January 2024

Community-Led Collaboration for Climate Justice

The world’s leading climate experts agree that climate justice is not only crucial, but climate action must be equitable. Also, our choices must be rooted in diverse knowledges and values, including Indigenous Knowledge and local knowledge.  

So, what does this mean in the Australian context, in our unique and diverse communities, across our differences in culture, privilege and power? 

We are working with the Menzies Foundation, and Jesuit Social Services’ Centre for Just Places to listen and learn from the experiences of communities across Australia  and how they are included (or not) in public responses, policymaking, and decision-making processes. 

We found a distinct gap in knowledge and awareness in Australia on intersectionality and community-led responses to climate change and equitable outcomes. We sought to help address this. 

Here’s what we’ve learned so far. 

Climate justice is an active process

Climate justice can be summarised as understanding climate change as a systemic, social justice challenge. Climate vulnerability in Australia is deeply tied to unjust systems embedded in historical, cultural, and socio-political contexts.

It is clear from the stories across the country that climate change and emergency management is shaped by the ongoing impacts of colonisation, Western-centric models, practices, and language. The absence of critical voices – of First Nations and other multicultural Australians – in the climate change conversation means conventional strategies are falling short. 

Research participants reported that formal emergency management services, service providers and government agencies often lack cultural competency and diversity. As a result, First nations and other multicultural Australians are excluded from formal decision-making, face barriers to contributing important local information and knowledge, and experience a lack of trust with outside actors.

Current approaches overlook the strengths within communities, and their innate ability to reach those most in need. For instance, formal emergency response efforts led by outsiders are unable to harness the social capital of citizen leaders. As highlighted by research participants, citizen leaders play a critical role in integrating inequality and intersectionality into their actions. This is a vital function for a healthy, equitable society.  

But these strengths and local knowledge are not well understood by emergency management organisations, and frequently missed. We found that the lack of social capital in formal responses means the impacts of trauma on the community are not as well-understood or supported. Rather than supported in their capacity to respond, citizen leaders often end up absorbing significant financial, psychosocial, and time burdens.  

Climate (in)justice can only be addressed through inclusive climate action and equity. Climate justice is not a passive outcome; it is an active process of challenging and dismantling the root drivers of disadvantage in place. 

We must shift power to elevate community leadership

Community members and groups play a vital role in community resilience. Yet numerous system barriers continue to impede community leadership and collective action on climate change. 

We found inherent power dynamics are at play between priorities at a community level and at a system level – from swift top-down decisions during disasters, to centralised control, driven by risk management. Community organisations and members may be excluded from funding and resources because of a perceived lack of legitimacy. 

Meanwhile, the cascading impacts of climate change are outpacing the government’s ability to fund disaster response and recovery. Funding is often targeted at short-term response, rather than longer-term recovery (5-10 years).  

Current funding models do not align with the complexity, time, and cost of recovery, let alone a generational view of building thriving communities. 

Collective efforts for Climate (in)Justice

Climate (in)justice is a complex and systemic issue requiring coordinated efforts across sectors and scales—from individuals and communities to service agencies and government bodies. However, the key to effective change lies in transformation at  place-level, empowering communities to take agency in the face of climate change.

We are working with partners in areas to help build ecosystems for equitable systems change and climate justice in Australia: 

  1. Centre equity in citizen leadership and collectives for climate justice 
  2. Develop collective leadership practice and capability to work across differences
  3. Experiment with new forms of collaborative governance for shared power and decision making
  4. Explore emerging  technologies and infrastructures for new forms of governance, finance, resourcing and community organising 

Stay tuned for a not-to-be-missed webinar with the Menzies Foundation and the Criterion Institute in early 2024 on social, digital and financial innovations to help shift the conditions holding inequity in place, and transform our collective power to respond to the climate crisis and other systemic challenges.

Australia is faced with more than just the current crises as it navigates the effects of a changing climate. It’s about rewriting the story, challenging the status quo, and designing a future where climate action is deeply connected to equity and inclusion.

This piece is co-authored by Kate Williams, Practitioner, at Collaboration for Impact and Min Wah Voon, Head of Engagement and Influencing.

Image: ChangeFest23. Photo by Cole Kelly.

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