After discussing various ecofeminisms and presenting the importance of overcoming binary thought and practice in Part I of this blog piece, as well as an overview of the Paris Agreement, the next part will link those together by analysing the Paris agreement through an ecofeminist lens. We will finally demonstrate how important this is for the degrowth movement.
The basis for ecofeminist critique lies in understanding the intersection of such dominant knowledge-formation and resultant social power structures. Utilising an ecofeminist approach for an analysis of the Paris Agreement enables an identification (and thus amplification) of silenced voices in the agreement, through an understanding and deconstruction of masculinist norms and knowledge-production. Additionally, while most mainstream approaches seek to address the content of the Paris Agreement through an analysis of where gender has been introduced (and to what quantity), an ecofeminist approach seeks to analyse how gender and environmental relations came to be.
The decades of international treaties failures in reducing the overall emissions, such as the Kyoto Protocol, should have shown clearly that infinite economic growth is not possible within a planet with finite resources. However, by still evoking the need for economic growth and technology in its article 10, the Paris agreement takes a stance against a whole body of scholarship, both by ecofeminist and degrowth scholars, dedicated to showing the oxymoronic relationship between ecological conservation for climate change mitigation and GDP growth. The construction of ‘solutions’ in the agreement is based on existing socio-economic and political norms, and the actions outlined, fail to challenge the root causes of environmental breakdown. How these solutions are both presented and propagated, remains highly based in what knowledge and information is valued, and ultimately then who this agreement will eventually serve— showing the need for an ecofeminist critique.
One of the main consequences of this neoliberal thinking regarding environmental policy is the faith that technologies invented by humans will be able to mitigate and revert the climate crisis. This is what many scholars refer to as technocratic thinking or technomania. On the contrary, ecofeminists believe that this technoscientific knowledge is at the foundation of our environmental crisis. For this reason, the approach is usually sceptical towards ideals of the enlightenment, as it is the knowledge that founded our neoliberal capitalist society, and therefore the gendered environmental exploitation which has plundered the planet.
When looking at the Paris Agreement, it is clear that the knowledge used and produced is in line with the above, locking the door to alternative thinking. To illustrate this, several critical aspects of the Paris Agreement can be highlighted. Firstly, the Paris Agreement has a key focus on technology. A whole article (article 10) is dedicated to it. However, the key issues of justice, equity, biodiversity, food sovereignty, are cited only in the preambles. By coding so little importance to these key issues, the Paris Agreement not only fails to recognise structured social inequalities but also gives little space to truly tackle those issues through law and international political agreements.
A second focus of the Paris Agreement is Climate Finance (article 9), which in part demands a shift in private investments and financial flows (away from polluting industries). The ecofeminist perspective again challenges this. Climate finance still promotes economic growth and the agreement explicitly encourages capitalist measures such as trading emissions or others that lead to the commodification of nature and a shift in accountability/responsibility for climate change. The principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ (CBDR) between developed and developing nations was weakened, and no liability to rich nations to pay for the global pollution their corporations and citizens generate was implemented, thus following a clear neoliberal agenda.
Furthermore, the overarching text presented in the Paris Agreement states that in taking action to address climate change, considerations should be made to ‘gender equality (and) empowerment of women’ (preamble). It considers all women situated in the same position, sharing needs, and requirements for support. This idea of equal and shared vulnerability is situated within categorisations of women as dependent and connected to nature. Structuring these needs as ‘add-ons’ to the primary debate deems it lesser, and almost charitable, obscuring women and rendering them all victims void of agency. Therefore, it is ignorant of ways in which issues of gendered climate inequality play out in contrasting and multifaceted ways across varying space and place.
Gender is also recognised in articles 7 and 11 of the agreement, through ‘gender-responsive’ adaptation and capacity building. Despite, at first glance, appearing a more critical and substantial integration of gender into policy content, consideration is also needed as to why gender is only mentioned concerning programmes of adaptation and capacity; not throughout all articles. The drive to include gender in these specific aspects of local protection and engagement postulated a single entry role for women in climate discussion: one based on the positioning of women as ‘local saviours’ for adaptation and capacity. Superficially, this appears to celebrate contextualised knowledge and understanding. However, on further analysis, this choice of integration can be seen to be based on romanticised understandings of women, particularly in the Global South, as bound to nature, essential and responsible for its care. Furthermore, Sherilyn MacGregor has argued that this conceptualisation of women as ‘nature's saviors’ reproduces unequal gender roles of care, and social reproduction, at the everyday level.
This analysis of the Paris Agreement follows existing research on climate governance, in which women have predominantly been framed in two forms ‘vulnerable or virtuous’. Through defining women as (weak) victims, their marginalised role has been decided, and further analysis on their position or voice in the discussion is ignored.
The technocratic, masculinist framings of knowledge in the Paris agreement also outlines what is deemed to be insignificant or irrelevant to discussions on climate change; principally the voices and experiences of women and marginalised groups even though it is now widely accepted that the impacts of climate change are worse for these groups based on gendered inequalities and vulnerabilities.
This framing of ‘solutions’ to the climate crisis is not neutral, and the perpetuation of this line of thinking has tangible impacts for those obscured in its perpetuation of Western-patriarchal dominance. The history of Western colonial capitalism is seated in the propagation of hierarchical forms of knowledge around (male, western) superiority and scientific justifications of capital expansion and exploitation globally. The continuation of this knowledge-creation will also mean a continuation of impacts for those most marginalised by this way of thinking, across lines of race, class and gender. The lack of vocalisation of knowledge from indigenous communities, women and marginalised groups, particularly in the global South, presents the continuation of knowledge responsible for the vast oppressions of climate and environmental destruction. This perpetuation of a techno-saviour approach renders climate change a homogenized problem, in which the nature of differentiated responsibility and burden is far removed. This seemingly gender-blind emphasis of finance, security and science, perpetuates a growthism discourse where extraction and exploitation plunder the global South, and techno-optimism silences concerns of justice. Thus, neglecting the lived experiences of those most affected by vast and grave environmental disasters, including the loss of homes and livelihoods, particularly in the global South. The Paris Agreement therefore not only works to silence marginalised voices, but presents a homogenization of impacts to climate change, and the associated responses, neglecting the concerns of subordinate groups, and ultimately failing to address the power dynamics and necessary structural change.
Ecofeminism, when approached with a critical, non-binary, and decolonial approach, is a powerful tool for the advancement of degrowth thinking and action. The ability to challenge the knowledge produced and perpetuated in society is a crucial force against the dominant and fixated paradigm of capitalism and all associated social injustices. As argued for in the Feminism(s) and Degrowth alliance (FaDA), feminism(s) need to be integral to, not additional, to Degrowth research and practice. The continued and pressing importance of this relationship, and of ecofeminism more broadly, is argued for as follows:
How does degrowth wish to tackle knowledge-creation, how does it challenge the dominant forms of knowledge at every stage of thinking, acting and researching? Ecofeminist thought enables the pursuit of justice through consideration of how discussions on climate change have been focused primarily on perspectives of science and technology and the perpetuation of neoliberal capitalism; one which excludes, oppresses, and marginalises, gendered voices. Therefore, the binaries that characterise the societal landscape should hold no place in a degrowth movement. How we wish to challenge these should be a critical and ongoing discussion for everyone involved in its struggle for justice.
In the last decades, scholarship on degrowth, as an antithesis to capitalism, has grown in volume. But critique of capitalism cannot alone solve problems of modern society across the Global North and the Global South. Degrowth needs to be developed at multiple levels through an inclusive policy framework, where citizens' participation is crucial in order to push towards the construction of a degrowth society.
This piece discusses how ecofeminist theory can help understand nuances and draw insights on the Paris Agreement's dominant narratives. It explores how binary thinking and specific forms of knowledge are presented in the Paris Agreement and how it is, therefore, not possible to see it as a proper vehicle for climate, social, and gender justice.
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