-15 2016
Leslie Peterson
Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its supporters during a demonstration in 2017, opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. The latest UN climate report highlights the role colonialism played and continues to play in changing the climate.

The International Panel on Climate Change released a new report this week, detailing the drastic action humanity must take to ward off the worst effects of climate change.

Earlier reports focused on the physical science underpinning climate change and the effects that change will have on the earth and its people.

The latest report looks at the policy and lifestyle changes necessary to avert the worst effects. Those include radical changes to the energy system, the global economy and even the design of cities.

University of Wyoming assistant professor Matt Henry said this report does something else significant. It identifies colonialism and its legacy as driving forces for the warming atmosphere.

Henry said colonizers industrialized earlier and contributed far more to climate change than the countries and peoples they colonized. Now, formally colonized people and indigenous communities stand to bear the brunt of the devastation.

"Those communities are especially vulnerable to climate change," Henry said. "So, you're more likely to, for example, be displaced from your home on the Gulf Coast when a hurricane hits if you're a person of color, if you're indigenous."

High profile climate conferences, and earlier IPCC reports, have failed to properly acknowledge the connection between climate change and issues of justice, Henry said, even though environmental and indigenous activists have been highlighting the connection for years.

"Environmental justice has really become more mainstream especially since the Standing Rock incident in 2016 and 2017," he said. "So on the one hand there's been progress in that area. On the other hand … Justice has been paid lip service but policies that are implemented don't necessarily respond to justice claims from people."

The report was produced collaboratively by leading scientists across the globe, including social scientists. Henry notes that the report’s official summary for policymakers, which must gain consensus from all UN states, is less radical than the report itself.

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.
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