We need not be spectators in the climate catastrophe

There are many reasons to feel cynical about the law and how it impedes the movement for climate justice. Just recently, the multinational firm Ineos secured a long-term injunction against all anti-fracking activists in the UK, making acts of resistance against its operations illegal.

Today, the richest 10% of the world, mostly in the global north, are responsible for 50% of global emissions and countries, including the corporations founded within them, must be held accountable. A global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees which we are rapidly hurtling towards is not mundane stats, but refers to the tipping point over which human and non-human lives are under sever threat.

Norway’s recent collusion with oil giants to reopen the Arctic for oil exploitation highlights how governments cannot be trusted to hold either themselves or corporations accountable. Both would like citizens to believe that we are all equally complicit in the climate crisis by perpetuating the ‘everyone is responsible so no one is responsible’ rhetoric. Climate justice is about refusing to let the 1% carry on with business as usual and also about refusing to allow the law to silence the majority. The increasing use of litigation in the climate justice movement is shifting the focus on to the real carbon criminals.

There is no PLANet B

Since the current conservative government took office in May 2015, there has been a series of  dire major policy reversals taking us backwards on climate action. Despite presenting its recent co-establishment of the ‘Powering Past Coal Alliance’ and ‘Green Growth’ strategy as commendable, celebrations for the climate movement are not yet on the cards. When its historic emissions are factored in, the UK is among the top seven countries most responsible for climate change.

Nationwide, nitrogen dioxide levels have remained above legal limits in almost 90% of the UK’s urban areas since 2010, causing 40,000 premature deaths to occur per year. Additionally, a report has outlined that the UK power sector needs to be almost completely decarbonised by 2030, making the Tories’ undemocratic push for fracking totally nonsensical. They aren’t going to take themselves to court anytime soon but Plan B - a UK based charity collaborating with a number of individual co-claimants – might well do.

The aim of Plan B’s case is to compel the secretary of state to treat climate change as an emergency, intensify the ambition of the UK’s 2050 carbon target, and to incentivise long-term investment in clean technology (and deter investment and subsidies for fossil fuels).

Tim Crosland who runs Plan B declares: “We need to face up to our proximity to the cliff edge, and to start thinking in terms of ‘whatever it takes’. People didn’t set foot on the moon by ‘trying their best’…There can be no half measures, because there is no partial success. Nearly getting to the moon. Only just falling over the cliff edge. That’s missing the point.” Plan B launched a crowdfunder last week to support their lawsuit.

America’s youth take on Trump

In the US, judicial activism may be the best, last and only means left for people to force the state and corporations to listen to science. The law suit brought forward by Our Children's Trust has 21 young plaintiffs who, rather than seeking to sue the Trump administration against a single action or inaction, wish to hold the US government accountable for their abuse of the ‘public trust’ doctrine. And their contribution to climate change, including their consistent blocking of progress in historic UN climate negotiations.

According to Jacob Lebel, the 20-year-old plaintiff in the case “Our case is a direct constitutional challenge to a Trump administration at war with the reality of climate change.” The Federal appeals court announced that it will hear oral arguments starting today. 

Challenging the corporate capture of the climate

Also this week, in the Philippines, there is a court hearing involving ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and 43 other heavily polluting multinationals. This is a case brought to the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights by survivors of Typhoon Haiyan and Greenpeace Philippines.

Just one hundred corporations can be traced as responsible for 71% of industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. Survivors currently living on the frontlines of human-induced climate change are challenging the corporate capture of the climate to bring justice for the 6,300 people who died and the millions who remain displaced from the storm today.  

David and Goliath: Peruvian farmer against carbon major RWE

The climate justice movement seeks to ensure that no level of harm is accepted by the global community- whether that is an entire country, or a small town. In Peru, where Andean glacial melting has been linked to global climate change (see this report by the IPCC), a Peruvian farmer has filed a lawsuit against the German registered utility company RWE (owners of the Hambach coal mine) for its contribution to the localised effects of global temperature rise.

Saúl Luciano Lliuya is demanding that RWE holds itself accountable and contribute financially to safety measures against glacial melting which is threatening his home. The courts have deemed Lliuya’s demand for damages from RWE as “admissible”, paving the way for the case to proceed.

In protest, RWE has claimed that a single company cannot be held liable for specific consequences of climate change. However, for a single company, RWE is responsible for a substantial 0.5% of global emissions since the beginning of industrialisation. Lliuya will be the first individual to have ever gone up against a fossil-fuel corporation in this way.

The planet is on fire and the courts must help to put it out

As Naomi Klein declared: we need not be spectators in this catastrophe. Activists in the US who shut off pipelines in 2013 linked to tar sand projects likened the necessity to shut down fossil fuels in situ to the reaction of any decent human on hearing a baby crying in a burning building; they would rush in to save her. Civil society movements are not spectator sports and active citizens like those in the cases above, as well as many others, are a testament to this.

Today, our earth is literally on fire and those keeping this global issue burning must be brought to justice. Sometimes the law can be an ally of the struggle for climate justice, not an enemy.

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