Negotiating Co-Constitutive Crises

Full Title

Negotiating Co-Constitutive Crises: Racism and the Climate Crisis as experienced by Black, Indigenous and PoC Climate Negotiators and Experts

General Information

Project's Coordinator:
Joshua Kwesi Aikins (University of Kassel)

Main Research Partner:
Bongiwe Matsoha (Earthlive South Africa)

Research Collaborators:
Imeh Ituen; Franziska Müller (GLOCAL Power, Uni Hamburg)
Makoma Lekalakala (Earthlive South Africa)

Research Cluster:
Partnership in development cooperation: access, accountability, and deep participation

Climate negotiators, BIPoC, racism, empowerment, strategies, climate crisis

Research Questions

Main Research Question: How do the experiences, analyses and strategies of Black, Indigenous and PoC climate negotiators and experts enable a more differentiated understanding of the linkages between racism, the climate crisis and hierarchies in climate policy across the structural, institutional and interpersonal level?

Answering this question enables the research project to address the following sub-questions:

  • Which actionable insights do these experiences and strategies hold for advocacy towards restructuring or intervening in climate negotiations and multilateral climate policy in ways that ensure that BIPoC perspectives matter?
  • Does analysis of these experiences open up new horizons for decolonial agency, empowerment and solidarity between BIPoC positions to counter racism in climate policies and negotiations?
  • Which relevant insights can be gleaned for advocacy in the lead up to COP 26 as well as its aftermath?


While racism is increasingly acknowledged as constitutive element of the current climate crisis and imperial pattern in the COP process have been analysed and criticised, there is a lack of research focussing on the ways in which climate negotiators and experts who are Black, indigenous and/or People of Colour experience the co-constitutive dynamics of racism and the climate crisis in the context of climate negotiations and the crafting of international and multilateral climate policy. The project addresses this gap by analysing the experiences of BIPoC climate negotiators and experts, whose vantage point is unique in that it enables a combination of structural, institutional as well as interpersonal dynamics of racism in climate negotiations and policy. Their experiences, analyses and strategies are gathered through expert interviews and focus groups which will be analysed using qualitative coding. The project aims to generate empirical insight into the workings of racism as experienced and counter strategies as devised by BIPoC climate negotiators and climate policy experts.


The aim of the research project is to generate empirical insight into the workings of racism and counter-strategies of BIPoC in climate policy and negotiations through a structured analysis of the experiences of BIPoC climate negotiators and experts. This furthers an understanding of the mechanisms of exclusion, the dynamics, normalisation and contestation of racism and the potential of BIPoC climate negotiators’ and experts’ practices of decolonial agency, empowerment and solidarity between diverse BIPoC positions. The expert interviews and focus groups allow for an exploration of similarities as well as intra- and intergroup differences in the experiences, analyses and strategies of a diverse group of Black, Indigenous and PoC climate negotiators and experts, where the contexts from and for which they negotiate, as well as the intersection of gendered, racialised, classist and geographical hierarchies positions them differently towards the loci of power in climate policy. The project seeks to contribute insights into their experiences and strategies to analysis and advocacy on climate negotiations and policy that takes the unique vantage point of BIPoC climate negotiators and experts as a point of departure for enhanced critique, strategies and solidarity.

The project aligns with GPN research cluster 1 on Partnership in development cooperation: access, accountability, and deep participation. It identifies dynamics that preclude partnership, inhibit access, prevent accountability, while both contributing critique and exploring experience and strategies that can enable and deepen participation. By focussing on BIPoC climate negotiators’ experiences with racism in climate policy and negotiations as well as their strategies, the project integrates perspectives on colonial continuities and their linkages to contemporary hierarchies in multilateral climate politics as well as the contestations of climate policy.


GPN funding will enable policy analysis on the lead up to COP 26 which will inform the conduction of expert interviews and focus groups with BIPoC climate negotiators and experts. The scope is limited to policy areas identified as most pertinent to COP 26, this will then be further refined through topical choices made by the expert interviewees and the BIPoC climate negotiators’ focus groups. The qualitative analysis will provide deeper insights into the experiences of BIPoC climate negotiators and experts with racism in climate negotiations and policy but will also elucidate their strategies for countering racism, for empowerment and solidarity.

Planned outputs are an Earthlive advocacy position paper, an academic working paper and preparations for submitting an abstract for an academic journal article.

Literature Review

While racism and the climate crisis have increasingly been identified as co-consttutive (Moore 2015; Pulido 2018; Vergès 2017) existing literature mainly addresses the historical, conceptual and structural dimensions of this entanglement (Baldwin and Erickson 2020). The proposed project addresses a gap in the literature by linking these structural and institutional critiques to the experiences of BIPoC climate negotiators and experts, whse vantage point is unique in that it enables a combination of structural, institutional as well as interpersonal dynamics of racism in multilateral climate negotiations and policy.

It does so by building on literatures demonstrating that the climate crisis cannot fully be understood without taking into account manifold colonial continuities and the racist hierarchies embedded in Western human-nature relationships where, as abiding continuity of a colonial dynamic, BIPoC are relegated to the realm of a nature to be dominated (Plumwood 1993, 2005). These racist hierarchies are further born out in analyses of the international system (Grove 1998; Grovogui 2016), climate policy (Sealey-Huggins 2018) and imperial dynamics in the COP negotiation process where “bullying tactics”(Sealey-Huggins 2017, 2449) against formerly colonised nations have been documents and analysed (ibid.). The project contributes to a decolonial understanding of and intervention in racist climate injustice (Pulido and De Lara 2018). It builds on a Black radical tradition that links climate and racial justice by pointing out that they can only be achieved in tandem (Johnson 2020; Johnson and Wilkinson 2020).


The methodology comprises of policy analysis of relevant climate policies likely to be addressed as part of the negotiation process at COP 26. The analysis of these policies in the build up to COP informs expert interviews and focus groups. Retroductive qualitative analysis, that is a reflexive combination of inductive and deductive interpretive coding is then used to analyse the interviews and focus groups (Glynos and Howarth 2019; ten Have 2004). Collaborative qualitative coding will be undertaken using the open source software QualCoder (Curtain 2020).

The policy analysis is based on purposive sampling and selection of policy documents and informed by content analysis approaches, emerging analytical combinations of race-critical with post- and decolonial perspectives (Meghji 2020). This analysis informs the drafting of questions and impulses for at least 4 expert interviews and preferably 4 - 6 focus groups. The numbers for interviews and focus groups are given in ranges to allow for some flexibility with regards to scheduling, group composition and choice of interview or focus groups for potential participants. The project aims for a minimum of 7 separate interview or focus group interactions.

Expert interviews and focus groups follow a collaborative elucidation and “safe  and supportive spaces” approach (Kamberelis and Dimitriadis 2013). This means that the focus groups will be conducted by BIPoC scholars and attended by BIPoC who are disadvantaged by racism in different ways while sharing the privilege and burden to be involved in COP negotiations and/or the drafting, implementation and evaluation of climate policy. Such a space is offered with a view to foster an atmosphere where the racist dynamics of both the climate crisis and climate policy can be more openly discussed. While contingent and by no means beyond intra- and intergroup hierarchies, these focus group spaces nonetheless constitute synergistic articulations that allow for both the discussion and reflection of intra- and inter-group collective experiences and differences. Across both, they allow insights into patterns of exclusion, marginalisation and the normalisation of climate racism as well as the potential for counter strategies and solidarity. The composition of focus groups also has an ethical component, as research into racism needs to limit the dynamics of mere retraumatization and instead seek to enable space for reflection, validation and proactive strategising (Mizock et al. 2011).

New approaches to online focus groups further support and enable the creation of a welcoming space online (Lobe 2017), which is important due to both the ongoing COVID crisis and the impracticality of bringing interviewees and participants together in one location.

Contacts to potential participants will be established via a network of three civil society organisations which are collaborating on a nascent programme on racism and the climate crisis. The partnership comprises APRI (Africa Policy Research Institute, an African Diasporan Think Tank in founding in Berlin) and the NGOs One Resilient Earth ( Berlin and New York) and the Climate Leadership Initiative (London). In addition, research colaborator Imeh Ituen is part of networks that include long standing COP state and civil society actors from Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Pacific Island states who can be contacted and invited to participate.

Success Criteria

Success criterions:

  • Policy analysis of topics pertinent to COP negotiations
  • 4 expert interviews with BIPoC climate negotiators and/or experts (minimum)
  • 3-6 focus groups with BIPoC climate negotiators and/or experts
  • Retrodcuctive qualitative analysis of interviews and focus groups
  • Conceptual and analytical collaboration between project partners to make findings communicable in advocacy, policy and scientific contexts


  • Earthlive South Africa position paper on COP that takes on board some of the findings and analysis
  • Scientific publication