The role of social justice and poverty in South Africa’s national climate change response White Paper

Authors Kjersti Fløttum, Øyvind Gjerstad

ISSN: 1996-2126
Affiliations: Professor in the Department of Foreign Languages, University of Bergen; PhD, Adviser, Department of Research Management, University of Bergen
Source: South African Journal on Human Rights, Volume 29 Issue 1, 2013, p. 61 – 90


In late 2011 the South African government published a White Paper outlining climate change response policies for the coming decades. Among the main topics of the text were the socio-economic and climatic vulnerabilities of the country, including the situation of the poor. With the aim of analysing the argumentation regarding climate change and social justice we develop a combined linguistic and discursive approach, starting with occurrences of keywords pertaining to rights, equity and poverty. The White Paper’s conceptualisation of climate change is explored as a narrative, at the level of the text as a whole. This combined analysis shows that the legal rights of the poor are hardly given any place in the argumentation, whereas less constricting political intentions are far more present. Furthermore, the text attributes a passive role to the poor, dependent on the benevolence of a government that attributes the role of hero to itself.