Myrna Koster: we need legal frameworks

Myrna Koster, pictured for a Delano cover shoot, says leaders at Cop26 “need to go beyond the commitments that they’ve made so far” Guy Wolff/Paperjam

Myrna Koster, pictured for a Delano cover shoot, says leaders at Cop26 “need to go beyond the commitments that they’ve made so far” Guy Wolff/Paperjam

Ahead of the Cop26 summit, Greenpeace Luxembourg climate justice and liability campaigner Myrna Koster talks about the human rights aspects of climate protection and what is required from Luxembourg to improve its climate strategy.

Duncan Roberts: The phrase “climate justice” is often used in media and pressure group campaigns, but can you explain precisely what the concept means?

Myrna Koster: Climate justice, for me, is more than just a term or concept. It’s actually a global movement. Every person has a right to a healthy environment, and every person has a right to a stable climate. So it’s making this link between human rights and climate change. Because we know that climate change poses major threats to human life or human existence, be that to physical health, to survival, everything that has to do with water and food shortages, but also loss of property, loss of way of life, of culture--so many things where climate change impacts our rights as human beings. That counts for everyone, but specifically for the more vulnerable, which can be the younger generation, it can be the elderly, and also the more marginalised communities. It’s really acknowledging that there are differing social, economic, and public health issues that come with climate change.

If you go a step further, you ask how you can act upon climate injustice, and that’s where what we call climate litigation comes in. This allows ordinary people to actually try to seek the protection of their human rights through legal channels. You can force your government to fulfil its duty in protecting human rights. And you can also force corporations or companies to include climate change considerations into their practices or policies.

We see youths on marches all around the world calling for climate justice, but is there a generational gap in awareness of climate justice and empathy for its victims?

I think it really depends on where we’re looking at in the world. But generally, we can see that it’s something that is really present in the younger generation. Young people as well as old people, people from rural and urban environments are really standing up against climate change and standing up for climate justice. I mean, everybody knows that climate change is an issue and the need to really act upon it. But the action really comes from the younger generations, and I think one of the main reasons is that we’re talking about their future. Maybe that’s what makes the younger generation more willing to act. As for the older generation, I think they might not see themselves as being around at a time where the system has completely changed, so maybe they feel less involved. In Luxembourg, at the last Climate March [on 24 September], we could see that although different generations participated, it was definitely a call from the youth and organised by the youth. There is unfortunately this gap, which I think is true everywhere.

But for climate litigation, for example, there’s this really interesting case in Switzerland, where a group calling themselves senior women for climate [KlimaSeniorinnen] have basically launched a lawsuit against the Swiss government, asking it to correct climate policy so that it is adapted to the current climate targets. As senior Swiss women, they say they are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than other parts of the population. So, I think, in certain areas, maybe there is this awareness coming through, or it’s already there.

The time for voluntary measures and the time for reacting to consumers…is over
Myrna Koster

Myrna Kosterclimate justice and liability campaignerGreenpeace Luxembourg

We have seen arguments from business that we should leave climate action to market forces, and that under pressure from consumers, the market will react. But that’s not going to solve the problem, is it? Governments and international institutions need to impose a legal framework.

Yes, definitely. The time for voluntary measures and the time for reacting to consumers, as you say, is over. It’s really now for governments to take responsibility and actually combine the necessary climate mitigations that they’re planning with the legal frameworks for the measures to be really effective, so that companies and the markets are obliged to act. We are at this time of the climate emergency where merely reacting to market forces is not sufficient anymore, and we need legal frameworks that somehow underline these matters and make them mandatory.

Is there anything in the pipeline, in that regard, that offers us some hope?

We are really hoping for a legal framework, specifically in Luxembourg, regarding its finance sector [see interview with Martina Holbach page 18]. This is something in which Luxembourg clearly could play a really important role internationally and could also be one of the leaders. One of our biggest wishes for the upcoming Cop26 is for the government to actually take a stance on that. I’m not sure it’s going to happen.

On a more local level, what is Luxembourg already doing to tackle climate justice, and what does it need to do better?

I mean, Luxembourg is very good when it comes to sending money and helping financially, be that locally after the floods that happened in July but also internationally, where Luxembourg says it wants to be the leader in climate finance that actually supports developing countries in climate adaptation and mitigation. I think this will also come up at Cop26--the statements that Luxembourg government will make at the conference will probably be around how much financial help they’re providing. Which is true, but that’s just one part of it. The other part is actually preventing climate change catastrophe and its consequences. So that’s where we really see that Luxembourg needs to improve, through limiting emissions and reducing the financing of emissions worldwide through the financial sector, for example.

Is it surprising, or disappointing, that we’ve had a Green party in this coalition for eight years now and not more has been done?

Surprising? I wouldn’t say so. Because it’s a coalition of three parties. I think it’s always hard for one party to come through with their ideas. Disappointing? I guess, yes, we can say that. We had hoped for much more from this government. But as Greenpeace, we are very demanding as well.

We must share the technology that we have with the developing countries that really could benefit from them
Myrna Koster

Myrna Kosterclimate justice and liability campaignerGreenpeace Luxembourg

What role can technology play in improving the situation?

I think you have to start with our own energy supply and our own energy consumption. Trying to convert our energy supply towards more sustainable alternatives, maybe solar energy or wind energy. But then, also maybe questioning the way we consume energy in the first place… if we really need all of this. The bigger picture is really questioning the whole system as it exists right now. So, we’re talking about system change… changes to our economy and the functioning of society as a whole.

And of course, we must share the technology that we have with the developing countries that really could benefit from them but don’t have the necessary means to put them in place. This is where technology can really play a big role in helping climate justice and acting against climate change.

I mean the pandemic seemed to teach us a bit of a lesson about how we can work from home, for example. But now, you see the traffic, and everybody’s commuting again in private cars…

That was one big example where we could see that, from [one] day to the next, we could actually change our way of working, of living, of moving around. The technologies for that are there. Working from home is such a normal thing now since one and a half years. It wasn’t before, even though the technology was already there.

And the technology of solar panels is also there, but then it is about the political will to actually use it as much as we can, to really fully take advantage of this free energy that we have every single day. And then, also, we are humans that are kind of used to our way of living, our way of doing things. So, it’s hard for people to imagine living differently or making changes to their everyday routines. They have to see the benefits behind it, and sometimes it’s not obvious enough for them to actually make the change.

The Cop26 summit is on the horizon. There doesn’t seem to be much direct mention of climate justice on the conference agenda. Is that disappointing? 

It is a little bit disappointing. But, at the same time, if you look at the agenda, there are several areas where you can actually include climate justice. For example, I think there was one point about youth and people empowerment, there’s one session about gender. There’s one session about adaptation, loss and damage. All of these definitely concern climate justice. Climate protection doesn’t go without climate justice. So, in the end, we will see it come up in different contexts.

In September, Greenpeace and other organisations in the Climate Action Network actually called for the postponement of Cop26. What were the main complaints involved in that decision?

Basically, because it wasn’t possible for everyone to participate in a safe, equitable and inclusive way. The current covid-19 restrictions [in the UK] meant that certain delegates--especially from countries such as the Philippines, for example, and around that area--couldn’t have come or would have been obliged to quarantine for such a long time they could not financially afford it. Many countries, especially from the global south, are on the red list of the UK, and representatives from these countries are among those most affected by climate change. Their voices are really the ones that you want to hear and are really a big part of the discussion. So, we said we only want Cop26 to go ahead if it’s accessible and safe for everyone.

But I think now the UK has taken some measures to actually make sure that everyone can attend. They have said they are taking on all the costs for the quarantine stay for people from red list countries. So, I hope they follow through with that.

It’s important to know that it was not about postponing the discussions about climate change and climate protection, but it was really about making sure that everyone can be there, and especially the most vulnerable. We, especially Europeans, have such a big voice everywhere. But those countries, not so much. So, for them, not to be present would not be productive for the Cop discussions.

We must be really bold and make the necessary changes and legal frameworks to be able to make an impact worldwide
Myrna Koster

Myrna Kosterclimate justice and liability campaignerGreenpeace Luxembourg

But the summit is going ahead, and we have just had the Milan pre-Cop meeting. What are your expectations of Cop26?

We feel that, for Cop26 to be a real success, leaders need to go beyond the commitments that they’ve made so far. They need to back up their promises with concrete plans, objectives, policies and also investment. This is all needed to be able to keep temperature increase below 1.5°C to align with the Paris Agreement.

And for Luxembourg specifically, to make sure we are coherent as a country. We must be really bold and make the necessary changes and legal frameworks to be able to make an impact worldwide. We are all about promoting sustainable finance, but we’re not really about making sure the quality of sustainable finance is actually in place. So one of our main hopes, for Cop26, is for our environment and finance ministries--I’m not sure who is actually going to attend--really to take a stance to align Luxembourg’s investments with the Paris Agreement. The grand duchy can also play a big role at EU level. We must make sure that the Fit for 55 target is met. Because, in our eyes, 55% is not enough. We are talking about at least a 65% reduction [in CO2 emissions by 2030]. So, Luxembourg needs to really take a stand and make this very clear.

This article first appeared in the November 2021 edition of Delano magazine.