Environmental Racism and Climate Justice: A glimpse into the Favela da Maré

The impacts of climate change affect historically vulnerable populations, such as residents of slums, in differentiated ways. Likewise, climate change mitigation and adaptation measures must consider these differences. Read a report by popular communicator Kaya Bee, a resident of the Favela da Maré in Rio de Janeiro, especially for the G20 Brazil website.

05/13/2024 7:00 AM - Modified 15 days ago
Favela da Maré. Credit Affonso Dalua
Favela da Maré. Credit Affonso Dalua

Environmental racism is a concept that mixes elements of racial and environmental discrimination. It describes situations in which minority ethnic groups are disproportionately impacted by negative environmental effects such as pollution, environmental degradation, and unequal access to natural resources and environmental services.

Furthermore, the quest for climate justice is a principle directed toward addressing the social, economic, and political disparities linked to climate change. It advocates for the implementation of equitable climate change mitigation and adaptation measures that account for the varied needs and impacts experienced by communities, including factors such as income, geographic location, race, ethnicity, and gender.

The Maré territory stands out as the largest complex of favelas in Rio de Janeiro and the 9th most populous neighborhood in the city. Its population surpasses that of 96% of Brazilian municipalities, totaling approximately 139,073 residents residing in 38,273 households. These figures are based on the 2013 Maré Population Census conducted by the NGO Redes da Maré.

Among this population, there are around 10,200 children under 5 years old and 6,500 elderly individuals over 65 years old, both particularly vulnerable to climate-related events. Together, they comprise 12% of the total population.

Energy transition and climate change are two of the issues on the agenda of the G20 Summit, the annual meeting in which the leaders from the world's largest economies discuss economic, financial, and global issues. This year, Rio de Janeiro is hosting the final G20 Summit - a thrilling moment that highlights the city’s capacity to convene global leaders and take part in crucial discussions about the economy and development. 

Brasil’s G20 Presidency this year brought the opportunity to widen the access for civil society, including youth from the peripheries, to the debates and reflections on the issues addressed in the forum’s working groups and engagement, with a special focus on the environment and climate agenda.

Biodigestor built by pubblic school students from the Favela da Maré as part of the Lutes Favelas project. Credit: Eduardo Bispo
Biodigestor built by pubblic school students from the Favela da Maré as part of the Lutes Favelas project. Credit: Eduardo Bispo

Peripherical technologies

It is within this context that DIJO, an independent environmental communication and journalism agency) from the Favela da Maré, highlights the solutions creatively found by the community to overcome these challenges. The Lutes Favelas project, for example, is the result of a partnership between public school students from territory and the Rio de Janeiro Federal University (UFRJ). Through the project, students from the João Borges State School built a biodigestor that produces fertilizeres used for soil restoration and transforms methane gas generated by the decomposition of solid and organic residues into cooking gas for the school kitchen.

In an interview with students and collaborators involved in the construction of the biodigester, project coordinator Inahra Cabral explained that the initiative began with the recognition of the teachers' need to transform the school environment into a more pleasant space for the students. They believed that this would help reduce truancy associated with the school's surroundings. “There used to be a pigsty behind the school,” she said. “The smell was unbearable due to the animals' feces.”

The EcoClima project, affiliated with the Social and Environmental Rights Nucleus of the NGO Rede da Maré, stands as another initiative within the community focused on advancing climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. Its strategies encompass the implementation of green roofs and community composting systems.

Another notable initiative is the International Youth Observatory, working in partnership with the Municipal Department of Environment of Rio de Janeiro and other organizations. The Observatory aims to empower young people from marginalized areas through the Youth Negotiators for Climate project, operating within the spheres of interest of the Youth20 (Y20) engagement group. These youths are viewed as future leaders of their nations and the world, influencing discussions and shaping public policy.

Pigs forage through garbage in areas without access to proper waste disposal in the Favela da Maré. Credit: Eduardo Bispo
Pigs forage through garbage in areas without access to proper waste disposal in the Favela da Maré. Credit: Eduardo Bispo

Local resident Vania Silva gave a statement in which she reflected on how the Maré used to be 50 years ago: "Even with the stilt houses, we had more trees. Now there are buildings everywhere and we are surrounded by the city’s three most important highways (the Linha Amarela, Linha Vermelha, and the Avenida Brasil), which contributes to the residents’ health problems, including respiratory diseases".

The core objective of this article is to shed light on peripheral technologies designed to adapt favela areas, with all their intricacies, and to underscore the challenges encountered by the most marginalized communities amidst their climate vulnerabilities. Additionally, it aims to encourage active societal engagement within this context.


Production: DIJO Production

Creative Direction: Eduardo Bispo

Script: Karolina Mendes 

Research Source: Redes da Maré NGO

Contributions: Lutes Favelas project, Inahara Cabral, and Vania Silva 

Photographic Credits: Affonso Dalua and Eduardo Bispo

See also