Bringing Worlds Together for a More Sustainable Future
On April 19 and 20, the Pulitzer Center partnered with the University of Coimbra to host a global conference gathering over 30 journalists, academics, researchers, and social movement leaders from around the world, sparking a discussion on the intersection of climate change and labor rights.
Hosted at one of the world’s oldest universities, the two-day event sparked meaningful discussions across six panels and three keynote sessions, captivating an engaged virtual audience of 566 people from 55 countries—with the majority coming from Indonesia, Brazil, Portugal, Congo, India, and the United States—but also the Philippines, Cameroon, Nigeria, United Kingdom, Spain, and more. The 1,889 participants who registered online came from labor unions, media companies, universities, youth and human rights organizations, ecology-oriented institutions, and NGOs.
The conference was organized in partnership with the Faculty of Economics, CES (Centre for Social Studies), OSIRIS (Risk Observatory), and ECOSOC (Ecology and Society Lab), based at the University of Coimbra. Speaking alongside academics, researchers, and activists, nine Pulitzer Center grantees shared insights from their reporting projects for TIME, The Guardian, El Surtidor, The Morning Context, Financial Times, and more.
Across two days of discussion, an emerging theme was one of allyship, and the importance of building alliances and collaboration across sectors to further collective understanding of these complex issues. “Journalism, activism, and scholarship can and should work together towards the transformation of a better world,” said activist and researcher Boaventura Monjane during a panel on climate, labor, and oceans.
Day 1 conversations focused on global power, climate rights, justice, health, and oceans issues.
Speakers highlighted how heat waves and extreme temperatures have had devastating effects on agriculture, habitats, power systems, communication, and human health—impacting the way we understand interconnections of climate change with oceans, labor, and public health.
Kicking off a panel on Labor, Climate Change, and Health, professor Ana Raquel Matos of the Faculty of Economics at the University of Coimbra opened with the question: “In the context of climate change, how can we guarantee the health of workers?”
Grantee Aryn Baker discussed insights from her reporting on the impacts of global warming in several countries, especially on workers' health. Covering the World Cup in Qatar, Baker found poor working conditions exacerbated by extreme heat that led to poor health outcomes and deaths of migrant workers. She recalled the measures taken by the governments in an effort to minimize the effects of extreme heat, such as prohibiting work in extreme temperatures.
Panelists also highlighted how water, immigrants' conditions, and biodiversity have become increasingly important demands in peoples’ struggle for the enforcement of environmental laws. Organizer Fátima Teixeira emphasized the impact of loss of biodiversity, modern slavery, human trafficking, racism, and xenophobia on workers in Portugal; journalist Jazmín Acuña spoke of the relationship between heat waves and the pandemic, focusing on the effects of extreme temperatures on delivery drivers in Paraguay during the pandemic.
Turning the conversation to the world’s oceans and impacts on coastal communities, panelists introduced concepts of “disaster capitalism” and connections to colonialism, looking at Puerto Rico and the U.S. response to disasters like Hurricane Maria. “We know warming and rising sea levels are two of the main challenges impacting our societies,” said Gustavo García-Lopez, who specializes in post-colonialism and climate change at the University of Coimbra.
Day 2 began with discussions on climate colonialism, a critical look at the green energy transition, and the role and social impacts of technology in the climate crisis.
“Humans and non-humans are connected in this network of life, which these projects can harm and threaten,” said researcher Mariana Riquito.
The second session of the day focused on gender perspectives on climate change and labor, featuring women who mobilize to defend territory and ways of life in Brazil, Colombia, Nigeria, and other parts of the world. “The issue of climate change highlights gender inequalities,” said Pulitzer Center international education and outreach director Flora Pereira. Speakers highlighted the role of women and young people as agents of change. “For Indigenous women, territory is everything,” said Vanessa Teteye Mendoza.
Conference discussions also emphasized that journalism plays a crucial role in humanizing the impacts of climate change, raising awareness, and holding governments and corporations accountable for their actions. “I don't think that just telling people's stories is enough,” said grantee Juliet Riddell in a panel on extreme heat, emphasizing the important role journalism can play in humanizing the relationship between labor and extreme heat.
A total of 1,889 people from 79 countries registered online for the conference. After attending the conference, over 95% of survey respondents said that the event improved their knowledge of climate and labor issues—and 97% said they felt compelled to learn more about climate and labor issues.
Our surveys have shown that diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and approaches were key to enriching the session discussions and also the in-person experience for the invitees. Climate change is intersectional, and treating climate as an issue inseparable from labor—and health, gender, justice—is a gap we need to work together with journalists, researchers, activists, and civil society to fill. The event aimed to address this problem by bringing to light underreported stories and perspectives that show the intimate relation between climate disasters and their impact on workers' lives. You can read the full report of the event here.
To learn more about the Pulitzer Center’s Your Work/Environment initiative and read reporting on climate change and labor rights, click here. Sign up for the Pulitzer Center’s weekly newsletter to stay up-to-date on climate and labor issues around the world.