In the spirit of there being an appropriate Keynes’ quote for all contemporary political problems, here’s one for COP17: “Its better to be broadly right than precisely wrong.” Put differently, critical analysis does not start from a clear-sighted definition of justice but from widely shared intuitions of injustice. This is the simple logic that runs through the global occupation movement.
The occupy movement has provided a set of reasoned objections to the current economic system. The counter criticism that they have not provided coherent solutions is irrelevant. They are a protest movement. In any case solutions to the flaws within the current system abound. The problem is the absence of political will, not the absence of good ideas. The same is true of the global movement for climate change justice.
In many ways these two movements are identical. Both are formed from a bewilderingly diverse range of peoples and interests, and both are united by a common objection to the irrational discounting of the future over the present.
But does this common cause change anything? For the thousands of people heading to the seventeenth COP in Durban it may seem like the global economic crises and the debates that surround it simply make their jobs more difficult. Domestic and regional economic crises only increase the difficulty of securing adequate funding for UNFCCC financial mechanisms and push climate change off the broader political agenda.
But perhaps, with the rise of protest movements around the world, there is a chance for a bit more honesty about the role of civil society must play in overcoming these barriers. Whilst the negotiating process forces all parties to accept the lowest common denominator, civil society will continue to advocate for progress in line with the scientific consensus. If other parties choose to present these alternatives as a barrier to progress they are wilfully missing the point.
If political realities fly in the face of justice then it is the politics that must change not our definition of justice. It is the role of civil society to continue making this point.