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Issue Brief: Climate Justice & the Knowledge Commons
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January 3, 2022
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Cover Page for Climate Justice & the Knowledge Commons Issue Brief
Click here to read a pre-release copy of this Issue Brief. Finalized versions will be available at the end of June.

Open source has long intersected with climate justice, both materially (e.g., software, hardware, licenses, etc.) and philosophically (e.g. practices of collaboration, transparency, governance). This issue brief is written for digital rights funders and builds on the work explored in the authors’ 2021 article, Open Climate Now, to understand how the open, digital rights, and climate movements can break down existing barriers – real or perceived – with a goal of building better modes of collaboration in shared and movement-specific priorities.

The open and digital rights movements provide a framework and tools for using transparency and access to expand participation in climate
action. To best leverage these, their principles should be integrated into international regulatory frameworks and decision-making bodies. Misinformation spread online about climate change has slowed efforts to advance meaningful action and policy. Corporate solutions to this problem have been largely ineffective.

The digital knowledge commons will be a critical space for facilitating communication about, and collaboration around, climate action. Resources are needed, however, to ensure these spaces remain accessible and inclusive, and that they don’t perpetuate existing social injustices.

Several barriers to accessing the digital knowledge commons and climate science spaces have resulted in lack of representation and access for the most at-risk groups. This is at odds with the values of the open, digital rights, and climate justice movements. Intellectual property paradigms, especially in tech and scientific spaces, can prevent the open exchange of information that is critical for finding effective and just solutions to climate change. Conversations in the open, digital rights, and climate justice movements, respectively, tend to happen in siloes with limited efforts towards cross-pollination or collaboration.

Recommendations:

1. Support coalition building around the intersection of digital rights and climate justice topics, such as online misinformation on climate change.
2. Invest in research to understand the challenges posed by online mis-information about climate change, particularly in languages other than English and regions outside the U.S. and Europe.
3. Connect open knowledge production tools (e.g., critical digital infrastructure, open data projects, and open scientific hardware) with digital rights and climate justice.
4. Support learning opportunities to create capacity for positive socio-environmental change among digital rights organizations so they can understand and identify climate-related threats and opportunities.
5. Create a principles framework for digital rights funders to support incorporation of a climate lens into the work of digital rights organizations.