Imagining an internet that serves environmental justice

11 Nov 2020 12:20h - 13:20h

Event report

The workshop focused on the mapping of key policy crossroads for environmental justice and Internet governance. The main questions were the relationship between environmental and digital rights, and the ways to establish shared priorities, said Ms Paula Martins (Association for Progressive Communications). In a way, the differentiation between rights is artificial; digital rights are the new face of human rights in our digital societies. Movements working for environmental justice do not always join forces, and issues should not be tackled in isolation. Different languages, policy spaces, and strategies should come together in a shared agenda for a rights-based Internet governance that accounts for environmental rights.

Mr Yunusa Ya’u (Centre for Information Technology and Development) agreed that there is no difference between rights, just a question of emphasis. He exemplified this by saying that the right to education and the right to information today depend on the access to digital means. Similarly, citizens should also participate in the decision-making process regarding environmental rights. Participation is digitally available and there is no reason to exclude anyone. This would extend then to the questions of affordable and cleaner energy, and ‘if people’s perspectives are excluded, by extension environmental justice is missing,’ concluded Ya’u. Mr Leandro Navarro (University Barcelona and Pangea) added that talking about rights is a human-centric perspective. We should think more of the natural environment as an actor as it can, in different contexts, enhance or reduce rights, inequalities, discrimination, etc. He shared a diagram illustrating how today we live in a small space of safety and justice for humanity, between the minimal, social boundaries (determined by human rights) and the maximum, planetary boundaries (determined by environmental limits). ‘We require a kind of self-regulating system that maintains the social and planetary boundaries for life on the planet and in this space to ensure the right to nature as a global good and it needs to be carefully governed as global commons,’ stressed Navarro.

According to Ms Iara Moura (Intervozes – Coletivo Brasil de Comunicação Social), the interplay between rights is best seen in indigenous communities. Conflicts regarding public goods can be solved through information and communication technologies (ICTs), or be amplified when they promote extractive activities and go against the way of living of traditional communities. Besides having one global model of being connected, the traditional communities in Brazil can inspire different models that go against this speech which involves only one development model which is based on preserving public goods, and not only on economic interests, racism, or patriarchy. Ms Maryellen Crisóstomo (National Coordination of Articulation of Black Rural Quilombola Communities (CONAQ)) agreed and explained the position of Quilombola communities in the Amazon. As the traditional peoples, their vision is a harmonious coexistence with the environment, yet without access to the Internet, they are left excluded and unprotected by the government.

A new type of environmental justice governance needs to be created, and needs to analytically reflect the various aspects of ‘crossroads’ for environmental justice, Mr Pavel Antonov (Executive Editor and Co-founder, BlueLink) added. According to Antonov, these are technological, policy, and even co-operation crossroads. Mr Alan Finlay (Writer, Open Research) conducted a mapping of the environmental sector and noted that ‘sector’ is a problematic term due to its implications of an economic structure. Nonetheless, the mapping revealed six distinct groups within the environmental justice and ICT spheres. The first group are the environmental justice movements, with indigenous peoples and local communities as key progressive actors. Other actors include big business, governments, and the UN. The UN plays a convening role between the groups on a global level, and has a very structured role. Because this is an antagonistic space, the UN separates business actors and the environmental justice actors in global forums. This is the first obvious difference compared to  the Internet governance space. On the regional level, issues are diverse and messy as not all countries have signed the same agreements. Technologies and policies tend to go from the global level down to the regional. This, however, excludes local issues, and environmental advocacy needs a bottom-up ‘magnified’ approach. There is also a struggle between conservation groups and environmental justice groups. Conservation, to an extent, comes from colonial times and can be used today to portray a government doing good things, but it can disregard the systemic change that is needed, as well as community engagement.