COP25: Climate Justice and Law in a Climate Emergency – Side Event Report

MADRID, December 2019. On Saturday 7th December, six leaders of grassroots movements from across the Global South came together to discuss the role of legal action in the face of a global climate crisis. The session was a powerful discussion about resilience, repression and accountability in using the law to address the highly disruptive and damaging consequences of climate change for communities.

Tony Oposa, current Normandy Chair of Peace, opened the event. He reminded the audience of the power of legal action in igniting a movement for constructive discussion; and highlighted the importance of story-telling in using the law to protect not only planet Earth, but also the present and future generations that will continue to inhabit it. This was followed by a video from Saul Luciano Lliuya from Huaraz in Peru, along with supporting statements from Roxana Baldrich at Germanwatch. Saul’s message was simple and poignant: the effects of climate change are happening now, and he seeks a legal precedent to hold companies directly accountable for their contribution to the climate crisis.

Corporate responsibility for the impacts of climate change was a running theme of the afternoon. Yeb Sano, Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, reflected on his vision for deliverance and dignity for the people and communities at the receiving end of the climate crisis. The outcome of his petition to the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines to establish the responsibility of fossil fuel and cement companies for climate-related human rights violations is expected to be released at the COP25 today.

Solomon Yeo, Director of the Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change, represented the dynamic role of the youth movement in responding to the climate crisis. He spoke powerfully about the fight of front-line defenders in the climate emergency and his petition to the ICJ to recognize the indisputable link between human rights and climate change.

Agung Wibowo made a compelling argument for the inclusion of local and customary knowledge in the determination of criminal environmental disputes, drawing on examples of the failure of the criminal justice system in Indonesia to protect the voices of local communities and the crucial need for implementation of effective legal outcomes.

Makoma Lekalakala’s closing words highlighted that these stories are ones of courage, of strength and of communities’ pursuit for survival in an era of climate disruption. People are at the centre of the climate justice movement, and it is essential that climate legal action is accessible to communities outside of the courtroom. However, perhaps the greatest conclusion of the day was Solomon Yeo’s observation that legal action “is not a silver bullet, but it is something.” It is not about winning or losing a climate case. It is about telling a story; it is about overcoming repression; and it is about frontline defenders asserting their human rights.

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