International Rights of Nature Ethics Tribunal Climate Change Case Statement

On December 5 and 6, 2014, the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature convened the second ‘International Rights of Nature Ethics Tribunal’ in Lima, Peru, using the Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth to examine and make formal observations on cases of exploitation of the Earth that have remained outside the consideration of formal institutions.

Cases on trail included the BP Deep Horizon oil spill, the Belo Monte mega-dam in Brazil, threats to the Great Barrier Reef, fracking projects in North America and Bolivia, REDD initiatives, the persecution of defenders of the Earth, and unmitigated fossil fuel and mineral extraction in sites such as Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park and El Mirador gold mine, and Peru’s Four Rivers Basin.

WECAN International Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake, served as a judge during the Tribunal, focusing specifically on the case analyzing the ways in which Earths inherent rights have been violated by the impacts of climate change and false climate solutions. Her final statement is presented below, alongside photos from the event.


Honorable President of the Tribunal and Ladies and Gentleman,

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Blanca Chancoso, Kichwa leader, Ecuador.

I want to express my deepest appreciation for all the witnesses for Mother Earth who have spoken so powerfully in the defense of Pachamama and their communities these past two days. Particularly, I want to honor the voices of the Indigenous women who have spoken here.

Thank you to the presenters of the climate change case for such a compelling and critical testimony about global warming and false solutions.

The presentation reminded me of a forum I participated in during the Peoples Climate March in New York City this past September. Scientists were reporting on their research concerning the harmful effects of increasing CO2 emissions on pregnant women and their growing babies. What was almost too difficult to grasp at this forum was that we, as a species, we are literally weighing the very health of our babies against a destructive system that has gone completely mad.

Today the climate change presenters have made well-founded arguments illustrating the ways in which the rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth have been fundamentally violated by global temperature rise, and by a myriad of false solutions being proposed for mitigation.

If the global mean temperature warms by more than 2 °Celsius (and likely less than that given the dangerous change we have already witnessed), risks to ecosystems and livelihoods will surpass tolerable levels. Your arguments have made it clear that the consequences of climate change are leading to irreversible and fatal changes to the very web of life.

President of the Huni Kui people of Acre, Brazil, Ninawa Kaxinawá (Hunikui)

Because of a world view based on domination of Nature, and a destructive capitalist framework based on endless material growth and extractivism, grave violations of Mother Earth’s rights are taking place, destroying not only animals, plants, rivers, oceans and the atmosphere, but bringing into question the very existence of the human species.

The fossil fuel industry, our governance structures, and corporate institutions must be held accountable for these violations against Nature. While many world leaders hold on to the notion that we can postpone serious reductions in fossil fuels, nature is clearly demonstrating that Earth’s natural laws cannot be manipulated, compromised, or ignored.

From the arguments of the presenters, we can see that false solutions, such as geo-engineering, carbon capture and storage, nuclear energy, and ‘climate smart’ industrial agriculture are only furthering violations of Mother Earth’s rights. These are a techno fixes that interfere with the natural laws of our planet and further promote the commodification and financialization of living systems.

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Mary Louise Malig.

Geo-engineering is doubly dangerous and destructive because it not only interferes with the Earth’s natural ability to balance herself, but it also does nothing to address the root causes of climate change.

As Naomi Klein stated in her book This Changes Everything, “The appeal of geo-engineering is that it doesn’t threaten our worldview. It leaves us in a dominant position. It says that there is an escape hatch.” In other words, it allows us to just keep doing what are doing, despite the fact that it is clearly not working.

Likewise, you have shown us that market mechanisms are a violation of the Earth’s rights, allowing for escalating destruction through the buying and selling of the right to pollute through schemes like carbon trading.

It is not a surprise that in these schemes Nature is assumed to be an object of the marketplace, as the commodification and financialization of nature is inherent in the capitalist system.

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Osprey Orielle Lake.

We must ask ourselves: Does it make any sense to try to protect the Earth and heal our damaged ecosystems by further subjecting nature to the very logics and systems that caused the damage in the first place?

Our Mother Earth is calling out to us and our hearts are breaking. She is letting us know that we are on a path of great devastation. Today, our hearts also break for our fallen sisters and brother, defenders of the land, whose stories we have heard throughout the Tribunal.

And while it is true the Earth will live on and survive even we do not, it is tragic to think that our mark as species on this beautiful, luminous planet will be one of destruction and violence, instead of beauty, dignity and harmony with Nature.

Your presentation makes it clear that our legal and economic frameworks are at war with the sacred web of life. We need an entirely different legal configuration that recognizes that living systems are not enslaved human property for our exploitation. In order to live in harmony with the Earth and safeguard a healthy world for present and future generations, we need to reform the destructive aspects of our modern life.

The testimony of the climate change presenters highlights this urgent need to address climate change with solutions based on climate justice and respect for the natural laws of the planet.

I will name here just 9 of a myriad of actions we need to take in concert given the scale of this crisis.

  1. We need to advance a new society, based on social justice and environmental sustainability that recognizes human rights and Rights of Nature.
  2.  We must limit global warming to below 2.0 °Celsius, but we should and can aim for the 1.5° limit proposed by acutely vulnerable nations.
  3.  All CO2-emissions must fall to net zero by mid-century, at the very latest.
  4.  We must divest from fossil fuels and invest in clean energy.
  5. We need to respect all governmental treaties with Indigenous peoples and defend their right to continue to inhabit traditional lands, undisturbed by industrial projects and extractive industries.
  6.  We must reject greenhouse gas emissions reductions schemes that come from high-risk technologies, like geo-engineering and nuclear power.
  7. We must address unsustainable consumption and production in the Global North, and governments must recognize the historic responsibilities of industrialized countries.
  8. We must leave at least 80% of the remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground and stop further fossil fuel exploration and development
  9. We must transition to 100% renewable energy sources and decentralize and democratize ownership of this new energy economy.
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Domingo Ankuash, Shuar leader from Ecuador led the case against the El Mirador gold mine. He is calling for an investigation of the tragic death of Shuar leader J. Tendentza, killed a few days ago as he prepared to travel to Lima to testify at the Tribunal & other events.

We need to support movements and governance and economic structures that are not based on endless material growth, and instead envision a new way of living that is based on care for each other and Pachamama, Mother Earth. A society with a new understanding of ourselves, progress, and well-being.

Sumak Kawsy, or ‘living well’, a concept coming from the great wisdom of our Indigenous sisters and brothers, offers us an important direction forward to help us overcome current misconceptions of ‘development’ and well being. As we think about reparation, mitigation, restoration and prevention of further harm to each other and the Earth, we need to embrace these ideas of Sumak Kawsy.

In this way, uplifting the Rights of Nature can help us address our dysfunctional systems and support the transition we need by reconnecting us with the world around us. This is essential because underlying so many of the root causes of our destructive relationship with the Earth is a belief that we are somehow separate from nature.

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Casey Camp Horinek of the Ponca First Nation.

This sense of disconnect from our living Earth has proven to be not only spiritually heartbreaking and ecologically devastating, but a disaster in the human experiment. My hope is that in uncovering how our current legal and economic systems violate Natures rights, and in confronting the false climate change solutions being put forward by policymakers, we will have a deeply needed societal transformation. That we will come home, back to Mother Earth with respect and care, and rather quickly given the small window of time we have before we pass ecological tipping points.

As case presenters and Mr.Pablo Salon stated, climate change is very complex and far-reaching, consequently, the judges affirm that this case will remain open for further evidence to be collected and prepared for a Tribunal during the UN climate negotiations in Paris next year.

Rights of Nature Ethics Tribunal members held a press briefing to present Tribunal findings at UNFCCC COP20 climate negotiations. Pictured from left to right: Nnimmo Bassey, Atossa Soltani, Tom Goldtooth, Pablo Salon, and Osprey Orielle Lake . Photo via Andrew Miller.

You can watch the press conference on the Rights of Nature Ethics Tribunal here: http://unfccc6.meta-fusion.com/cop20/events/2014-12-09-14-00-amazon-watch

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