Bali Principles Of Climate Justice Address Multiple Levels
by Joshua Kelly


In August 2002, a coalition of organizations met in Johannesburg, South Africa with the goal of redefining climate change in terms of human rights and environmental justice. Collectively referred to as the International Climate Justice Network, they believed that discourse surrounding climate change was restricted to technical jargon, and that negotiations to find solutions were hindered by special interest groups – and governments like the United States. This coalition’s efforts produced the Bali Principles of Climate Justice, a document that reprioritizes climate change as a local community issue.

The preamble to the Bali Principles asserts that the leading causes of climate change affect those least responsible. Primary sources of climate change are identified as Northern industrialized nations and transnational corporations that utilize unsustainable production and consumption practices – especially with respect to fossil fuels. The impacts of these practices are “disproportionably felt by small island states, women, youth, coastal people, local communities, indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, poor people, and the elderly.” Furthermore, climate change threatens these groups by endangering the food production of natural resource-based economies.

There are 27 core principles listed, ranging from affirmations of the rights of impacted groups, to specifying particular measures needed to combat climate change. One principle states that indigenous peoples have the right to represent and speak for themselves. Another principle addresses the rights of workers employed in fossil fuel and other greenhouse-gas producing industries to work in safe and healthy environments.

The issues touched upon in this document are at times surprisingly wide-ranging. The 24th Principle opposes “military action, occupation, repression and exploitation of lands, water, oceans, peoples and cultures, and other life forms.” The subsequent principle “calls for the education of present and future generations” on issue of climate, energy, and environmental issues. Perhaps the most important paradigm is expressed in the final, 27th Principle, which acknowledges “the rights of unborn generations to natural resources, a stable climate, and a healthy planet.”

In some respects the Bali Principles of Climate Justice act as a spiritual counterpart to other climate change standards like the Kyoto Protocol, which in 2005 established an international system striving to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What differentiates Bali is that it attempts to empower local communities to wield greater influence in matters of climate change. Whether action comes from local, national, or global positions, climate change will never be addressed with suitable attention until the focus comes from all levels.