Partnering in Justice: climate defenders holding out hope

by Namrata Chowdhary, Chief of Public Engagement at

On 9 September, the G20 Summit will start in India where leaders from the world’s 20 most powerful economies will convene to discuss the most pertinent issues of the day, ostensibly with the interests of their constituents at heart. While we look to the start of the event with hope, there’s an underlying irony that’s hard to quell, and a coincidental calendar note that’s hard to ignore. 

The G20 Summit will coincide with President Biden’s planned visit to Hanoi, strengthening the diplomatic relationship between the US and Vietnam. And just a day before, friends of climate defender Hoang Thi Minh Hong and allies in the climate movement across the world are observing a somber anniversary: 8 September is Hong’s 100th day of imprisonment in Vietnam. Her continued incarceration under the vague application of Vietnam’s tax laws is part of a deeply concerning trend of arbitrary imprisonment threatening activists in Vietnam, a trend disturbingly familiar to climate defenders in many other countries, including those at the G20 Summit. 

At last year’s G20 Summit in Bali, it was announced that Indonesia would enter into a financial funding scheme, known as JETP, with the United States and Japan to assist the country in its renewable energy transition. Diplomatic initiatives and summits like the G20 present a stark reminder of glaring paradoxes: while state leaders and finance ministers discuss the future of billions of people behind closed doors, members of civil society – who could offer significant and meaningful improvements to these partnership schemes – are not only left without a seat at the table, but far too often are kept at bay, or (as in the case of Hong) locked up in detention centers. 

Hong – an Obama scholar – has inspired people across the climate movement, with her warm and personable advocacy touching many hearts. She has played an instrumental role in Vietnam’s most prominent environmental achievements in recent years, and further afield, she has inspired the continuing bravery climate activists need to demand a more just and equitable future in their own contexts. 

Hong’s arrest is part of a disturbing trend – she is the fifth prominent figure to have been targeted in Vietnam in recent years, including environmental justice lawyer Mr. Dang Dinh Bach who is currently serving a five year sentence. Without the work of these brave individuals, the progress that has been made for the climate in Vietnam would be far less tangible, and a JETP may not have become a reality.

In principle, JETPs can offer positive and necessary mechanisms to facilitate leaving fossil fuels behind. Indeed, their emergence is in large part thanks to the commitment of climate defenders like Hong, who have highlighted the impact of fossil fuels, researched the alternatives, and are championing real solutions that would truly empower communities while protecting the planet. These partnerships could open up new opportunities for collaboration, not just between donor and recipient countries, but also between governments and civil society representatives of their citizens. If the energy transition is to be truly rooted in justice, it is essential that these JETPs employ the knowledge and expertise of climate defenders. Vietnam is one of the top five countries likely to be most affected by climate change: but without the ability for civil society members to participate in its energy transition, it will lose out on a tremendous opportunity to shape an alternative future.

At, we work in communities around the world to build a better future. Part of our work is to hold governments accountable for the implementation of climate solutions rooted in justice – and when it comes to international partnerships like JETPs, this rigor applies to donor countries as much as recipients. The United States and other donor countries have a responsibility to ensure that any financial partnerships it enters into truly upholds the principles it is purportedly designed for. Transparency, human rights, and the implementation of real, community-centered renewable solutions must be at the heart of a JETP, with accountability and evaluation processes included in every agreement.

There is still time to turn the tide for those unjustly incarcerated. This September, we could see diplomatic power exercised in service of a new hope rising: in Vietnam, where President Thuong and President Biden could arrive at agreements that see the Vietnam 5 released, and in India at the G20, where participating nations could commit to more inclusively designed partnerships that uphold justice in its truest sense. This path – where the world stays on track to tackle climate change while all efforts remain rooted in justice – is essential if we are to tackle the greatest challenge of our time. 


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