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Environment

COP21: International Rights of Nature Tribunal Finds Corporations, Governments Guilty of Crimes Against Nature

Indigenous leaders want to expand the concept of human rights into a movement that will protect animals, rivers and forests.

Photo Credit: Tomasz Bidermann/Shutterstock.com

As the COP21 climate conference comes to its conclusion, many here don’t believe that the agreement to cut emissions will suffice to alter the catastrophic course of the planet. In fact, many will leave believing that what is most important is the continued work to pressure governments not only to reduce greenhouse gases, but to address the inequalities that underly the problem.

"The deal that will be unveiled in less than a week will not be enough to keep us safe,” author and activist Naomi Klein told a crowd gathered for a labor and climate change event. “In fact, it will be extraordinarily dangerous.”

Klein and many others gathered for the COP21 conference believe that the agreement is “going to steamroll over equity red lines, which means that wealthy countries that have been emitting fossil fuels on an industrial scale for a couple hundred years will continue to fail to do our fair share of emission reductions.”

Klein’s sentiments about the COP21 outcomes were shared by people from across the world gathered at the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, a movement of indigenous and Western leaders from around the world to ascribe rights to Mother Nature. The tribunal concluded that a confluence of global interests — corporations, governments and multilateral institutions — were guilty of crimes against Mother Nature, including greenhouse gas emissions and the destruction of ecosystems, lifeforms and cultures.

Many gathered here feel that the inequities and disasters seen before COP21 will continue and perhaps even get worse, despite some actions such as President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Desmond D’Sa, a Goldman Environmental Prize-winning activist and writer with the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, said that the apartheid structures that he and his parents grew up with and fought against have not disappeared. In fact, they have been reconfigured — and in some cases worsened — by climate change.

“From its beginnings, the logic of apartheid involved oil extraction through slush funds and secrecy of the apartheid era,” said D’Sa, who presented Durban’s case at the tribunal. “Sadly, it’s still around in the post-apartheid era — even here at COP21. The extractive industry has done us all one better by co-opting the [South African] government, filling its delegation with representatives of the extractive industries and writing the official government positions.”

“What South Africa and other poor countries are doing is positioning themselves to get money from rich countries who will pay them for the right to put toxics and pollute them,” he added. “These offsets are only going to make things worse for children who already face extremely high levels of cancer and other fatal diseases. COP21 means greenwashing, not real solutions.”

In the face of the catastrophic situation faced by South Africans and other people across the earth following COP21, many activists here pointed to the convergence of alternative organizing, seen here as one of the most important outcomes of COP21.

“My hope is that we continue the work of creating the great convergence, a convergence of the movements of indigenous people fighting 500 years of colonialism with the ecological movements with its highest expression in rights of nature and the human rights movement with its highest expression in cultural diversity,” said author and activist Vandana Shiva. “I hope that all these movements become one continuum in the celebration, defense and freedom of all life, and the recognition that those cultures called ‘barbaric’ are in fact the sophisticated cultures that will ensure we act.”

Speaking through a translator on behalf of the indigenous Kayapo people of Brazil, Chief Raoni Metuktire reminded a packed crowd of the urgent need to unite ancient indigenous thought about the rights of nature with the expansion of the Western legal concepts created in Paris following the French Revolution, concepts of human rights many here believe must be expanded to create a similar regime that will ascribe rights to and protect nature.

“We feel the effects of non-action [on climate change] every day” said Chief Raoni. “We feel the effect on our rivers, on our forests, on the animals. Many of you don’t see it. We do. We indigenous continue to speak loudly, but we need your help. We will only stop this madness by working together.”

Roberto Lovato is a writer and research associate at the Center for Latino Policy Research at the University of California, Berkeley. 

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