On 13 December 2022, ERA hosted its first-ever webinar on climate change, focusing on just transition and the LGBTIQ+ movement's response. The webinar's guest speakers were Tamara Tripić from the Democracy Development Network in Serbia and Özge Gokpinar from the "17 May Association'' in Türkiye, facilitated by ERA's Amarildo Fecanji.
Climate Change is becoming an important issue as we are now seeing what our collective action is doing to the environment, from rising temperatures, global pandemics, loss of natural habitats, etc. Over the past two decades in the Balkan region, we have been experiencing droughts, floods, widespread fires, and other extreme weather events. These have caused significant damage to the environment and each country's financial and agricultural sectors. Climate change projections show that the Western Balkans face increased temperatures along with prolonged droughts and wildfires. There is also the problem of pollution. About 6.7 million deaths worldwide occur annually due to air pollution. Sarajevo and Belgrade, respectively, each winter, are globally in the top 5 due to air pollution.
In Türkiye, Özge Gokpinar says that the country has observed massive climate changes like hurricanes, droughts, and earthquakes. Both in Türkiye and worldwide, these events show the size of climate change. Suppose we fail to maintain the global temperature at the same level or diminish it. In that case, the world's balance will deteriorate, the situation will worsen, and all living beings will be in danger and adversely affected. In Türkiye, animal life and natural diversity have been severely damaged due to excessive deposits from the power plants to the Marmara region and the Marmara sea, significantly affecting submarine diversity.
Discussing Just Transition
Tamara Tripic is Chair of the board of the Democratic Development Network (DDN). The DDN has two pillars of its work: 1) participative democracy and democratization and 2) just transition, not just green transition, but an overall transition, which includes legal, policy, economic and other reforms that countries of the region are doing, for instance, to join the European Union. Very often, out of the hurry to join the EU, most laws have been copy-pasted from foreign models, and often these processes were unjust, as groups and communities were left behind. This year DDN started an accredited study for Just Transition in the Western Balkans. For now, the study has been conducted only in Serbia, but the plan is to expand this study to other countries of the region and build cross-country alliances on just transition.
In her analysis, Tamara Tripić explains that while climate change and transition changes affect everyone, it does not affect all communities equally. With climate change also comes inequality, and those already facing marginalization are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate exchange. DDN started working on just transition with a focus on energy transition. They had six modules: globalization and just transition, data literacy and data-driven decision-making, labor market, future of work, green transition, and also personal freedom in just transition. The study did not go specifically on LGBTIQ+ people and just transition, but a social roundtable on the gender perspective of climate change and the green transition took place. Gender-based violence (GBV) increases significantly after climate disasters, which also has severe implications for trans women. Historically, every time society is on edge, the suffering of vulnerable groups grows.
Further, Tamara Tripić argues that while our problems and issues are global (take, for example, our economy, the Covid-19 pandemic, migration, energy, etc.), our responses are national. We go back to traditional functioning shapes whenever society is in crisis mode. For this to change, she suggests, a big cross-sectoral alliance is needed because of the energy transition and the other significant changes occurring due to digitalization and technological modernization. Union organizing continues to be traditional while the working force and working models are changing. Fewer and fewer people are working in factories. In the meantime, countries, including Serbia, are adopting new rules on freelancing, outsourcing, and digital nomads. Our legal frameworks need to be led by facts. People from different groups (political parties, trade unions, human rights groups, private companies, and the public sector) must tackle these challenges by raising awareness among the different groups, building alliances, and pushing jointly for progressive initiatives toward these issues.
Major polluters but not only!
In our region, we have a map of the major polluters. For example, power plants are the biggest polluters in Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Serbia. But Tamara Tripić argues that we have to change more things than just polluters. "We have to change the way we have lived for decades. For example, if we want to continue with the same amount of electricity in the future, we cannot produce it from rivers and air. It is trendy now to talk about electric cars. We have to consider, however, that if that electricity is produced from coal, then we don't go forward. Of course, in our countries, the biggest problem is that we wait until the end. If Europe agrees that by 2050 we will have an energy-neutral continent, our governments will likely tackle this problem in November 2049."
A significant issue is that people and communities remain divided into their sectors. Just transition lays out a plan to move from current models of energy production to clean energy. They also inform people of the consequences of every step they need to take to achieve the goals of an energy-neutral continent. For example, if all classic cars are banned now, all the people who work in car services will be left without a job. It is not just the car industry but all those companies that operate and rely on these processes. Just transition implies careful preparation for entire systems to transform. DDN in Serbia is pushing for a strategic approach and tactical steps. Education is required to follow the changing needs of the labor force. It is important to remember that marginalized groups, women, Roma people, and LGBTIQ+ people will face more significant challenges than male workers 35-45 years old. For example, in Serbia, when you look at the number of subsidies for agriculture, 92 or 93% were given by the government to male owners of the agriculture sector. There was no looking and figuring out that one group of people, like women, were excluded from the subvention in agriculture even though they were participating in this sector in large numbers. We need to find out, for example, the number of LGBTIQ+ people who got subsidies in agriculture, if any.
Every time there are significant changes and no mechanisms to protect vulnerable groups, which in the Balkan region are on paper only, these marginalized communities will be left behind, and privileged communities will go before them. Things are interconnected, and for us to make a just transition, Tamara Tripić argues, we need a well-thought-out plan and work together across sectors. We must have intersectional alliances and get out of our bubbles. It's not just for LGBTIQ+ people but also the women's task force.``
"Somehow, I realized that we operate in bubbles. We talk to people who already know the problems and obstacles and have ideas to solve them. Still, we cannot do it by ourselves, so we have to build alliances, not to lose our identities and focus, but maybe to be more understanding of the problems of other minorities, groups, and communities."
"For example, during the EuroPride conference in Belgrade, I was speaking on a panel organized by Rainbow Rose, and there were a lot of participants, and then I asked if there were any other straight people in this room. I was the only one. I think this is a problem. I was not there because I had a problem but because I want to live in an environment where others have decent lives. We all are a minority group in some way, but these issues affect us all, and we must address them together. The struggle for LGBTIQ+ rights is a struggle for all of society. We need to build an accepting and inclusive community suitable for everyone, no matter their sexual orientation, religion, nationality, etc. We must fight together, find mechanisms to do it, and maintain our focus and identity. We need to share some strengths for the ideas that are not specifically ours but suitable for all society we want to build.
An example of cross-sectoral engagement in Serbia:
The cancellation of plans for constructing a lithium mine in Serbia is an excellent example of focused protesting and coordination among different sectors. Tamara Tripić explains that the organizers had a clear idea of what they wanted, how they wanted it, and the forms of protest to achieve it. And then people responded well to it and came out, and there was a result. "DDN is now also participating and fighting to preserve the old bridge on the river Sava, a building of historical value. A renowned professor saved the bridge during WWII as Nazi Germany wanted to bomb it, and now they want to deconstruct it just because they built a settlement for a new elite in Belgrade and the bridge is not suitable for the view. For the first time, we involved representatives of progressive parties and representation of activist groups in Belgrade. We are now starting to build some trust. After all, we need more confidence between activist groups and progressive people in opposition because we need joint action. We are preparing the next steps for bridge actions and getting together activists from around Serbia. When you are fighting for a tree, a bridge, and clean water, you are fighting for the rule of law because we cannot anymore rely on institutions. So it is the basic, a minor shared fact that all these parties and groups will fight for. With that approach, we can achieve just transition and change society with the painful moves we have to make. But if we join efforts, then we can succeed. It will be easier if other stakeholders know from the beginning what kind of challenges LGBTIQ+ people will face during just transition. "
Do communities from different sectors share common values?
Issues like climate change have the potential to bring people from different movements and communities together. The next step is to build alliances and trust among different communities and to address prejudices and misunderstandings. Tamara Tripić shared the example of her work in the Social Democratic Party: "Sometimes, you don't share the same values with people because they have a fear of the unknown. When I was a member of the SD party in Serbia, I ran for the position of Vice President of the Party, and we had internal elections. One of my statements during my campaign was about same-sex marriage, and all the people wondered if I was crazy since I would go to small towns and speak about this. I did it this way, and between 15 candidates, I was second with votes, and it was because I was ready to explain to them that it would not affect their lives and it would positively impact the lives of people who live near them. Every issue would get supporters in different groups, but we need time and space to explain what it is and what it means.
The LGBTIQ+ movement's response to climate change. The "17 May Association'' example:
Özge Gokpinar, from the "17 May Association'' in Ankara, shared their good practices. They explained that "climate issues came to our agenda as part of our work and experiences because the problem is so essential, and there is no association in Türkiye working on the intersection of climate and the LGBTIQ+ movement. We started this program with a climate study in September 2021. We realized that marginalized communities, including LGBTIQ+ people, are affected the most in every emergency situation. For example, during the last hurricane in the USA, LGBTIQ+ people affected by it could not access government aid, and the homeless situation prevailed throughout the US. We took all these different factors into account and tried to highlight the impact of climate change and climate justice by working on some resources. We did some research to enlighten our community and show climate change's effects. Due to the lack of previous studies on this matter, we decided to work on the issue holistically to show our community the impact of climate change and the actions we can undertake to address it."
A series of activities: to understand, inspire and act!
17 May Association conducted a study to understand better climate change and its intersectional relation to the LGBTIQ+ community. Through it, they looked into how eco-feminism and queer ecology contribute to this issue. The association believes that a better environment is possible by changing ourselves and our organizations. A "Climate 101" guideline was prepared, which includes all the issues of climate change and climate justice. A policy document was developed and presented at the end of the procedure: "Zero waste and environmental policy document." The main goal was to share this knowledge with the LGBTIQ+ organizations in Türkiye, highlight the connections between climate justice and the LGBTIQ+ community, and what needs to be done to change the adverse effects of climate change. Afterward, they organized a charity trip to an animal rehabilitation center and another to an urban garden in Ankara "to understand how we can compost waste and how we can have substantial methods in our homes and offices."
Another tool they used was artivism. The association gathered 18 artists in a small place to explain the work done so far and to inspire artists to work on climate change and climate justice themes. Then they held an exhibition in Ankara, which the public received well. Later, they hosted a panel to discuss gender in climate change and climate justice, the intersections, and the attitudes of Turkish officials to the topic.
Turkish political context calls for an intersectional approach:
An intersectional approach is essential for the Turkish LGBTIQ+ movement because the situation for the community could be more favorable. Advocating on climate is an excellent way to strengthen alliances with other communities. After producing and promoting their materials and activities, the 17 May Association received numerous invitations to make podcasts and presentations to the community. On those occasions, they managed to introduce the essence of climate change in parallel with queer ideology by helping the public see and understand what queer ecology could mean in theory and practice. "We provided them with a perspective and opinion on climate literacy, and with that kind of activism, we invited everyone to reflect on the importance of protecting all living beings on earth and the balance of the ecosystem."
Speaking with politicians:
17 May Association believes things can improve if activists talk to politicians and decision-makers and help them change their attitudes. "We are at a turning point in Türkiye. Next year, we will have elections, and we want to organize together with other organizations and take this to a policy level and influence candidates for elections."
How do we move forward?
Tamara Tripić argues that all these changes should not be seen only as a problem but also as an opportunity. "Our legal framework, for example, is good, but it faces challenges with implementation. As this is a big issue for humanity and not just for one group, country, or region, we must be aware that we must work on different levels simultaneously and in synchronicity. At the grassroots level, we need street action and activism that would raise awareness of the problems but also have small measures that would increase the quality of life of that community. Because when you are enjoying something new, then you will show more support than you did before. Also, it has to be in parallel with discussions with officials in the country. In addition, meetings should also take place at the international level because the international community's involvement is essential.
"We already live in a globalized world, but we must practice globalization. In the past, this was ok, but the environment is already globalized. Let's face the truth and start working together."
"Countries, cities, sectors, and communities need to cooperate. Governments and people need each other. A big obstacle is that most countries have connected their energy sectors with the security issue of their country. Most countries are small, and to have sustainable energy, they must cooperate and rely on each other. There are many people ready to jump on that water. We need to work on all levels. As soon as we organize better, it will be easier. If we synchronize activities, we can make a good change in a good way.
There are four areas identified as essential building blocks to tackle climate change:
- Adaptation (linked to the manifestation of climate change)
- Knowledge transfer
- Financing (meant for achieving development goals0
Tripić explains, "we need to be aware of the consequences for different groups, youth, LGBTIQ+, people with disabilities, the elderly, etc. We can run through this process. For this to succeed, you don't need rich governments but brave governments and communities involved."
Özge Gokpinar argues in favor of a domino effect and our role as a group: "Domino effect is essential in our lives. There are more than 38 million tons of food waste per year. Suppose people paid more attention to their food and did not waste it. Consuming recyclable bottles prevents the accumulation of more than two million tons of plastic waste in landfills. The impact of just drinking your water from a reusable bottle can be huge, and it is a domino effect. Raising animals for people to eat produces methane. A vegan diet significantly reduces our carbon footprint, and so does a vegetarian lifestyle. We don't need to consume lots of energy and lots of resources. We must mind our future and the other generations coming after us. We want to continue our studies in the coming years and continue using artivism in that regard.
17 May Association has also invited the ERA network to continue the conversation on this matter and, in the coming months and years, to discuss the association's guidelines (which are soon to be translated into English) and other collective steps that we can take in this regard.
To watch the webinar recording click here.
ERA organized this event with the support of Olof Palme International Center.
For any questions, comments, or suggestions, please send an email to [email protected].