Through a series of reports supported by Ford Foundation, Mozilla Foundation, and Ariadne, new research explores the intersections of climate justice and digital rights

We are living in a climate crisis: the science is clear, and we need to rapidly transition to a more just and sustainable society. This includes making the internet itself healthier and more sustainable.

Mozilla began exploring this issue nearly two years ago. In addition to publishing climate commitments, we partnered with the Ford Foundation and Ariadne to better understand how our organizations and other digital rights funders might respond effectively to the climate crisis.

Today we are proud to launch with our partners a series of reports that describe the intersections and implications of the digital rights field and climate and environmental justice.

While the primary audience for the research is digital rights funders or adjacent technology funders, we believe the work can be useful for other funders and organizations working across issues, given that the climate crisis and technology touch other fields related to human rights, from migration to land tenure and indigenous rights. Despite this nexus between the internet and environment, we are only in the early stages of integrating philanthropic funding strategies across these intersections, and we look forward to learning from others who are working and experimenting in these fields.

We come to this topic humbly, knowing that many practitioners have been thinking critically about these issues for a long time. We offer the following research as a starting place for digital rights funders who want to begin untangling climate implications for their work. Below you’ll find a series of research pieces produced by four different organizations, each with their own networks and perspectives that shed light on this intersection and opportunities for action.

A Landscape Analysis

The Engine Room, a group whose mission is to support civil society organizations in using technology and data in strategic, effective and responsible ways, authored a landscape report, At the Confluence of Digital Rights and Climate & Environmental Justice, which provides an accessible and thoughtful overview on the climate and environmental justice issues that emerge from technological innovation. They provide an analysis of the environmental toll of digital infrastructures and information on climate disinformation, open data and climate monitoring, increased surveillance of environmental activists and land defenders, and migration justice. In addition, the report explores overlapping themes and challenges that can prevent the climate and digital rights movements from working together. Finally, it offers recommendations to digital rights funders on how to center the intersections of climate justice and technology in their work.

Alongside the landscape analysis are seven issue briefs. They offer deep dives into specific topics at this intersection such as governance, misinformation, open data, and extractivism. The authors bring a wealth of experience and expertise to these issues and created these briefs to help orient funders and others interested in this field.

Issue Briefs

Building a High-Quality Climate Science Information Environment: The Role of Social Media | Business for Social Responsibility (BSR)

Mapping the gaps between digital rights and environmental justice actors in the global South | Association for Progressive Communication (APC)

Environmental and digital rights: Exploring the potential for interplay and mutual reinforcement for better governance | Association for Progressive Communication (APC)

Extractivism, mining and technology in the global South: Towards a common agenda for action | Association for Progressive Communication (APC)

Addressing the impact of disinformation on environmental movements through collaboration | Association for Progressive Communication (APC)

Climate Justice & the Knowledge Commons: Opportunities for the digital rights space | Open Environmental Data Project (OEDP) and Open Climate

Environmental justice, climate justice, and the space of digital rights | Open Environmental Data Project (OEDP) and Open Climate

Four key takeaways

  1. Climate and tech movements can learn from and support each other: There is a lot of space for relationship building and collaboration between movements centered on climate and environmental justice and technology justice. Finding the most strategic moments to connect the two movements will be crucial, as will leveraging opportunities for shared learning and deep engagement on specific topics. Learning from other funders about intersectional and trust-based funding approaches can provide a path forward.
  2. The Global North must follow leadership from the Global South: Digital rights organizations in the Global South have long been working on connecting the impacts of extractive industries and digital technology. Groups in the Global North must not only learn from their work, but follow suit. Increasingly, funders have highlighted the importance of shifting power to those most impacted, believing those closest to the problem are closest to the solution. As we reflect on investment in this intersection, there is an opportunity to "walk the talk" and resource groups in the Global South who have clearly demonstrated experience and creativity in developing impactful responses to the climate crisis.
  3. Carbon is just the beginning: The carbon footprint of the internet is an important issue that deserves more attention, especially from funders. But there are many more areas that also require urgent change, such water disputes between data centers and local residents, corporate greenwashing, tech companies’ inaction against the spread of climate misinformation or the use of advanced cyberweapons to target and harm climate and environmental activists.
  4. Data is at the heart of many of the problems and can also be part of the solution: Access to reliable climate and environmental data is key for remedying misinformation, driving policy agendas, and influencing public understanding and opinion. Tech companies are currently withholding important information related to critical issues like the water and energy usage of data centers and the efficacy of initiatives addressing climate misinformation. At the same time, large data models being developed by the tech sector are a huge driver of emissions and are increasingly central to big tech and their efforts to grow. Examining the intersection of climate, environment and data is critical.

Learning for Mozilla

This research is part of an ongoing learning process in support of Mozilla’s Climate Commitments and movement building strategy. We are experimenting with exploratory partnerships as a model to deliver on those goals.

As Mozilla learned in our Greenhouse Gas emissions baseline, roughly 98% our overall emissions come from the use of our products such as Firefox. This is not about a single browser vendor, but rather about the internet ecosystem itself being the world’s largest coal-powered machine. If we are to reduce the footprint of our products, then we must also work towards making the internet itself healthier and more sustainable.

To learn how Mozilla might accelerate the internet’s transition away from fossil fuels, we partnered with the Green Web Foundation in 2021. We contributed to the Green Web Fellowship program to support digital rights practitioners working on climate justice, and more broadly to work towards a fossil free internet in 2030.

To better build bridges across movements, we also invited two incredible climate justice organizers, Sharon Lungo and Heather Milton-Lightening, to share their analysis of this intersection by reflecting on the commissioned research and proposing how to better link a digital rights and climate justice agenda based on their experience and networks:

Building Power: The Potential of Digital Rights & Climate Justice Movement Collaboration

Sharon Lungo & Heather Milton-Lightening

Next Steps

If you are a funder interested in getting involved in these explorations, please get in touch: [email protected]. We will continue to convene, learn from others and integrate these insights into our own work.

You can find more information about these partnerships and background for this work on our wiki.

Thank you to The Engine Room, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), Association for Progressive Communication (APC), Open Environmental Data Project (OEDP) and the Open Climate Collective as well as Sharon Lungo and Heather Milton-Lightening for your research and recommendations. Thank you to Michael Brennan at the Ford Foundation, Julie Broome at the Ariadne Network, Fieke Jansen and Maya Richman for the collaboration and coordination of the research and to Hanan Elmasu and J. Bob Alotta for helping make it happen. Thank you to Shayna Robinson from ISOC Foundation and Lea Wolf from the Mercator Foundation for joining the effort and helping take it forward.