World tribunal would police climate ‘crimes’

The Bolivian climate change conference was initiated by President Evo Morales. Copyright: Prensa Cumbre Climática

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[COCHABAMBA, BOLIVIA] Demands for a world tribunal with the power to punish climate ‘crimes’ were presented to the United Nations on Monday (26 April).

The Climate and Environmental Justice Tribunal emerged as a key proposal of the summit — the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth — held in Bolivia last week (19-22 April), said to have been attended by more than 31, 000 people (see Bolivian alternative climate conference begins).

The tribunal would have the legal capacity to prevent, prosecute, and punish states, companies and individuals who — by act or omission — are causing environmental contamination and climate change. 

"I think this court is completely feasible. Not only that, it is urgent and indispensable," said Miguel D’Escoto, former president of the UN General Assembly, one of the higher-profile participants at the summit, which was organised for developing countries, NGOs and grassroots organisations after dissatisfaction with the outcome of the UN Copenhagen Climate Change Conference last year (November).

"This is a court at the same level as the international court of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide," said the Belgian sociologist, François Houtart, arguing that polluting and causing climate change were also crimes against humanity.

It was argued that the tribunal could harness existing national jurisprudences and international treaties and so would not require any new legislation (see Copenhagen shows the shape of things to come).

"All that is needed is the will from the countries’ governments," said the Argentinian Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel. But he conceded that this would require significant social pressure.

To bolster the legal basis of the tribunal the summit agreed a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. The declaration argues for the payment of various debts, such as ‘adaptation debt’, to developing countries for climate damage caused by richer nations.

There will also be a global referendum to find out whether there is consensus over the creation of such a court.

To promote the tribunal, and other initiatives coming out of the summit, Bolivian President Evo Morales will lead the new Global People’s Movement for Mother Earth.

Social movements emerged as the new advocates for environmental protection at the summit, and were looking towards the 16th Climate Change Conference in Cancún, Mexico.

Social groups will march from Panama to the Mexico meeting — funded by some of the 47 governments that officially participated at the summit — and will push developed world governments for commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.