In anticipation of the Stockholm+50 conference this June, it's pertinent to reconsider the ways in which we can all reconcile our relationship with the planet for its health and prosperity. This, being one of the three leadership dialogues for the highly anticipated event.
That said and reflecting on the importance of the first Stockholm conference back in 1972, it’s encouraging to think that the international environmental agenda as we know it today can continue to be shaped by the voices of women, youth, ethnic minorities, and other vital voices that are exceptionally vulnerable to the effects of climate shocks.
With this in mind, I’ve considered the ways my position as a queer person is particularly relevant to my vision of a healthy environment, specifically my view of climate change, which I personally find the single most dangerous threat to our existence as a species on planet earth. So, in this short blog, I will reflect on the ways in which climate change can be framed as a queer issue, and why it matters.
The argument follows a simple logic: climate change is a queer issue because it affects every living organism and everyone’s human rights to a healthy environment, the right to life, among others, and this, matters. Second, climate change is a queer issue because it can undermine the advancement of the queer agenda, exacerbating violence against minorities, including the one I belong to, as fewer than 2% of the population in Colombia identify as LGBTQ+. Finally, queer youth is particularly vulnerable to homelessness, which can be aggravated by changes in natural factors/climate change.
Photo creds: Jairo Andrés Peña | Technical field specialist in sustainable development - Sumapaz Region
Colombia is a megadiverse country. According to Colombia´s Third Biennial Update Report, “the country is recognized for its variety of ecosystems and biodiversity, being the first most biodiverse country per square kilometer in the world, the second most biodiverse in natural resources and the sixth with the highest water wealth on the planet” (IDEAM et al., 2021: 22). However, these natural riches are being threatened by the climate crisis and its population remains highly vulnerable to climate change and its related shocks.
In line with the idea that, as the global climate changes, climate shocks become harsher and communities suffer more, it is particularly pertinent to highlight that “…the impacts of climate change can aggravate the root causes of violent extremism … potentially fuelling social tensions between different communities and exacerbating the drivers of conflict and fragility”, as a UNDP Policy Brief suggests. In countries like Colombia, where a large portion of its population depends on natural resources for their day-to-day activities, violence against marginalized people, including LGBTQ+ people can increase and undermine the advancement of queer agendas that seek respect for basic human rights, equality, non-discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community, among others.
This brings me to UNDP’s recent Regional Human Development report (2021), which highlights that queer people are already highly discriminated against “in almost all aspects of their lives” in the LAC region (UNDP, 2021: 49). So, it wouldn’t be surprising if the advancement of the queer agenda and the recognition of LGBTQ+ rights would stagnate in the face of the climate crisis.
Second, according to a 2017 study carried out by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, in the USA queer people are 120% more vulnerable to the risk of homelessness. Although there isn’t a similar study or data for Colombia, and despite the progressive legal framework that Colombia has in matters of queer rights, the country remains highly homophobic which makes me assume with confidence that this figure isn’t too detached from the Colombian reality. For instance, there are reports that LGBTQ+ Venezuelan migrants that cross the border into Colombia have experienced labor exploitation, discrimination, and a denial of basic health services.
So why does this matter? It matters because in my experience living in the city of Bogotá for the past six months, rainfall has been extremely unpredictable, making it harder for homeless people and youth to cope on the streets. You could say there is scientific and meteorological information to predict volatile weather patterns, but it’s also true that the most vulnerable people on the streets are less likely to have the resources to access this information, making it harder for them to arrange their affairs. You should see the “aguaceros” that fall unexpectedly. According to the IDEAM (Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies), Bogotá is expected to experience a rise in temperature and a change in rainfall regimes, differentiated by locality. In addition, the District Risk Management and Climate Change Institute reports that rainfall is expected to increase in the city in a differential manner.
In sum, and to finish this short piece, I’d like to highlight that climate change affects us all. Climate change affects our human right to a healthy environment, which is protected by article 79 of our Colombian constitution, framed as the right to enjoy a healthy environment. Having said this, I share the sentiment that “we don’t need to queer a problem in order to make it ours” (Cheves, 2018), but this matters because once again, minorities are the ones most affected by climate change in the short, medium and longer-term and it requires collective efforts to adapt, mitigate and respond to the effects of climate shocks before and when they occur.
Cheves, A. (2018) Climate Change Is a Queer Issue, And We Must Vote to Save the Environment, them. Available at: https://www.them.us/story/climate-change-vote-elections (Accessed: 23 March 2022).
IDEAM et al. (2021) Tercer Informe Bienal de Actualización de Colombia a la Convención Marco de las Naciones Unidas para el Cambio Climático. Bogotá.
UNDP (2021) Atrapados: Alta Desigualdad y Bajo Crecimiento en América Latina y el Caribe. New York: UNDP.
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