Climate Justice Tribunal

Friday, December 2

The day’s activities began with a Climate Justice Tribunal. The model here, of course, is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which became a model for conciliatory justice after hearings in the transition to democracy during the mid-1990s in South Africa.

Panelists, who will listen to testimony and then write up a report: Ivonne Yanis (of Accion Ecologica in Ecuador), Jacklyn Cock (Professor of Sociology at Witz University), Lidy Nacpil (Jubilee South), Rebecca Sommer (Climate Justice Now Movement).

Vishwas Satgar introduces the importance of the CJ Tribunal. We wanted to have this platform for four broad reasons:

1) Consequences. Climate change is a global issue with global consequences. Coming into COP17, the IFCC published a report about emerging extreme weather patterns. We need to record impact of climate change around the world.

2) Criminality. Cochabamba Declaration gave us an important weapon in the notion of the Rights of Nature. Liberal ideas of human rights are very narrow, focusing on rights of the individual. But corporations trump individuals, they even trump the rights of nations today. We need to think about the rights of nature in more concrete ways.

3) Alternatives. We’d like you to point us towards a way forward. CJ movement is helping to advance a whole series of alternative ways of life.

4) Mass tactics. We want to use this space to have some discussion about mass tactics. We want to talk about mass tactics around COP17. How do we take these concerns and the agenda that comes out of them into the wider political space. We’ll be joining the Occupy Movement at Speaker’s Corner today. But we want to broaden this struggle.

People’s names are often hard to record. Almost every South African speaker began with cries of “Amandla! [Power] – Awethu [To us]!”

Florence Durrant, who left SA during apartheid era, spoke first. I come home to SA and see increasing poverty and wonder what we fought for during apartheid era. I’m here with the Million Climate Jobs Campaign, part of the global Campaign Against Climate Change. Poverty is not just located here in SA. In the UK where I live now people are struggling. We need good, climate friendly jobs around the world.

Tebo from Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee. Climate change is a serious killer for us. Climate change has been created by capitalists and big companies. We have to stand up to them and show them that we are against what they’re doing. Our struggle is against the high costs of electricity. We used to connect illegally, but the police disconnect us.

Kandi from the Indigenous Environmental Network in the US. People around the world think that everything is great in the US, but for many people in the US that’s not true. On many reservations, people don’t have access to any electricity, although they power lines go right over their territory. Our latest struggle is with hydrofracking. The latest tragedy was a young couple who were killed by a semi-tractor trailer that was involved in hydrofracking on a reservation. And nothing happened to the driver. And the government can take our land anytime they want to using eminent domain. I’ve been on the inside at COP17 and there’s a lot of bullshit going on in there. We have a connection to the land that those negotiators don’t. We lived on our land for thousands of years and then the colonizers came and took our land, telling us they could do things better, and then in 200 years they F’ed everything up. Those rich people, where do they think they’re going to go – Mars? We need to rise up and show them what to do. I’m not crying because I’m sad, I’m crying because I’m mad.

Next up, a woman who didn’t give her name but identified the platinum mining companies that are poisoning the waters of the Limpopo river that she and her people are using. The company is hiring people through the traditional leaders, dividing the community. In reaction, we’re calling for the mine to leave the minerals underground.

Nondla from Eastern Cape, whose community is struggling against a mining company. The government has given this company open-cast mining rights for titanium without consulting the community. It’s going to leave us with a desert area. We’re asking all of you to come to support us. This year the government withdrew mining rights from the company (Mineral Resource Commodities), but then gave the company another ninety days to apply for rights. We discovered that in South Africa you need to fight to get information. The land doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the land. The government has promised the people jobs if they agree to this development, but we want to know why we need to give up our land to get jobs.

Comment by Ivonne: there’s a very strong relation between mining and climate change. People fighting against such mines are fighting climate change. We’d like testimony to make links between struggles and climate change clear.

Wendy from Kalimandam in Indonesia talking about the negative impact of REDD+. She talked about how her community was negatively impacted by projects supported by REDD+.

Christian Adams of Western Cape Fishing Industry. We come face to face with climate change on a daily basis. The government policy only looked at industrial fishing and sport fishing, not small fisherpeople. To the government it was just about making money. Our message to our government is to place people before profits. Stop the industrialized fishing now. No fish, no eat, no sea, no life.

Question from panelist: who said there are many effects of climate change. Can you give us an example? Yes, one of our comrades named Peter Kluitie died because his boat was turned over by a freak wave. Another example is a weapons manufacturing company that tests weapons for foreign companies (intelligent bunker-busting bombs) in our waters; local fishermen who have species-specific fishing find that those fish are no longer there because the seasons are changing.

Simon from the Vaal Environmental Justice organization. We are suffering from asthma and many other respiratory diseases as a result of power stations like SASOL 1. These companies come using scientific language which we cannot understand, and use that language to steal our land. We’ve had enough of these companies; they need to be called into order. Together we will triumph.

An indigenous woman from India who talked about the fight of indigenous people to protect their lands against the World Bank and
industry. Poor states like Orissa and Jharkand in India are involved in struggles against displacement because multinational companies are trying to take over the land. When people are displaced, they lose everything: their culture, their identity. After these years of bitter experience, we have gathered together with the decision not to give any of our land. Our motto is “no more displacement.” If we want to survive, we have to fight. Now the government is starting operation “green hunter” to kill the Maoists, but green is the color of our land. People’s movements are strong, so the government has arrested our leaders. But we have promised we’ll never give our land to multinational companies. We’re not opposed to development, but only on our terms. We want climate justice.

Jane Qiu reporting from how climate change is affecting the Tibetan plateau. We’re here to be a voice for our voiceless brothers and sisters in Tibet. Since we don’t have independence there’s huge pressure from the Chinese government to keep environmental problems quiet. We call Tibet the third pole, because we have 46,000 glaciers on our plateau, but now these glaciers are melting, causing problems not just in Tibet but in surrounding countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, etc. Our glaciers are feeding hundreds of millions of people in Southeast Asia. 20% of glaciers have retreated over last decades. Tibetan pastoral nomads are being removed from their lands and sent to ghetto-style houses, blamed for degrading their land despite the fact that the destruction of their environment is due to climate change.

Miguel from Jubilee South presented on Thyssen Krupp steel company that was opened in a favela in Rio de Janiero. This has increased carbon emissions and respiratory diseases by a huge amount. Any attempt to resist this has been killed by the mafia hired by the steel company to protect their development. The leader of the local fishermen who were displaced is now living under the protection of the national witness program. Why do people keep resisting? Because the violations are there despite attempts to silence people.

The final speaker discussed the Khoisan people, who haven’t, he argued, been addressed in COP17. Northern Cape lands are filled with mining companies that are trying to push indigenous people off the land. Shell fracking issue also now affecting San people, who no longer have access to traditional botanicals. These herbal medicines are being taken from them by bioprospecting companies. Tribute to Khoisan X who has been fighting for the Khoisan people. The Khoisan people are nomadic, and so they don’t use houses the way the government expects them to do.

It was often hard to understand the speakers, and sometimes it was difficult to glean particular details of specific grievances as the Tribunal intended to do. But what came across powerfully despite linguistic difficulties was the sense of wounding and anger felt by people. The overwhelming emotion was powerful in the room. People also seemed to feel incredibly validated by being able to tell their stories in public.

While I’m collecting testimony, there’s a list of very useful interviews around COP17 and Climate Justice available on the Ecosocialist Horizons website.

Ashley Dawson

Ashley Dawson is professor of postcolonial studies in the English department at the Graduate Center, City University of New York and the College of Staten Island. His latest books include People’s Power: Reclaiming the Energy Commons (O/R, 2020), Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change (Verso, 2017), and Extinction: A Radical History (O/R, 2016). A member of the Social Text Collective and the founder of the CUNY Climate Action Lab, he is a long-time climate justice activist.