Campesino Movements Say Climate Justice Is an Alternative to Devastating G20 Policies

As our communities in the global South and North contend with the social and environmental impacts of market-oriented policies, the gathering of world leaders this week in Hamburg, Germany for the G20 does not raise many positive expectations. This is no surprise given that G20 countries currently dominate the world’s economic governance — together accounting for 85 percent of the global GDP, and their economic growth centered priorities have mostly translated to environmental destruction, social conflict and the exploitation of the poor majority.

Because of this, grassroots social justice movements find it imperative to organize transnationally — in addition to strategic work at the local level — to bring the voice of rural communities from across the world to international forums. Doing so offers an alternative vision of life by linking the question of food production to those of power and democracy. With the revolutionary concept of Food Sovereignty on the forefront, the peasant women and men of La Via Campesina, assert the rights of peoples to use and manage lands, water, seeds and biodiversity. This goes hand in hand with transparent trade, a system that guarantees just incomes to all as well as the rights of communities to control their food systems.

In this light, we find it unsettling to learn that climate and agriculture are agenda items for this year’s G20 Summit. So far, the responses to these two serious issues by the G20 — representing the governments and central banks of 20 major economies in the world- have been market-oriented solutions. Policies addressing climate change have only been accepted if they were able to generate profits for corporate interests, and, as far as food is concerned, the search for solutions from the top to the climate crisis has served to expand the power of the agroindustry and biotechnology companies. The latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports and international summits have recognized that the dominant model of food production and distribution is major driver of the GHG emitted.

Instead, governments and corporations are proposing a number of false solutions. There is the empty shell of Climate Smart Agriculture that involves new, risky technologies such as crops genetically engineered or large-scale geoengineering projects. There are also mandates for biofuels, which are driving land grabs in the South and taking away peasant control of their rights to grow, develop, select and diversify their own seeds. And then there are carbon markets, which have allowed governments to grant permits to big industrial polluters so they can trade “rights to pollute” amongst themselves. Other such programs encourage industrialized countries to finance cheap carbon dumps such as large-scale plantations in the global South as a way to avoid reducing their own emissions. As of 2012, these mechanisms may have enabled the emission of 600 million additional tons of CO2. In short, crises have been addressed within the margins of corporate ambitions.

For the 200 million peasant, small farmers, landless workers, pastoralists, fisherfolk, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers from all over the world represented in La Via Campesina, these are false solutions because they continue the pattern of accumulation by dispossession — grabbing our land, seeds, water and livelihoods, while further degrading our planet. Conventional climate change mitigation is just the latest scheme in a long lineage of nonsensical thinking and practice that isolate us from our territories.

For these reasons, we must again highlight our own practices that have worked for us for countless generations. La Vía Campesina remains steadfast in its commitment to Food Sovereignty and Agrarian reform that is inclusive of land, water, and territory. These commitments are part of something even bigger: climate justice. Unlike conventional climate change mitigation strategies, climate justice affirms the disproportional impact of climate change on frontline communities — such as peasants — and promotes their solutions to achieve a just transition for people and the planet. One such solution that lies at the nexus of food sovereignty, territory, and climate justice is agroecology, a practice that combines local ancestral agricultural knowledge and culture with modern scientific insight. Sustainable peasant farming modeled on agroecology can actually return CO2 to where it belongs — the soil (not the atmosphere). If the right policies and incentives were in place worldwide, soil organic matter contents could be restored to pre-industrial agriculture level within a period of 50 years. This would offset from 24 to 30 percent of all current global greenhouse gas emissions, through sustainable production, possible, in part, through the decentralized production, collection and use of energy. Through vibrant family farms packed with biodiversity, often on collective territory, agroecology nourishes people and heals broken ecosystems. In this sense, climate justice and food sovereignty are acts of political resistance. They exist outside corporate control of the food system — thanks in part to their autonomy from external inputs (such as fertilizers and pesticides). Our solutions enhance the productive potential of the land.

The defense of peasant agriculture would not only guarantee that 70 percent of humanity — those who practice it — continue to be nourished with healthy foods, but it also generates resilient agroecosystems. Climate resilience depends on local food and farming systems and agroecological processes in the hands of peasants, Indigenous peoples, rural women and youth. These social forces are, together, an integral part of the world’s biodiversity and give life to it.

In a time of rising inequalities and injustice caused by the market-oriented policies set by the wealthy and elite of the world that dominate international forums such as the coming G20, La Via Campesina will gather for its VII International Conference from the 16-24 July in the Basque Country. There, as hundreds of delegates of rural communities from around the world meet to plan common strategies, we will promote climate justice from below through actions that seeks to build and strengthen a fundamentally different, life-affirming society.

This is no easy task, but through the engagement of rural peoples — and especially the women and youth among them — we aim to achieve a political and economic system that is controlled by and for grassroots communities. Rather than being passive victims, we are actively building a global resistance movement. And through our models of peasant-based diversified food production, we are cooling the planet — something that the G20 continually fails to achieve through for-profit environmentalism.