Frontiers of Environmental Justice: Building Transoceanic Solidarity Between the Pacific, the Caribbean and the UK

“Frontiers of Environmental Justice: Building Transoceanic Solidarity Between the Pacific, the Caribbean and the UK”

Anja Kanngieser (University of Wollongong), Leon Sealey Huggins (University of Warwick), and the Race, Culture and Equality Working Group (Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers)

Post-workshop report, August 2019 – Leon Sealey Huggins (University of Warwick; l.sealey-huggins@warwick.ac.uk) and Anja Kanngieser (University of Wollongong; anjak@uow.edu.au)

“Frontiers of Environmental Justice” was a closed two day workshop held on 8 and 9 July 2019, bringing together activists and social scientists from the UK, the Pacific and the Caribbean. Its aim was to think through questions of climate crisis and the ongoing violences of extractivist colonialism in the Pacific and the Caribbean. While calls for self-determination and climate strategies driven by on-the-ground communities have been coming from the Pacific and the Caribbean, organisers from Island nations have rarely been given space for self-representation in UK climate activism and scholarship. This workshop responded to this notable oversight. With specific attention to centring the experiences and expertise of Indigenous and LBT women, it focused on the campaigns of four policy makers and advocates from Jamaica, Belize (the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management), and Fiji (Pacific Network on Globalisation; Diverse Voices for Action and Equality).

Along with the four Pacific and Caribbean speakers, 20 activists and scholars from the UK took part. The invite-only event was deliberately curated to bring together people working on liberation from racist colonial logics to explore the possibilities for transoceanic solidarities and knowledge sharing. Participants came from groups including the Wretched of the Earth collective, War on Want, the InterIsland Collective and other social movement spaces. Geographers and social scientists from Durham University, University of Essex, University of Birmingham, University of Warwick, Leicester University, LSE, Coventry University’s Centre for Agroecology and Water Resilience, and the University of Wollongong, Australia were also present. Five members of the RGS-IBG RACE (Race, Culture and Equality) Working group committee were included.

The Antipode Foundation International Workshop Award supported the event, which was led by Anja Kanngieser and Leon Sealey-Huggins with two social movement facilitators, Zahra Delilah and Sekai Makoni. The facilitators structured the event to ensure that an orientation to listening, building relationships and establishing connections across regions was foregrounded. This meant that careful attention was paid to open and direct conversation and self-reflection on the positionalities each participant inhabited. As most of the participants came from minoritised backgrounds (BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, disabled) these structural tensions were engaged and inequalities across power, geography, class, race, gender, and between academics, activists and NGOs, were thematised. By asking participants to think about their own contexts, desires and capacities, the facilitators concentrated on building meaningful exchanges and plans for concrete practice and action.

By bringing together people from three geopolitical regions – two nations politically independent from historical British imperial rule, and from the UK itself – this event contributed to radical geographical scholarship by developing new knowledge of the continuing neo/colonial impacts of so-called economic ‘Global North’ intervention into the geopolitics of the so-called economic ‘Global South’. More specifically it prioritised first hand accounts from contemporary social justice actors engaging with the environmental and social resonances of empire. Extending current debates on issues such as loss and damages and displacement, this event generated insight into what might constitute viable forms of solidarity and redress.

Initial immediate outcomes have included: on the ground solidarity by Greenpeace with Jamaican groups protesting the international sea bed authority plans for deep sea mining; fundraising for the anti-mining campaign in Cockpit Country, Jamaica; preparations for collaboration between academics working on ocean sovereignty, militarisation, and blue economies and the Pacific Network on Globalisation. Plans for publication, audio podcasts and a public blog post are underway as well as further commitments for ongoing meetings and events, and a possible larger network for collaborative organising around extractivism, mining and climate justice.

There were no major problems or difficulties encountered during the workshop or its preparation. Our early decision to work with experienced social movement facilitators ensured that the event ran very smoothly and there was a sensitivity to the relations within the group. A willingness amongst participants to discuss difficult topics around racism, accountability, global power imbalances, personal complicities and practices with generosity and care meant that when tensions arose they were well navigated and contributed to the richness of the conversation. Early feedback from participants indicated a common concern regarding the establishment of a set of concrete criteria for future actions. This was a deliberate decision taken by us as we envisaged this event as a pilot and the first in ongoing, collaboratively organised meetings. The feedback shows that there is a desire for continuation.

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We have planned for five outcomes from the event, which we are now working on establishing. Firstly, the organisation of a Transoceanic (Pacific, Caribbean, UK) environmental justice network (TCJN) including a programme for continuing collaborative research and action. As the event was closed, we had to turn many people away who had wanted to take part. It was made clear to us that there was considerable interest in, and support for, a series of open events, as well as widespread dissemination on the basis of this event.

This leads to the second outcome. Anja Kanngieser and Leon Sealey Huggins will write a reflection piece on the event, including a podcast of audio recordings taken during the event to be hosted online by the Environment and Planning D: Society and Space blog. This is anticipated to be published by late 2019.

Thirdly a co-authored publication for Antipode examining the contemporary links between neocolonialism and the perpetuation of structural environmental racism in the Pacific and Caribbean will be written by Anja Kanngieser and Leon Sealey Huggins with an anticipated submission date of early 2020.

Fourthly, as further funding for research assistance has been secured, Kanngieser and Sealey-Huggins will work with a Research Assistant to prepare a research bid that will support the building of the network mentioned above by paying for workshops, meetings and events. Follow on funding from the Antipode Foundation will also be sought in 2020.

Finally, ongoing conversations will take place with the RGS-IBG RACE Working Group to integrate materials from the workshop into university geography and secondary school curricula where appropriate.