Jesuit Social Services’ recently released Federal Election platform, A blueprint for a just recovery, builds on 45 years of advocacy and action, to outline the organisation’s vision for a just society across a range of interconnected social policy areas, from climate change to Aboriginal self-determination, youth justice, mental health and affordable housing. In this second in a series of pre-Election blogs, we focus on social and ecological justice.

In the years since the last Federal Election, Australians have endured heatwaves and record-breaking temperatures, devastating bushfires and floods, and hazardous smoke which made masks a sought-after item even before the pandemic hit. These extreme weather events compound public health stress, infrastructure stress and service disruptions caused by COVID-19. Recovering from the impact of these shocks and preparing for future disruptions requires a discerning and long-term vision for Australia: a just recovery that builds communities of resilience.

Social and ecological justice are interconnected and inseparable

 People already experiencing marginalisation and disadvantage are often first, worst and hardest hit by climate change and environmental risks, with fewer resources to cope and adapt. Jesuit Social Services’ 2021 iteration of Dropping off the Edge (DOTE) research maps disadvantage across Australia by location. For the first time, the research includes environmental indicators, finding that communities experiencing persistent disadvantage also experience disproportionate environmental injustice such as higher levels of air pollution, greater exposure to heat stress and poorer access to green spaces.

To ensure those least able to cope with climate change receive the support they need to adapt, increasing attention is being paid to the idea of a ‘just transition’, which means moving away from current untenable economic and social systems to an ecologically sustainable, zero greenhouse gas emissions world in an equitable way.

Jesuit Social Services’ recently released Prisons, climate and a just transition discussion paper examines the impact of the worsening climate on people in prison – some of Australia’s most marginalised people – arguing that a just transition to a zero emissions future must include a focus on decarceration. As the paper highlights, “a just transition will ensure that those most impacted by climate change, particularly marginalised communities, are supported to successfully adapt and to thrive, and that a healthy relationship between human communities and ecosystems is re-established.”

A just transition should harness the potential for transformative change

Clear parameters are required by Government to ensure a renewables-led recovery and that the transition to a zero emissions future does not replicate the harmful power structures that drive existing inequality, but rather harnesses the potential for transformational change.

For example, in the Northern Territory, there is growing interest in the economic opportunities presented by renewables but without clear parameters set by Government there is a risk that new solar projects could perpetuate the pattern of old industries – extracting value from Aboriginal land without the participation or benefit of traditional owners and local communities.

Susie Moloney, Executive Director of Jesuit Social Services’ Centre for Just Places says “Governments should invest in community-led First Nations initiatives, such as community-owned renewable energy projects which deliver access to affordable clean energy and job opportunities that support First Nations people to continue to live on country, if they want to.”

Proactive policy responses, genuine community involvement and carefully targeted social protection will be crucial to achieving a just transition. The outcomes of any path taken will be unpredictable and require flexible but considered responses. Our future depends on the mobilisation of all sectors – government, community and private – around a collective, collaborative commitment to reduce emissions and work towards a just and sustainable future.

In Prisons, climate and a just transition, we argue that a just transition goes beyond ensuring no one is left behind, “call[ing] on us to actively support opportunities for marginalised people and communities, who are typically excluded from decision-making, to identify and lead solutions to the challenges they face.” This requires support and resourcing for place-based, community-led approaches to social and ecological injustice, alongside national policies.

Community service organisations are key to building climate resilience

Community service organisations (CSOs) are highly vulnerable and not well prepared to respond to climate change or extreme weather events, with many small and medium-sized organisations at risk of permanent closure or service disruption as a result of major damage to physical infrastructure and disruptions to critical services. The consequences of major disruptions to social service provision for people experiencing poverty and inequality – for whom CSOs are the shock absorbers for everyday adversity as well as crises – are very serious as they impact the basic needs for human survival: homelessness, deprivation, hunger, isolation and death. At present, CSOs perceive an overwhelming range of barriers to action. Key amongst these is a lack of financial resources and skills and the concern that climate change adaptation is ‘beyond the scope’ of the sector’s core business.

In recognising the urgent need to mitigate and adapt to climate change, the Centre for Just Places has been delivering a range of climate adaptation and resilience initiatives and workshops across metropolitan Melbourne. The Centre aims to build place-based climate resilience coalitions and strengthen collaboration between CSOs and local governments to build resilience to extreme weather and protect the health and wellbeing of those most at-risk. A transformative approach to adaptation goes beyond emergency management, addressing the underlying drivers of vulnerability. CSOs hold local knowledge and, through their relationships with the communities, can best understand the vulnerabilities, strengths and appropriate responses best suited to their local community.

Building place-based, cross-sector coalitions enables a shared understanding of how social and climate justice issues intersect and helps drive adaptation planning and policy development to build broader community resilience.

Jesuit Social Services’ social and ecological justice recommendations:
  • Invest in place-based approaches that can build on community strengths and enable community-led and system change. This involves working collaboratively with state and local governments and community organisations and leaders to understand local needs and address the drivers of inequity and disadvantage. This must be led by and with communities to incorporate the diverse knowledge and voices of lived experience.
  • Invest in a renewables-led recovery and economic stimulus that creates jobs in clean energy, land management, and other regenerative and sustainable industries that can build the economy of the future.
  • Prioritise investment in resourcing and capacity building for community organisations and local leaders on just transitions, ecological literacy, skills, training and employment in regenerative and sustainable industries particularly in marginalised communities and those living within degraded and at-risk ecosystems
  • Recognising the collective effort required to achieve this goal, we recommend that governments establish coordinating bodies that facilitate cross-sector collaboration to work towards a just transition. This should include engagement across all levels of government, together with industry, researchers and technical experts, environmental organisations, the community services sector and communities themselves.
  • Increase funding and resources for organisations and communities seeking to trial, test and implement climate change adaptation, mitigation and transformation activities.
  • Resource the establishment and coordination of place-based coalitions at the local government level to incorporate the knowledge and relationships held by the community sector and community leaders into resilience and adaptation planning.

Read our Federal Election Platform:

This blog draws on our Federal election recommendations for social and ecological justice. Our full Federal Election Platform, A blueprint for a just recovery, lays out our recommendations under 12 areas.