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Climate justice and participatory research: Building climate-resilient commons

Climate justice and participatory research: Building climate-resilient commons

Patricia "Ellie" Perkins

Patricia Perkins has edited a new book titled Climate justice and participatory research: Building climate-resilient commons (University of Calgary Press, 2023). The book offers ideas and inspiration for climate justice action by describing the work of activist scholars in the Majority World whose research is contributing to livelihood commons and community-based climate resilience. It brings together articulations of the “what, why, and how” of climate justice through the voices of energetic and motivated scholar-activists who are building alliances with community-based organizations across Latin America, Africa, and Canada. She talked with summer EUC Research Assistant Igor Lutay about the urgency of climate justice and (re)building commons governance systems in a world buffeted by the changing climate.

Q: What inspired you to write this book? Did any of your previous research work inspire you to write this new book?

A. I have been working on climate justice for a number of years. Actually, my whole career is related, including my earlier work on water governance, watershed management, and participatory engagement in environmental decision making. All of these research topics are intertwined with connection to climate justice. In 2015, I was invited to be a lead author of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 6th Assessment Report which ties in closely with my climate justice work. The IPCC reports provide extensive information on many issues related to climate change. The Working Group 3 report focuses on climate mitigation, and I worked on the chapter about social services and social aspects of mitigation.

Q: Your book analyzes how life-threatening inequalities can affect marginalized communities and, in turn, society as a whole. Do you think society is understanding the importance of addressing these issues more than ever before?

A: Disasters like wildfires, droughts and floods -- extreme weather events -- are starting to make people worldwide understand that we cannot take the world's environment for granted. Since climate change largely results from emissions driven by wealthy people’s consumption patterns, they hold the key to halting climate change. For a while now people have been paying close attention to these events and their causes, but governments are slow to implement equitable mitigation.

Q: In your book, you describe the importance of recognizing Traditional Local Knowledge (TLK) for disaster risk reduction. Do you think TLK has been overlooked?

A: I think it has been largely overlooked. It has not been easy to measure Traditional Local Knowledge in ways that are compatible with Western scientific modeling systems and the practices that have become normalized for government decision making. One of the challenges that climate justice activists and academics have articulated is the wisdom of knowledge systems that have often been marginalized. The ontological underpinnings of traditional ecological knowledge are intertwined with traditional governance systems; it’s not just about generating numbers to use in computer models for predicting disasters.

This book represents the outcome of a precious opportunity to fund the climate justice research of young scholars in Latin America and Africa, which they carried out with local participants in their own countries, drawing from their knowledge of local contexts and needs. Their research stories and results show the impacts of climate change on marginalized communities and the complex challenges they face.

Q: The book looks at the effects of climate change in African and Latin American countries. What led you to focus on these regions?

Community meetings at the early stages of the QES-AS, IDRC, and SSHRC-funded research project on climate justice (2018-2021) in Quilombola communities in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, Rio de Janeiro State. Marcondes Coelho and co-authors of the study describe their research on soils as a commons with Quilombolo community members in Brazil who have collective farming and commons traditions. Photo: Marcondes Coelho.

A: I first went to Africa in 1976 when I did an undergraduate term abroad in Ghana. I lived in Brazil for a couple of years, and I also taught in Mozambique for two years. I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with Latin American and African academics and civil society organizations on several climate related and water related research projects. These earlier connections allowed me to develop the research grant application that resulted in this book.

Q: What are you most excited for the readers of your book to learn about?

A: This book highlights the kinds of participatory scholarship and methodological ingenuity that scholars in the Majority World are inventing and sharing, as well as the contributions that they are making to climate justice research. They are driven by the awareness of how important it is to reach out to the communities that are most vulnerable in order to solve major issues that are caused by the climate change catastrophes that are happening now. We have to communicate with people who are most impacted and investigate climate crisis priorities in order to meet those challenges equitably.

Q: Having completed this book, how do you see your work moving forward in the future?

A: I will continue working on climate justice issues and collaborate with scholars internationally.


Ellie Perkins is an ecological economist concerned with climate justice issues such as addressing global inequities while advancing the energy transition.  Her research work focuses on the political ecology of commons governance, local economies, and energy transitions; feminist theory and practice in times of climate change; and mining / metals in the green transition. She teaches courses on Climate Justice, Climate Mitigation, Ecological Economics,  Community Economic Development, and interdisciplinary qualitative research methods. She was a Lead Author for the 6th Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, chapter on "Demand, Services, and Social Aspects of Mitigation" (published in 2022).