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'We need to find ways to connect rather than divide us'

November 29, 2019

Greenpeace international director Jennifer Morgan spoke to DW about how climate change is linked to human rights and why the world's poorest countries might eventually have to go to court to get climate funding.

Greenpeace: Jennifer Morgan
Greenpeace's Jennifer MorganImage: Greenpeace/Bas Beentjes

If the world doesn't get its act together on climate change, then humanitarian crises will worsen, says Jennifer Morgan, who took over as Greenpeace International director in April 2016, having previously headed the Climate Program at the World Resources Institute. She spoke to DW about the need for more humane international cooperation and environmental justice. 

DW: What should be expected when it comes to the humanitarian impacts of climate change in the future?

Jennifer Morgan: Many of the humanitarian crises or events will often be exacerbated and multiplied by climate change. For example, in places where there are droughts, those droughts will be longer and could be across more countries. So from a humanitarian perspective you are looking at how you actually support these people.  

If you are thinking about conflicts — to take the drought example, climate change isn't the primary cause of conflict, but fighting over water might be the straw that breaks the camel's back. You are looking at storms getting more intense, and more people being displaced. There's also lots of work on the health impacts of climate change.

And the thing that's so unfair is that it is very clear it's the most vulnerable people around the world that are hit hardest by humanitarian crises and they are hardest hit by climate change.

What does addressing environmental injustice look like to you in concrete terms?

There is a lot of work that's been done by Oxford University and the Union of Concerned Scientists on top corporations in the world and how much they have attributed to the rise of temperature. So I think what it should look like is that those companies should pay for the damages that they are causing to local communities.

Read more: Climate talks: The power of the world's least powerful countries

Floating gardens in Bangladesh
Bangladesh is one country already experiencing internal migration due to climate changeImage: DW

Read more: Building walls to keep climate refugees out 

On the governmental side of things in climate change negotiations, it means that developed countries need to be ready to fund help and support poor countries to make the shift to renewable energy and stopping deforestation. They need all of their development aid to be supporting adaptation and they need to be ready to pay reparations.

What form can you imagine reparations taking?

So there's different levels of it within the Paris agreement. You do have a mechanism for loss and damage [in the agreement] which is there to support the poorest countries. The North would rather not just pay for the actual damage but they may look at how to pay for avoidance of damage in the future: so more infrastructure.

What I expect in the years to come is litigation. I think that the poorest countries in the world and most vulnerable are eventually going to have to go to human rights courts and the court of justice to actually work to try and get some of the funding.

Do you see an opportunity to address inequalities and human rights issues while tackling climate change?

I think there is a huge opportunity. I think we all see that the root causes, this short-termism, putting corporate profit over people, the role of those companies in decision making in government, I think all of that joins up.

Read more: The global injustice of the climate crisis 

And the fact that we can address many of these issues together I think is the way that we have to go forward. If you look at how corporates are governed around the world as well that's part of the issue. There's very little corporate governance.

Jennifer Morgan speaks to protesters in Berlin
Jennifer Morgan speaking at a Stop Coal demonstration in BerlinImage: Greenpeace/G. Welters
A woman drives a motorcycle through a flooded street
Pacific islands like Tuvalu are facing the existential threat of rising sea levelsImage: Getty Images for Lumix/F. Goodall

What role do you see climate change having in creating political division?

I think if you look into the future in a world where the world hasn't gotten its act together and temperatures continue to rise, you're going to see more conflicts, more refugees and less stability.

And I think it's in those situations where we see already that that's being used to shut down borders. "Protect your own" — this type of thing. And I think we need an international cooperation model which is much more humane, and which considers people might be fleeing partially from a driver that comes from wealthier countries [climate change].

Read more: Colombia's youth fighting for the Amazon — in the courts and on the streets 

I think it really gets to our values as human beings, of understanding the people who aren't able to stay where they would like to stay and need to move, are people just like we are. Finding ways that can connect us rather than divide us. 

We've recently seen a global movement of climate activism. How different is it to what you've seen before, and where do you think it is heading?

It's hugely significant and of a different nature than what we've seen before because it is very much driven by youth. If you look at intergenerational equity and justice, they are realizing the lack of responsibility that older generations have shown, potentially means for them a world of instability and chaos. This is not a "one off" for them: They are just going to keep going. They're not responsible for fixing it [climate change] either. So it is very morally confrontational to adults.

The thing that we all need to work on together is making sure that this gets directed into places where we can start seeing the difference. That may be government policy, it may be in identifying which companies need to shift, but it is [the activism] different than it's been in the past.

The interview was conducted by Holly Young and has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Holly Young Holly Young is a climate reporter on DW’s Environment desk based in Berlin, Germany.@holly_young88