Climate Justice and Intersectionality in the Arctic

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Doris Friedrich President, Vienna-based Arctic and Subarctic Working Group (AAS), Austria doris.friedrich.at@gmail.com

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Abstract

Environmental issues such as climate change benefit from intersectional analysis that uncovers various forms of discrimination and oppression and explores links to other social issues. Intersectionality calls attention to the experiences of different population groups with several intersecting aspects of social identity. Climate justice addresses the ethical dimensions of climate change, including its discriminatory effects. Communities and individuals within Arctic countries and even within Arctic regions are affected differently by climate change. To strive for a comprehensive climate justice that encompasses various human and non-human entities, we must take into account who benefits and who is harmed by climate change along with actions to mitigate and adapt to it, and through which processes. In this article, I examine gender and Indigeneity in the Arctic with regard to climate change.

The impact of climate change in the Arctic, which is warming twice as fast as the global average (AMAP 2017; Naylor et al. 2019; Walsh 2014), is predicted to be greater than in any other part of the planet (ACIA 2005). Its effects are myriad and include permafrost thaw, coastal erosion, loss of sea ice (and resulting impacts on species dependent on it), warming temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, and many more (see, e.g., ACIA 2005). As a result, people living in the Arctic already face the acute effects of a changing environment (e.g., Hovelsrud et al. 2011; Prior and Heinämäki 2017). The aspects affected include “travel, hunting, subsistence activity and food security, viability of land skills and traditional knowledge, and health … and risks in relation to infrastructure” (Nymand Larsen and Fondahl 2014: 456).1 These changes limit people's resources, threaten their rights to life, food, water, and housing, and therefore directly and indirectly pose a threat to human physical and mental health and wellbeing (Nymand Larsen and Fondahl 2014; see also Prior and Heinämäki 2017).

Climate change and its impacts are interlinked with the human-environment systems and the political, economic, cultural, and social context, which can exacerbate its effects (Nymand Larsen and Fondahl 2014). Colonialism and capitalism, for instance, heighten climate-related risks to Inuit and other Indigenous peoples’ health, culture, and economic sustainability, as they have already “been deeply harmed by the economic, industrial, and military drivers behind anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change” (Whyte 2019: 2). These harms start with the damages caused by fossil fuel industries (see also Spice 2022) and continue with current policies that increase Indigenous people's vulnerability to climate change impacts (Whyte 2019), including land and rights dispossessions as well as ongoing forms of genocide (Hernandez et al. 2022). Similarly, Pablo Romero-Nieva Santos and colleagues (2020: 1) contend that “the economic, cultural and social systems that contribute to insecurity and the impacts of climate change are deeply rooted in patriarchal and/or colonial histories,” which is why “intersectionality matters.”

In its summary of climate change effects on human health, the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment mentions the aspects associated with vulnerability to climate change impacts: “impacts of climate change on the health of arctic residents will vary considerably depending on such factors as age, gender, socio-economic status, lifestyle, culture, location, and the capacity of local health infrastructure and systems to adapt” (ACIA 2005: 864). The most vulnerable are likely to be populations living in close association with the land, in remote communities, and those that already face a variety of health-related challenges. Tahnee Lisa Prior and Leena Heinämäki (2017) also classify marginalized groups in the Arctic as particularly vulnerable, including women, Indigenous people, the elderly, and children, as well as those whose lifestyles are more closely linked to nature, such as Indigenous people with traditional livelihoods and a subsistence lifestyle. The disproportional vulnerability of Indigenous communities dependent on agricultural and livestock production is echoed by Gleb Raygorodetsky (2011), Vera Solovyeva (2021), and others.

Climate Change as a Compounding Factor

Instead of being just a challenge in itself, which would already be burdensome enough, climate change for many Arctic communities is akin to the “last straw,” a factor that compounds many other issues, disadvantages, and inequalities (see, e.g., Bunce 2015; Solovyeva 2021). A number of researchers argue that, in addition to creating new social inequalities, climate change and associated policies and strategies exacerbate long-standing exclusionary and discriminatory practices at the local and international levels (Bhavnani et al. 2019; Bond 2012; Forsyth 2014). Marginalized groups feel the effects of both climate change and climate change mitigation or adaptation efforts more strongly and unequally (Kaijser and Kronsell 2014; Raygorodetsky 2011). They are “impacted first” and “helped last” (Hernandez and Spencer 2020: 6). This might be one of the reasons why many studies argue that climate change is not always among the most pressing challenges people in the Arctic have to face (Bunce 2015; Keskitalo 2008; Lynch and Brunner 2007). Consequently, Henry P. Huntington and colleagues (2019: 1218) “want to de-center climate as the dominant issue in the Arctic.” They suggest “re-framing the treatment of climate change in policy and research, to make sure … topics highlighted by the people themselves and not just climate science also get the attention they deserve” (Huntington et al. 2019: 1217). They acknowledge that climate change often exacerbates other problems, but caution that it can distract from actions that can improve people's lives in the near-term. Overall, the brief paper by Huntington and his colleagues focuses on adaptation and omits mitigation (Huntington et al. 2019). While this leaves more room for issues directly relevant for Arctic communities today, it is debatable whether this shift creates more problems for Arctic communities in the longer term. The trade-off between a focus on the ecological versus the relational or social aspects or “tipping points” is also debated by Kyle Powys Whyte (2020). Sennan D. Mattar and colleagues (2020) second the broadening of scope to issues other than climate change. This might be where intersectionality and intersectional climate justice can come in, showing how these issues are interlinked, adversely affect each other, and how they can be tackled together.

Intersectionality Applied to Climate Change in the Arctic

Intersectionality, which developed from critical race and feminist theory, can be defined as “the interaction between gender, race and other categories of difference in individual lives, social practices, institutional arrangements, and cultural ideologies and the outcomes of these interactions in terms of power,” exclusion, and subordination (Davis 2008: 68). Looking through an intersectional lens, “how individuals relate to climate change depends on their positions in context-specific power structures based on social categorisations” (Kaijser and Kronsell 2014: 421). The concept of intersectionality can help to determine which axes of social difference affect individuals’ experience of climate change and how it affects power structures and categorizations, which might be reinforced. The formulation of climate change policies, however, also allows for the challenging and renegotiation of inequalities (Kaijser and Kronsell 2014; Osborne 2015; Ryder 2017). The concept of intersectionality as an analytical tool further supports the identification of the voices being heard and those being ignored.

A growing number of scholars argue that “the effects of climate change are mediated through social, cultural, and economic structures and processes” (Kaijser and Kronsell 2014: 417). Andrew K. Jorgenson and colleagues (2019: 5) emphasize the importance of power relations and inequalities with regard to climate change and argue that “[i]nteractions among power, social stratification, and inequality—whether international, regional, national, or subnational—all affect emissions and climate change.” These aspects affect who emits greenhouse gasses and who suffers from the consequences. Heidi M. Walker and colleagues (2019: 2) assert that, “although gender remains a persistent axis of power and social differentiation, it should not be the only axis considered” (emphasis in original). Romero-Nieva Santos and colleagues (2020: 8) agree that while a focus on gender is useful, research should move “toward broader integration of other social aspects like age, class, or ethnicity to understand climatic, socio-economic and political conditions” and adopt an intersectional perspective. While gender, race, and class are the categories most often considered in the literature, others such as Indigeneity, age, location (e.g., rurality, remoteness of the community), sexual orientation, disability, education, homelessness, affluence, immigration status, and other identity aspects all shape the effects of climate change on individuals and communities (Kaijser and Kronsell 2014; Walker et al. 2019). These are also intertwined with social roles, occupations, and identities, such as being a hunter or otherwise being involved in the primary sector, as they are often more acutely affected by environmental conditions (Walker et al. 2019). Referring to a number of studies, Natalie Osborne (2015: 141) states that there “are a lot of data to suggest that today's marginality is tomorrow's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.” The need to carefully examine social aspects and associated vulnerabilities regarding climate change is thus becoming increasingly evident.

In their article, Walker and colleagues (2019) propose an intersectionality framework encompassing five main intersectionality attributes in order to guide future research: intersecting social categories; multi-level analysis; power relationships; learning, action, and social change; and reflexivity. In this theoretical article, which is based on a review of the literature, I focus on the first attribute. The need to select and prioritize the most relevant intersections has been suggested as one solution to the challenge of dividing the research focus among too many aspects (see, e.g., Kaijser and Kronsell 2014; Osborne 2015), which is why I have selected two of the most relevant intersecting social categories when it comes to climate change in the Arctic—namely, gender and Indigeneity. In the following, I review the literature on these in relation to climate change in the Arctic in order to advance our understanding of intersectional climate change and justice in the Arctic.

I must note here, regarding my own positionality, that as a white woman living in Central Europe and with only limited personal experience in the Arctic, my perspective is necessarily theoretical and that of an outsider.

Indigeneity

Climate change is widely acknowledged as threatening the way of life or even existence of Arctic Indigenous peoples, confronting them with unprecedented challenges (Aponte 2013; Khan 2020; Prior and Heinämäki 2017). Indigenous peoples in the Arctic are particularly affected. Global politics shape and constrain Arctic governance. In addition, the legacy of settler colonialism, which Lauren Kepkiewicz (2017) considers a distinct, but intersecting system of oppression, has undermined Indigenous adaptive capacity to adapt to climate change and its effects as well as to other challenges (Whyte 2018; Wilson 2014). Historical power structures have made the security and wellbeing of some disenfranchised communities vulnerable to the impacts of climate change (O'Brien et al. 2009). Mark Nuttall (2007) contends that, at present, community lifestyle is more limited by political, social, and economic factors than it was in the past. Together with the rate of current climatic changes, this hampers adaptation. These socio-economic conditions play a critical role in the vulnerability and adaptive capacity of Arctic communities (Mattar et al. 2020). Likewise, Sheila Watt-Cloutier (2009: 40) explains that historical, colonial processes in the Arctic affect people's capacity to adapt: “We as aboriginal peoples were and continue to be marginalized and groomed towards dependencies that show itself in the dispiritedness, violence and poverty in our communities.” This, in turn, shapes their perception of mitigation and adaptation strategies: “the very thing that is creating havoc with our climate—because we're in this place of vulnerability in the Arctic, that even the worst things that could possibly make the tipping point happen here, is the very thing that we now think might be the solution” (Watt-Cloutier 2010: 166–167).

As Arctic Indigenous peoples have a long cultural history and a strong identity linked to the landscape, often relying on mixed subsistence economies, they are considered more vulnerable to climate change, have fewer geographic and economic opportunities, and as such have “few alternatives beyond local adaptation to change” (Trainor et al. 2007: 628). In general, they are likely to gain less and lose more from a changing climate (O'Brien and Leichenko 2003; Trainor et al. 2007). The Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) is one of the Indigenous organizations that has expressed its unease about the effects of climate change: “Inuit are deeply concerned about the actual and potential impacts of climate change on our cultural, spiritual, social and economic health and corresponding human rights” (ICC 2015). In addition to the drawbacks from climate change itself, Whyte (2019: 3) calls attention to the harm caused by policies and strategies to mitigate climate change:

Even strategies for lowering national carbon footprints pose risks to Indigenous peoples and put their human rights in peril … Hydropower and forest conservation still involve displacement of Indigenous peoples … Wide-ranging technological solutions … pose significant risks that include desecration of sacred sites, pollution, violations of free, prior and informed consent, and increased rates of sexual violence…

Gender

The gendered dimension of climate change is another aspect of oppression that is becoming exceedingly clear thanks to an increasing number of studies. Walker and colleagues (2019) refer to a growing body of research on how gendered social relationships shape the preparedness, experience, and response to climate change impacts. As Sherilyn MacGregor (2014: 627) notes, there is “ample evidence that the impacts of climate change have gender dimensions, and that any meaningful, justice-oriented analysis needs to recognize that climate change affects men and women differently.” According to the 2005 and 2007 UN Development Reports, climate change is “one of the world's strongest markers for disadvantage” and deepens gender inequality (Prior and Heinämäki 2017). Some authors, such as Patricia E. Perkins (2018b), consider gender the most crucial category of climate injustice. Not only are the effects of climate change gendered, but so are its causes, its “benefits,” and the related policy developments. Nevertheless, the literature on gender and climate change has mostly focused on the global South because of the strong climate impacts on the primary sector livelihoods that women in the South are more likely to be employed in than their male counterparts. By contrast, there is less research on the differential impacts of climate change in wealthy countries in the global North, where gender inequity is perceived to be less severe (Bunce 2015; Bunce and Ford 2015; Cohen 2017; Walker et al. 2019).

The reasons for the gendered effects of climate change are manifold. According to Prior and Heinämäki (2017), the disproportionate impact on women can be attributed to historical disadvantages and their dependence on natural resources and sectors that are more affected by environmental changes. Perkins (2018a) traces women's higher (compared to men) vulnerability to environmental disasters and extreme weather events back to their economic disadvantage, sexual and reproductive health and risks, having more time as seniors and/or widows due to their higher life expectancy, and restricted social options. At an institutional level, representation in decision-making is indicative of the intersections of power and inequalities (Kaijser and Kronsell 2014). Several researchers point to the low degree of participation of women in decision-making on climate policies and the lack of a gendered perspective in international climate policy content (see, e.g., Einarsson et al. 2004; Prior and Heinämäki 2017; Röhr et al. 2008). In particular, the 2004 Arctic Human Development Report (Einarsson et al. 2004: 201) highlights women's poor representation in “natural resource management, which provides the socio-economic base for many Arctic communities.”

Based on a “feminist green politics approach” and a corpus of feminist criticism, MacGregor further argues that environmentalism is witnessing a masculinization, where men dominate climate change “at all levels, as scientific and economic experts, entrepreneurs, policy makers and spokespeople” (MacGregor 2009: 128) and “have produced the dominant scientific and policy frames” (MacGregor 2014: 623). By contrast, women and less powerful groups are marginalized and represent only a small minority in fields that have influence over climate change policy-making (MacGregor 2009: 129). Due to this framing, climate change is constructed in “stereotypically masculinized ways” (MacGregor 2014: 626), demanding techno-scientific solutions, arguably the traditional domain of men and hegemonic masculinity, and presenting it as a threat to security.2 This may reinforce militarism, technical fixes and exceptional measures while sidelining ethical concerns and social dimensions, on which women's responses have tended to focus on (MacGregor 2009; see also Denton 2002; Terry 2009; Johnsson-Latham 2007).3 MacGregor (2010: 235–236) elaborates:

[T]he gendered discourses currently employed in the climate change debate gives voice to an entrenched gender ideology that rests on exaggerated differences between men and women. These discourses work to keep men and women in their ostensibly separate worlds of highly valued science, economics and defence, on the one hand, and devalued social reproduction and private domestic duty on the other. Masculinist discourses shape the issue in ways that effectively exclude women from positions of leadership and citizenship and give them a choice of much less attractive discursive categories of victims, saviours or culprits.

There is thus considerable similarity between the effects of climate change on women, Indigenous people, and other marginalized groups and how these groups are marginalized in negotiations on climate policy and strategies. Nevertheless, the intersections of these identity aspects are still overlooked.

The Intersection of Gender and Indigeneity: Indigenous Women

Prior and Heinämäki (2017: 209–210) emphasize the interlinkages between gender and Indigeneity in the Arctic and caution that gender equality and decolonization must complement each other: “In the context of the Arctic, issues of gender equality must be understood from a uniquely northern perspective in a manner that does not reinforce colonial attitudes.” Investigating Indigenous representation in the international climate change regime, Prior and Heinämäki (2017) and Sabaa Ahmad Khan (2020) conclude that representation of women and Indigenous peoples in the processes established under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has improved over the last decades, for instance with the establishment of the International Forum of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change (IF-PCC) as a caucus at the UNFCCC. Nevertheless, Indigenous peoples as well as women remain on the periphery of international climate change negotiations (see also Comberti et al. 2016; Perkins 2018b). Despite the widely recognized status of Indigenous people as being most affected by climate change, as well as the massive political mobilization of Indigenous groups, including Indigenous women's activism and leadership, the Paris Agreement did not explicitly affirm Indigenous rights in the climate regime (Perkins 2018b).

Kimberlé Crenshaw showed already in 1990, in regard to feminist and anti-racism movements in the United States, that both movements marginalized women of color due to beliefs that paying attention to their unique experiences and challenges would set back the movements’ agendas. The problem persists today. Prior and Heinämäki (2017) and other scholars such as Laura Parisi and Jeff Corntassel (2007) argue that Indigenous women have been sidelined in women's rights and Indigenous rights movements, and Indigenous women's rights are often neglected. While women's rights are codified as human rights under the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and Indigenous peoples’ rights under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), there is little mention of the specific intersection of Indigeneity and gender. Rauna Kuokkanen (2012) and Prior and Heinämäki (2017) highlight potential tensions between Indigenous women's individual and collective rights, in particular regarding provisions against discriminations and Indigenous self-determination, which might conceal patriarchal structures and relations of power. Kuokkanen (2012: 226) explains: “Existing indigenous self-governance arrangements have often failed to protect women from social and economic dispossession and from multilayered violence experienced in their own communities and in society at large.” What is more, Indigenous women and other marginalized groups have little decision-making power in climate policy negotiations, are often improperly consulted, and are less likely to benefit from the outcomes (Kaijser and Kronsell 2014; Prior and Heinämäki 2017). Prior and Heinämäki (2017: 208) further shed light on the marginalization of Indigenous women by arguing that the “mold is particularly difficult to break when patriarchal systems of representation, thinking, and law often call on women to align with indigenous peoples’ movements, at times led by indigenous men.” While a number of scholars also call for greater political representation of Arctic and other Indigenous peoples in international fora (see, e.g., Mattar et al. 2020), Prior and Heinämäki (2017) stress the importance of Indigenous women's participation, including with the help of participatory quotas, in UNFCCC processes, particularly in the context of the Arctic Indigenous peoples’ organizations’ political work on climate change, as well as more generally in Arctic states.

Nevertheless, Perkins (2017a, 2017b, 2018b) underlines the success of Indigenous women's activism on climate change as well as other environmental issues. Some activist movements clearly distance themselves from feminism and instead are grounded in “Indigenous womanism” and Indigenous land-based cultures, shedding light on the differences in experiences and priorities of White or non-Indigenous women and emphasizing the importance of intersectionality.

Prior and Heinämäki (2017) argue that international law and a human rights-based approach could help Indigenous women and ensure their participation and legal status in the international climate change regime and related programs. Increasingly, climate change is regarded as a human rights issue, despite the climate regime's slow adoption of a rights-based approach. The Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR 2015) called for special consideration and protection of Indigenous peoples’ rights, gender equality, and the rights of women, children, older people, minorities, migrants, and others in vulnerable positions in climate change mitigation and adaptation planning.

The inclusion of women, especially Indigenous women, is also considered beneficial for other groups and humans in general:

[C]limate justice for women increases the welfare of all humans—economically, socially and politically, both intra-generationally and inter-generationally. Moreover, the cultural expertise of Indigenous women and the activist leadership of marginalised and highly impacted women are replacing the unsustainable systems that produced climate change in the first place, building intra-species and inter-species resilience that has great potential for restorative transformation of the Earth. (Perkins 2018b: 354)

In the Arctic, Indigenous men are usually considered to be more impacted by climate change, as traditional male activities, such as hunting, rely heavily on the environment and are strongly affected by declining sea ice and other environmental changes. However, this has resulted in far less research on how women in the Arctic, especially Indigenous women, perceive and are impacted by changes, which has been criticized as a considerable research gap (Bunce 2015). The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA 2005: 896) suggested that the focus on men might be linked to their more visible reactions to climate change: “The finding that men suffer more from socio-cultural change related stress than women may be in part based on the more visible and more commonly reported manifestations of this stress or frustration common among men (i.e., they are more likely to become violent or to commit suicide).” To make up for the research gap on Indigenous women's experiences, Anna Bunce (2015) documented Inuit women's observations of environmental changes in Iqaluit, the capital city of Nunavut, Canada, and how these affect the women's livelihoods and wellbeing. She specifically looks at three traditional activities engaged in by women in the community: berry picking, sewing, and spending time on the land. Bunce not only shows that Inuit women experience considerable environmental changes in and around Iqaluit, but also demonstrates how these negatively affect women's activities and their wellbeing. The quality of berries, for instance, has declined and is more variable. The fruits are also less abundant, and good patches are harder to get to, affecting women's access to the activity, food security, and cultural aspects of berry picking. Regarding seals used for food as well as for sewing, their population size and body composition has changed, resulting in thinner sealskins and shorter fur, which reduces the durability and value of the clothes made from them and affects the contribution of sewing to Inuit women's identity, their income, mental health, and wellbeing. The amount of time women could spend on the land and engaging in land-based activities has been impacted by the growing abundance of mosquitoes, as well as changing weather conditions and associated travel risks. The women's social roles as mothers, employees, and engaged community members also affect all these activities. Other gendered changes are the increasing stress levels of men, which is linked to less time spent on the land and more difficulties when hunting and traveling, and men's difficulties with stress management due to traditional Inuit ideals of masculinity. This stress, in turn, trickles down to other family members.

Climate Change Discourses of Arctic Indigenous Peoples and Women

Another aspect that needs to be considered in deliberations on intersectionality and climate change in the Arctic is climate change discourses and their portrayal of and repercussions for women, Indigenous peoples, and specifically Indigenous women in the Arctic, which share considerable similarities. Arctic Indigenous peoples are often framed as disproportionately impacted by climate change, least able to cope with such impacts (Crate 2008; PFII 2008), and on the receiving end of environmental injustices (see, e.g., Trainor et al. 2007). While it is true that Indigenous peoples in the Arctic are affected by climate change, portraying them as extremely vulnerable instead of conveying their resourcefulness and agency can be considered a problematic framing in emancipatory research (Huntington et al. 2019; Mattar et al. 2020; Stephen 2018). The characterization of Indigenous peoples as vulnerable is also contested by some, who see the adaptability and resilience of Indigenous peoples in the Arctic and elsewhere as an important, sometimes defining aspect of their cultures (see, e.g., Nymand Larsen and Fondahl 2014; Naylor et al. 2019). As an example, Vera Solovyeva and Vera Kuklina (2020) show how sharing networks in remote Arctic Russian indigenous communities in the Republic of Sakha enhance communities’ resilience toward climate change.

Deborah McGregor and colleagues (2020: 37) consider a counter-narrative to the portrayal of Indigenous peoples simply as victims as an essential element of an Indigenous environmental justice frame. Referring to scholars who challenge the discourse of Indigenous peoples’ victimization (Whyte 2017; Pearce et al. 2015; Reo et al. 2017), they assert that “while indeed Indigenous peoples are vulnerable to such a large-scale disruption, they also possess experiences derived in part from their survival of historical and on-going imperialism, capitalism, and colonialism that have equipped them with knowledge of how to survive catastrophic environmental change. Indigenous peoples have adapted to and survived through such a change for centuries.” Jessica Hernandez and colleagues (2022) also argue for the importance of Indigenous Knowledge in mitigating climate change. Indeed, they see the need to “recenter mainstream climate change dialogues back to Indigenous communities and their ways of knowing (epistemologies) and shift away from the negative narratives that diminish our hope for the future” (Hernandez et al. 2022: 1). Indigenous people's resilience, their adaptive capacity, and knowledge therefore warrant (among other reasons) their inclusion in political processes and decision-making on climate change and could lead to more holistic solutions (Hernandez and Spencer 2020).

How climate change in the Arctic is framed in the media is indicative of the focus in national and international climate policies and thus the consideration, inclusion, and “assigned role” of Arctic Indigenous people and, therefore, climate justice. Philip A. Loring (2013) examined dominant science and policy narratives on a changing Arctic and found that one dominant narrative focuses on the resilience and vulnerability of remote communities, while the other considers the warming Arctic as an opportunity for resource extraction and development. However, both are “continuations of longstanding colonialist and economic development ideologies” (Loring 2013: 002). Khan (2020) affirms that Arctic Indigenous sovereignty was historically and still is systematically undermined in the process of Arctic resource development. As a result, these narratives are counterproductive to efforts to mitigate climate change and improve wellbeing in Arctic communities, including working toward environmental and climate justice. Instead, they perpetuate existing social inequities (Loring 2013). According to Loring (2013), the focus on vulnerability, adaptation, and resilience implicitly advocates the status quo, further diverts attention away from resistance, and leaves unaddressed social and environmental justice issues. What is needed instead is a transformational adaptation to challenge status-quo paradigms and to advance climate justice concerns (Romero-Nieva Santos et al. 2020).

In mass media framings of climate change, issues of climate justice are often marginalized, as impacts on sub-national scales are given less attention than national interests. This is related to what Susannah Fisher described as a “scalar trap” or a “global trap.” In Canada for instance, the three main frames in media are climate change's rapid and substantial transformation of the Arctic, its harm to polar bear populations, and the opportunity of new shipping routes thanks to melting sea ice, all of which pay little attention to how climate change affects northern communities. The last frame further presents Canada as an economic beneficiary of climate change, implying that all Canadians will benefit and masking the disparate distribution of impacts within the country (Stoddart and Smith 2016). It seems that the media framing of Indigenous peoples as vulnerable and the media's disregard for climate justice issues, together with the exclusion of Indigenous representative groups from international legal and political processes on climate change, combine to further marginalize Indigenous peoples and undermine their sovereignty.

While climate change is thus not a priority issue of concern for many people living in the Arctic, as I have discussed above, the region and its inhabitants have acquired the stereotypical position of victims in (southern) discourse about climate change. This calls attention to a clash between inside and outside perspectives (Nymand Larsen and Fondahl 2014). Even though Sheila Watt-Cloutier considers the Inuit a “uniquely adaptable people” (Watt-Cloutier 2009: 4; see also Robb 2015), she acknowledges that the speed and intensity of the changes challenge their adaptation capacity: “most of the time it is the poor, the vulnerable and the indigenous peoples … that are most negatively impacted and who have the least sophisticated mechanisms to deal with and adapt to these monumental changes that are happening” (Watt-Cloutier 2010: 164).

According to Walker et al. (2019: 2), these victimizing discourses might be one of the reasons for the lack of research on diverse experiences and agency. Michael T. Bravo (2009: 256) compares climate change narratives to development narratives and argues that they are “often used to license the intervention of experts in debates about resource management and intervention” by portraying Indigenous communities as vulnerable and at risk. Those narratives beg the question of whom they serve. Bravo suggests examining the “extent to which they can account for, and mitigate, growing inequalities of power and wealth” (2009: 262).

In a similar vein, the general dominant climate discourses and the narratives of the UNFCCC and other institutions portray women as vulnerable victims instead of agents in adaptation and strategic planning (Prior and Heinämäki 2017; Walker et al. 2019). However, thanks to the recently growing body of research on gendered relationships, the dichotomized view of gender and the portrayal of women as vulnerable victims or as “virtuous environmental caretakers” is increasingly critically questioned, including by MacGregor (2010), Bernadette P. Resurrección (2013), and Nancy Tuana (2013). An uncritical approach to women's portrayal diverts attention from power relations and inequalities, and might result in the “feminization of responsibility,” that is, an increase in women's responsibility without corresponding resources or capacities (Arora-Jonsson 2011). Climate justice considers social justice issues related to climate change and aims at uncovering such inequalities and injustices.

Intersectional Climate Justice

Conceptualizing Climate Justice

Many approaches and conceptualizations of climate justice are based on David Schlosberg's (2004; 2009) influential critical pluralist approach to justice and its three dimensions of justice: distribution, recognition (and respect), and procedure (participation in decision-making). The environmental justice movement has had a large influence on the conceptualization of climate justice. Many “conventional—richer and almost exclusively white—environmental organizations” define “environment” as wilderness separate from human lives (Schlosberg and Collins 2014: 2). By contrast, the environmental justice movement considers the environment as a place where people live. It also includes Indigenous views of relationships with non-human entities.

Many definitions of climate justice have been offered. Kirstin Dow, Roger E. Kasperson, and Maria Bohn (2006: 79) attribute fundamental importance to differential vulnerabilities in relation to climate change. Together with differences in exposure, sensitivity, and resilience in responding to changes, these inequalities are intimately intertwined with social justice. Based on the work of W. Neil Adger and colleagues (2006), Wendy Steele and co-authors (2012: 68) view climate change as a “cultural/environmental crisis wherein the impacts are felt most by the most marginalized sectors of society (both human and non-human),” making climate justice “the moral and ethical imperative of the times” (Steele et al. 2012: 72). Osborne (2015: 141) defines climate justice as “the relationship between social justice and experiences of and exposure to climate change.” Mattar and colleagues (2020: 2) consider climate justice as a “framework to identify and help address the unevenness of human experiences of, and responses to, climate change.”

Jon Barnett (2006: 115) offers five insights into climate justice: 1) the responsibility for climate change is not equally distributed; 2) climate change affects people differently, with some being more vulnerable; 3) this vulnerability is determined by political-economic processes that benefit some more than others—those disadvantaged being often the most vulnerable to climate change; 4) for these reasons, climate change will compound underdevelopment; and 5) climate change policies may themselves create unfair outcomes by exacerbating, maintaining, or ignoring existing and future inequalities.

While it is disproportionately affected by global environmental changes, the Arctic region—and Indigenous peoples in particular—contributes very little to climate change, meaning that its climate-related challenges are mainly rooted beyond the Arctic (Mattar et al. 2020; Prior and Heinämäki 2017). Sarah F. Trainor and colleagues (2007: 627–628) view the impacts of climate change on the Indigenous peoples of the Arctic and sub-Arctic as a case of environmental injustice, when “some people bear disproportionate environmental burdens … or otherwise have inequitable access to environmental goods and services.” They lay out two interrelated aspects of climate justice in the Arctic: on the one hand, Arctic Indigenous peoples who live a more traditional lifestyle based closer to nature and those in smaller coastal communities are disproportionately affected; on the other hand, despite being the most strongly affected, they have little say in national climate policies (Trainor et al. 2007). Arguing that the major part of climate research has so far focused on natural sciences, demands for a reorientation of climate research toward people have been brought forward, in particular toward those groups that are disproportionately affected while bearing little responsibility (Huntington et al. 2019; Mattar et al. 2020). Despite progress in research on other parts of the world, our understanding of the social dimensions of climate change in the Arctic, and particularly equity and justice concerns, is still limited. This is why scholars have recently called for a stronger focus on people and ethics in Arctic climate research, to ensure that existing social inequalities are not reinforced by responses to climate change (see, e.g., Huntington et al. 2019; Walker et al. 2019). In a similar vein, research is increasingly directed at Arctic Indigenous people as rights-holders and active participants in governance, law, politics, and research.

Whyte (2019) offers an Indigenous allegory of climate justice that goes beyond the more common allegory of “Lifeboat Earth,” which treats all those on the lifeboat as more or less the same. He urges that capitalism, colonialism, and industrialization need to be addressed in solutions for climate change adaptation and mitigation in order not to produce any more suffering for Indigenous peoples. According to him, “[d]ecolonization and anti-colonialism … cannot be disaggregated from climate justice for Indigenous peoples. Indigenous climate justice movements are distinct in their putting the nexus of colonialism, capitalism and industrialization at the vanguard of their aspirations” (Whyte 2019: 7). McGregor and her colleagues (2020: 36) concur that the climate crisis and other environmental injustices are tied to “ongoing processes of colonialism, dispossession, capitalism, imperialism/globalization and patriarchy.” Similarly, Hernandez and Spencer (2020: 5) point to how climate change affects “Indigenous peoples’ culture-nature nexus,” deepening injustices stemming from a long history of oppression, violence, and desecration.

The inclusion of other sources of vulnerability is supported by the authors of the 2015 Arctic Human Development Report (Nymand Larsen and Fondahl 2014: 456), who add globalization, social and economic change, and political and institutional factors, such as resource quotas, to climate change. Perkins (2018a) lists as manifestations of gendered environmental and climate injustice the following impacts: “housing, transportation, food insecurity, stress, mental illness, disability, heat exposure, interruptions of electricity and water services, violence against women, partner and elder violence, toxic exposure, health vulnerability, worker safety, political voice/agency/leadership and many others.”

W. Neil Adger, Juoni Paavola, and Saleemul Huq (Adger, Paavola, and Huq 2006: 19; Paavola, Adger, and Huq 2006: 269) argue for several principles as the cornerstones of justice in adaptation to climate change: 1) avoidance of dangerous climate change; 2) acceptance of responsibility for climate change impacts; 3) the duty to assist vulnerable developing countries in adapting; 4) the principle of putting the most vulnerable first; and 5) the principle of universal participation, addressing procedural justice. While these are somewhat implied in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), their operationalization requires further specification.

Anna Kaijser and Annica Kronsell (2014) see it as a central mission for intersectional research on climate change to demonstrate the interconnectedness of the goals of different social and environmental movements. These include “equality, improved conditions for marginalised groups, and environmental sustainability” (Kaijser and Kronsell 2014: 424). An intersectional approach is thus poised to contribute to climate justice. The aim to which I hope to contribute with this article is to reconcile the different projects and their goals, in particular those related to Indigenous women, by showing overlaps.

Multiple Scales

The aspect of scale is often embedded in conceptions of climate justice. Explaining the neglect of the perspective and inclusion of some groups, such as Indigenous people and women, in climate change policies and negotiations is helpful and may improve their participation. According to Fisher (2015), climate justice has become a “rallying cry” for Indigenous communities facing environmental change. Initially, governments of the global South used the term “climate justice” to draw attention to different historical responsibilities for causing climate change, and to be included in climate change mitigation strategies. In turn, the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” has become embedded in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (Fisher 2015).

The conceptualization of climate justice often “contains embedded notions of the scale of the problem and the geography of responsibility, and therefore opens up the space for negotiation in some arenas but not others” (Fisher 2015: 74). Based on J. Christopher Brown and Mark Purcell's concept of “scalar trap,” where organizations, institutions, or policies are associated with certain scales and considered more successful at these levels, Fisher (2015) refers to a possible “global trap” for climate justice claims, through which sub-national aspects are neglected. To reduce the danger of falling into the trap, she argues in favor of paying more attention to emerging geographies of justice, including uneven development processes, environmental concerns, and Indigenous communities. According to her, multiple entry points address climate injustices at different scales and the interactions between scales need to be made explicit. An example of this is Arctic residents’ Indigenous knowledge being relegated to the local realm, while decisions in the international realm are privileged, which denies Indigenous peoples a global voice (Huntington et al. 2019).

The ICC and similar groups destabilize the focus on the national level in international politics of climate change and other issues. Instead, they frame climate justice as an issue that “links the interests of Arctic communities across national boundaries, often in juxtaposition to the political interests of population centres within circumpolar nations” (Stoddart and Smith 2016: 333–334). In Indigenous studies, the state is also often viewed as an inherently colonial structure (Kepkiewicz 2017). For the UNFCCC's COP26 that took place in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2021, the ICC (2021) issued a position paper with three main demands: in addition to unprecedented massive efforts to cap global temperature rise and the protection of ecosystems through a partnership with Inuit, they called on global leaders to “[v]alue Indigenous Knowledge and leadership on climate action and support Indigenous participation in climate governance.” They thus emphasized representation and inclusion in decision-making, as well as sovereignty.

Whereas so-called “intra-national” equity or justice has arguably received little attention in research on climate impacts until more recently, the argument for taking into account multiple scales has received substantial support in the scholarly literature (see, e.g., Aistara 2021; Fisher 2015; Trainor et al. 2007). While climate justice is often framed in international terms, climate justice within nations is of crucial importance and has profound implications for domestic justice, especially in the case of Arctic regions and Indigenous communities (Fisher 2015; Khan 2020; Stoddart and Smith 2016). Especially in the US and Canadian Arctic, the question of unequal distribution of responsibilities and burdens within developed nations arises. These can be interpreted as “aspects of internal colonialization—the colonization and exploitation of those living in the hinterlands of developed countries” (Trainor et al. 2009: 146; see also Stoddart and Smith 2016; Osherenko and Young 2005). Responsibilities for climate change within countries can vary greatly, as the example of the minuscule role of Indigenous peoples living in states historically responsible for high greenhouse gas emissions such as Norway, Canada, and the US shows (Mattar et al. 2020; Murphy and Murphy 2012).

Conclusion

Climate change affects different population groups differently, which can exacerbate existing inequalities and injustices. Already disadvantaged groups, such as Indigenous women living in remote settlements, are likely to be disproportionally impacted. The same holds true for policies and strategies to mitigate or adapt to climate change, which can result in further disadvantages. In the Arctic, where climate change is expected to have more dire impacts than in other parts of the world, and where settler colonialism has caused substantial harm, it is imperative to pay close attention to the experiences of different groups within the various Arctic nations. While Indigenous peoples and women have been treated similarly in international policy-making processes related to climate change, their experiences differ and underline inequalities and injustices, both historical and present. An intersectional approach to the experiences of Indigenous people, women, and Indigenous women in particular helps us re-evaluate which experiences and voices have been ignored. The portrayal of Indigenous peoples and women in the media and their allocation to different scales is further indicative of the roles they have been assigned in climate change discourses and policy. Much more research is needed on the specific experiences of Indigenous women in the Arctic and elsewhere. Including them and their perspectives into climate change policy-making is essential in order to find adequate ways of dealing not only with climate change, but also connected social issues, in a way that reduces inequalities and injustices instead of exacerbating them. Applied together with the concept of climate justice, which points to differential vulnerabilities to climate change and aims at remedying them, intersectionality shows how climate-related challenges are interlinked with various social issues and how they can be tackled together, instead of at the expense of each other. Taking marginalized groups and their perspectives into account when formulating climate policies, as well as including them in negotiations, is an important step toward climate justice, and can help to reduce inequalities and lead to more holistic solutions.

Notes

1

For detailed analyses on how climate change is affecting and will potentially affect the Arctic regions in the future, see for example ACIA (2005) and Nymand Larsen and Fondahl (2014: 545–460).

2

The connections between masculinities and a techno-scientific view and militarization of environmental and climate change issues are analyzed by a vast body of ecofeminist literature. See, e.g., Bäckstrand (2004), Bretherton and Stevenson (2000), and Gaard (2015).

3

For further analysis of gender and hegemonic constructions of masculinity and femininity in climate change discourses and policies, see MacGregor (2010).

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  • Schlosberg, David. 2004. “Reconceiving Environmental Justice: Global Movements and Political Theories.Environmental Politics 13 (3): 517540. https://doi.org/10.1080/0964401042000229025

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  • Schlosberg, David. 2009. Defining Environmental Justice: Theories, Movements, and Nature. New York: Oxford University Press.

  • Schlosberg, David, and Lisette B. Collins. 2014. “From Environmental to Climate Justice: Climate Change and the Discourse of Environmental Justice.Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 5 (3): 359374. https://doi.org/10.1002/wcc.275

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Contributor Notes

Doris Friedrich is the president of the Vienna-based Arctic and Subarctic Working Group (AAS) and a PhD candidate at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the University of Vienna. Email: doris.friedrich.at@gmail.com. ORCID ID: 0000-0002-2288-7197.

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Sibirica

Interdisciplinary Journal of Siberian Studies

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    • Export Citation
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    • Export Citation
  • Steele, Wendy, Diana MacCallum, Jason Byrne, and Donna Houston. 2012. “Planning the Climate-Just City.International Planning Studies 17 (1): 6783. https://doi.org/10.1080/13563475.2011.638188

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