Climate Justice Charter released in South Africa August 2020

South African Food Sovereignty Campaign, the Cooperative and Policy Alternative Centre & a Climate Justice Assembly

Climate Justice Charter


Note: This Climate Justice Charter emerges out of six years of campaigning, during the worst drought in South Africa’s history, by the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign and the Cooperative and Policy Alternative Centre. It has been informed by grassroots input from water stressed communities, the media, labour, faith based communities, youth, climate scientists, academics, women’s organisations, environmental and social justice organisations, as well as, think pieces by leading activists. A conference held in November 2019 consolidated a draft which was then placed online for public comment. A final round of public input was provided at a Climate Justice Assembly held on 16 June 2020. This document is the outcome of this process of dialogue and climate justice resistance.



1. For Climate Justice Now

As Africans, we live together on a vast and beautiful continent where the human story began. All
of us are linked to the first human who walked upright, dreamed, thought and co-existed with
plants, animals, rivers, oceans and forests. Today this common humanity and its future is in serious
danger. South Africa cannot ignore this challenge. The continued use of oil, gas and coal to power
our economy and society is making our world unliveable for all life.
The Earth is being damaged by this system that puts profits before life. Every year, temperatures
are rising with disastrous consequences. With a 1-degree Celsius increase in planetary temperature
since before the start of the industrial revolution, everything is changing fast: increasing extreme
weather shocks (droughts, floods, wildfires, tornadoes, heat waves), ecosystem collapse, sea level
rise, together with major stresses on the Earth’s systems. We are sad because a future with a stable
climate is being lost. Our recent drought has taught us that lesson. We are angry because our rulers
are not listening. The inequality and suffering of our people, including during the Covid-19
pandemic, has worsened. Yet, we are hopeful because climate science is on our side. Like the
science of Covid-19, climate science is calling for caring action now. This Charter is a call to all
who care about human and non-human life to act together in advancing a pluri-vision – of people’s
dreams, alternatives and desires for a deep just transition.
Mines, refineries, waste incinerators, airlines, cement industries, and cars have brought pollution,
illness, poisons and suffering to our communities. Chemical-based and export agriculture
contributes to various diseases. Yet we have rallied. With lessons learned about these harms and
the importance of the life enabling commons (land, water, biodiversity, energy, earth system and
cyber sphere), we continue to advance our commitment to justice, anchored in people's power.
Hence, we consciously choose to end the war with nature.
More climate shocks and ecological crises will result in more suffering (and more pandemics), for
the majority, particularly workers, the poor, people with disabilities, landless and the vulnerable.
These are not simply natural disasters but failures of leadership. As we defend the web of life and
live with climate breakdown, we seek to end race, class, gender and ecological injustice. We cannot
let grassroots women and children be the shock absorbers of this crisis, like before and during
Covid-19. Invisible care work in households and sacrifices by women in poor communities
contributes to blunting the edge of suffering while male domination and violence continues. A
carbon free society and effective life supporting systems mean emancipation for all, including for
future generations, from this eco-cidal system. This is the struggle of our time and our historical
task as South Africans, as humans and as part of the wider living earth community.

2. Goals of the Charter

This Charter aims to:

2.1      Advance an awareness that we thrive and co-exist on one planet. Earth is a common home

for all species. Thus, we seek to affirm our role and responsibilities as guardians of our

planet’s ecosystems and the delicate web of life it supports.

2.2      Inspire a break with the thinking that caused the crisis and that reinforces the obsession

with growth, progress and domination. The power of humanity is constrained by the limits,

cycles, tipping points and boundaries of all ecosystems. More of the same thinking that

harms Earth, is forcing it to react with a power we cannot match.

2.3     Reconnect with an Earth-centred conception of what it means to be human. Nature is

endless, and we are just one small part of it. We have to appreciate that every element of

an ecosystem has an intrinsic value and must be respected.

2.4     Deepen cooperation. We thrive most as humans when we express solidarity, share, live

slowly, are free, affirm our needs and preserve the foundations of our life world. The time

to challenge and end the selfish, greedy, competitive, violent and conquering conception

of the human has arrived.

2.5     Overcome the crisis of corporate-captured political leadership, which is incapable of

thinking beyond the short term, ‘business as usual’ games and which fails to understand

the root causes of the problems. We reject their false solutions that prolong the use of

carbon and perpetuate the unjust life destroying system.

2.6     Strengthen our democracy, constitution and transformative constitutionalism, by claiming

our rights and building united people’s power, as we confront the climate emergency and

worsening socio-ecological crises.


3. Principles for Deep Just Transitions

Every community, village, town, city and workplace has to advance the deep just transition to
ensure socio-ecological transformation. The following principles shall guide the alternatives, plans
and processes towards a deep just transition in our society:
3.1 Climate justice: Those least responsible must not be harmed or carry the cost of climate
impacts. Hence the needs of workers, the poor, the landless, people with disabilities,
grassroots women, children and vulnerable communities have to be at the centre of the
deep just transition. The benefits of socio-ecological transformation must be shared
3.2 Social justice: Climate justice is social justice. Confronting all forms of discrimination and
oppression as it relates to race, class, gender, sex and age, to secure climate and social
3.3 Eco-centric living: To live simply, slowly and consciously, in an eco-centric way, which
recognises the sanctity of all life forms, our inter-connections and enables an ethics of
respect and care.
3.4 Participatory democracy: All climate and deep just transition policies must be informed
by the voices, consent and needs of all people, especially those facing harm.
3.5 Socialised ownership: In workplaces and communities, people’s power must express itself
through democratic control and ownership, including through democratic public utilities,
cooperatives, commoning, communal ownership and participatory planning, including
participatory budgeting, in towns and cities, to ensure collective management of the life
enabling commons and systems.
3.6 International solidarity: Everyone’s struggle is a shared struggle to sustain life. In the
context of worsening climate shocks, international solidarity is central to the deep just
transition as it serves to unite all who are struggling for emancipation and for a post carbon
3.7 Decoloniality: Colonial, neo-colonial and imperial domination are driving us towards
extinction. This is based on the worship of extractivism, technology, finance, violence and
markets. We will actively delink from this system as we affirm an emancipatory
relationship between humans and with non-human nature rooted in our history, culture,
knowledge and the wider struggle of the oppressed on planet earth.
3.8 Intergenerational justice: Care for our planetary commons and ecosystems is crucial for
intergenerational justice; to secure a future for our children, youth and those not yet born.

4. Systemic Alternatives for Transformative Change

We face many crises but the climate crisis is the most dangerous. Through addressing the climate
crisis, which affects everything, we can also advance solutions to all socio-ecological crises and
more generally end the war with nature. Systemic alternatives are necessary to address the causes
of climate change, its risks and pressures for systems collapse.
There are people’s alternatives to fossil fuels, which can meet our basic needs, enhance our
capacity to deal with climate disasters and prepare us to regenerate life-supporting systems. Such
systemic alternatives have been imagined and are part of people’s struggles to decarbonise
societies now as part of the deep just transition. We are committed to advancing such alternatives
and democratic systemic reforms from below.
4.1 Democratic and Deep Just Transition Plans:
Top down approaches to the deep just
transition assume people cannot think for themselves and do not have answers. Together,
every community and workplace needs to develop a deep just transition plan. This should
be done in a democratic manner to enable an energy transition to decarbonise, whilst
meeting essential needs, and advancing systemic alternatives, goals and principles as set
out in this Charter.
4.2 Socially Owned and Community-Based Renewable Energy through a Rapid Phase-
Out of Fossil Fuels:
Our dependence on coal, oil and gas has to be ended as it is
accelerating climate breakdown, ultimately leading to an unliveable world. Nuclear energy
is dangerous and costly. Instead, we will advance socially owned and community based
renewable energy systems (such as solar, wind, hydro and tidal power), supported by
participatory budgeting and incentives (such as feed in tariffs) for our workplaces, homes
and communities. Such energy technologies must be industrialised in South Africa, using
renewable energy. Efficient use of energy and technology will be crucial in this transition.
Divestment from fossil fuels, an end to fossil fuel subsidies and an end to extraction (such
as fracking, more coal mines and offshore extraction) are imperative. All big energy
generators such as Eskom and Sasol have to commit to deep, just transition plans, to secure
the interests of workers, affected communities and future generations.
4.3 Feed Ourselves through Food Sovereignty:
The current industrial food system produces
hunger, uses water inefficiently, destroys nature, releases carbon and is generally
unhealthy. Commercial fishing has destroyed marine ecosystems and undermined the
rights of subsistence fishers. Every community must prioritise small scale, agroecological
farming to meet local needs. The right to food must give food producers, small scale
subsistence fishers, informal traders and consumers the power over their own food
commons systems to ensure that culturally appropriate and nutritious food is available to
all. Moreover, biodiversity, control of seeds and resources for production need to affirm
the importance of indigenous knowledge, local markets, control of the water commons, the
eco-social function of land, and good health. Big farms need to be deconcentrated to ensure
land justice, but in a manner that is fair, strengthens reconciliation and builds solidarity.
4.4 Democratise the Water Commons:
Water is controlled by a few while many are in
desperate need. Industrial farms, mines, coal generated electricity, sugar and timber
plantations are some of the major users of water. As a public good, water needs to be
conserved by all and it must be protected from pollution. Furthermore, water use has to be
democratically planned and effectively regulated while affirming citizens’ rights to
consume this scarce and precious resource. Water and sanitation infrastructure must be
upgraded, managed and monitored to ensure efficient use. Water savings from phasing out
coal generation and big industrial scale farming will enhance the water commons. A water
conscious society has to be promoted.
4.5 Enjoy Life through Working Less:
Work for everyone as the means to survive and earn
income is no longer possible. Unemployment, low paying jobs and long working hours
harm society. In a heating world, working hours must be reduced, at least to a four-day
week. Decent, zero carbon climate jobs must be guaranteed and supported by collective,
values-based and eco-centric approaches to production, consumption, financing and ways
of living through the solidarity economy. Such an economy is based on needs and
democratises economic power. Together with a universal basic income grant system
(UBIG) complementing existing public goods, all workers can be protected in the transition
required and society more generally will have a cushion. The UBIG will generally promote
human cultural flourishing in a post work society.
4.6 Eco-mobility and Clean Energy Public Transport Systems:
The car industry carries a major responsibility for undermining clean energy public transport systems and for
wasteful investment in expensive road infrastructure. These harms can be brought to an
end with greater support for walking, bicycles, clean energy motor bikes, horses and
donkeys as eco-mobility modes of transport. Cities and towns also need to be car free and
provide infrastructure for eco-mobility. Every community needs to be integrated into a
mass transit system involving buses, trains and trams running on renewable energy and
hybrid technologies based on local eco-manufacturing. The transportation of goods must
also shift to rail. Non-electric cars based on fossil fuels must be phased out. Air and sea
transport must also be decarbonised or limited.
4.7 Zero Waste and Simple Living:
Mass consumption of commodities and ‘celebrity lifestyles’ are resource intensive, wasteful and carbon centric. Moreover, landfill sites,
incineration of waste and pollution of ecosystems are harmful. Zero waste closes the loop
through recycling, reuse, solidarity economy principles and sustainable design in our
economy so that there is less (or zero) extraction of raw materials. Certain technologies
like single use plastic, have to be banned. Together with simple living, we can live with
minimal resource and carbon footprints.
4.8 Eco-social Housing, Buildings and Transition Towns:
Many existing homes are not designed to deal with climate extremes. Moreover, many are still homeless in our society
while the rich have golf courses. We need to retrofit existing buildings and homes to handle
more heat and weather extremes. Similarly, new homes must be designed as part of ecocommunities,
villages, towns, municipal rental schemes and cities where construction
methods use natural materials, have minimal impact on the environment and provide for
eco-social land needs of individuals as part of a community. Such needs are for housing,
agroecological food production, sustainable water use, biodiversity, child rearing and
culture. Cement is not used in this context given its huge carbon footprint and has to be
phased out as a building technology.
4.9 Beyond Mainstream Economics:
The assumptions that economics makes about human behaviour, nature, profits, markets, commodities and growth is destroying everything.
Mainstream economics merely justifies the wealth for a few, their destructive use of
resources, and resulting pollution and carbon emissions. Our economies have to serve our
needs as socio-ecological beings and the needs of ecosystems. We need an economics that
takes into account ecological footprints, happiness, well-being, the resilience of ecosystems
(through regular audits), the commons, and planetary boundaries. Our economics must be
orientated around concepts and tools that assess the state of all living creatures and ends
the harm to humans as well as non-human nature. This should serve as the basis of agenda
setting, policy, resource allocation and democratic planning.
4.10 The Rich Must Pay their Ecological Debt:
The wealthy in our societies have consumed resources excessively, negatively impacted on ecosystems, and have huge carbon
footprints. They owe us all an ecological debt and have to carry the financial burden of the
deep just transition. This means a climate debt tax for the rich; high taxes on airline travel,
private jets, luxury vehicles and electric cars; a progressive carbon tax targeting polluting
corporations not phasing out carbon fast enough; and climate justice tariffs on carbon
criminal corporations and governments. Workers need to leverage pension and provident
funds, through worker control, to ensure the deep just transition meets their needs and
support the creation of a national cooperative bank to assist workplaces, communities and
households with the socially owned renewable energy transition and the realisation of deep
just transition plans. Public finance also needs to be harnessed from eco-taxes, penalties
for pollution, withdrawing subsidies to fossil fuels, and other progressive taxation sources.
4.11 Knowledge is Crucial for Survival:
There is a big knowledge gap in society regarding the worsening climate crisis. We have to draw on different knowledge systems to raise
public awareness and survive. Indigenous knowledge has powerful resources to assist us
and it has to be retrieved, learned and respected. Earth system science, including climate
science, is essential to inform the public about the climate crisis and its challenges. Climate
science as people’s science has to be complimented by lived experience based on observing
and learning from ecosystems. Given the complexity of climate change, research and
innovation to ensure systemic transformation and to advance the public interest must be
supported. Universities and schools must take these knowledge challenges on board.
4.12 Emergency, Holistic and Preventative Healthcare:
Inequality in healthcare means climate harms will bring injustice, such as during the Covid19 pandemic. We need
workable, accessible and responsive public healthcare systems to meet people’s needs and
address the health challenges that come with climate heating. Such healthcare systems must
be capable of dealing with emergencies, psychological trauma, diseases and new
epidemics. Holistic care and a preventative orientation at the grassroots have to be
4.13 Rights of Nature and Natural Climate Solutions:
Our oceans have been polluted,
forests destroyed, land stolen and biodiversity loss increased, all due to the pursuit of profit.
If we are to survive, all living creatures need to be respected. All life and all ecosystems on
our planet are deeply intertwined and need to exist, persist and regenerate their vital cycles.
The rights of nature approach recognises the intrinsic value of all non-human life forms.
Moreover, nature has its own solutions to climate change from which we can learn. Such
solutions include conservation, restoration and land management activities that increase
carbon storage across forests, wetlands, grasslands, coastal ecosystems and agro-ecological
farm lands. Community-led biodiversity registers are crucial to protect and advance natural
climate solutions.
4.14 Climate Conscious Media:
The media is not informing the public adequately about
climate change. It needs to take the science of climate change more seriously and inform
the public about the climate crisis, policy issues and the systemic alternatives required.
Climate news has to be mainstreamed in radio, television and print media.

5. Towards a People Driven Climate Justice State

The South African state has to become a climate justice state that recognises the climate
emergency, whilst strengthening our democracy. It has to be guided by the vision, goals, principles
and people-led systemic alternatives contained in this Charter and all its climate policies must be
aligned to realise this Charter. More specifically a climate justice state will also:
5.1 Enable participatory planning for deep just transitions from below.
5.2 Develop public finance mechanisms such as a public climate insurance fund and green
bonds, provide a climate crisis mandate to the Reserve Bank, re-orientate all public and
private finance institutions to support the deep just transition and advance the tax proposals
in this charter.
5.3 Ensure progressive regulations that will curtail the destructive logic of capital, place limits
on corporations, and importantly, place a ban on any future fossil fuel extraction.
5.4 Decarbonise all state practices and achieve a zero-carbon footprint in all its activities;
5.5 Administratively and constitutionally redesign state structures as parts of the country
become unliveable.
5.6 Prepare the country for rising sea levels and take appropriate measures as part of
participatory planning.
5.7 Strengthen local government to have enhanced powers and democratic planning
competencies to deal with the climate crisis.
5.8 Develop institutional capacity through a people-led climate disaster management system,
which includes a national fire service, fully functional public hospitals, rapid response
emergency teams, increased capacity for the weather services and disaster management
5.9 Promote research and innovation to deepen systemic transformation for deep just
transitions from below, actively raise public awareness and ensure all public institutions
are climate justice leaders.
5.10 Reduce all wasteful spending, end corruption and professionalise the state bureaucracy
by appointing the best people in the country to serve in government. A truly non-racial
and women led bureaucracy must be created.
5.11 Advance a climate justice orientation in its international relations, including renewing
radical Pan-Africanism, through promoting: a climate justice position amongst African
governments to demand climate debt reparations from the global north as part of a
Climate Justice Deal; climate justice sanctions against carbon criminal states; solidarity
towards refugees and migrants; research; systemic alternatives; renewable energy
pooling; climate disaster response capabilities; and call for an ‘End To Fossil Fuel
Treaty’ in the UN system that benefits African governments.

6. People’s Power for Commoning and a Climate Justice Deal for South Africa

A climate justice future can only be achieved through the power of a united people. We have
learned this through the struggle against colonialism, apartheid and neoliberalism.
Power lies in different parts of society, in the systems we build, the organisations and movements
that we are part of, and in the street politics we do. People’s power has to be at the forefront of
defending the living commons which sustains us and future generations.
Human beings are an adaptable and flexible species. We understand the causes of the climate crisis
and we have democratic, transformative and just solutions to prevent our extinction. This Climate
Justice Charter is a signpost; a trumpet call, to move all of us in the direction of system change
now and for a Climate Justice Deal that ends the suffering of the most vulnerable and oppressed.
Such a people led initiative will ensure that we address the multiple crises confronting the country
while affirming the hope of the many expressed in this Charter. Let’s take a stand for a caring
society and unite, in South Africa and through international solidarity, before it is too late.

Forward to the Climate Justice Charter and Deep Just Transition to Sustain Life!