Thai and Bangladeshi farmers, a Nepalese mountain climber, a Filipino fisherman and an Indonesian women's advocate testified against developed countries in a trial yesterday that found the wealthiest nations responsible for the damages caused by global warming.
A panel of judges at the Asian People's Climate Court in Bangkok, the site of current climate talks, determined that
major greenhouse gas emitters must help poor countries cope with climate change, while recognizing the human rights and gender aspects of climate change. China, India and other nations have insisted the U.S. and other Western countries should shoulder much of the responsibility for carbon emissions and even pay developing nations to help clean up, ahead of climate talks in December.A Legal Basis for Climate Reparations
Relax, Washington: the verdict, like the trial, was mock. But the organizer, the Copenhagen-focused environmental alliance TckTckTck (see our interview), emphasized that the subject and its implications are quite serious.
The ruling indicated, said TckTckTck, "that there is a legal basis for reparation claims on the basis of existing international legal standards and conventions."
The two hour hearing, held in a Bangkok court room, concluded when presiding judge Amara Pongsapich, Chair of the Thai Human Rights Commission, ruled that G8 countries are obligated to set up a global adaptation fund with sufficient finance for poor nations.
Defendants have threatened and continue to threaten petitioners' right to life and the sources of life, thus committing planetary malpractice resulting in inter-generational damages. They have broken about a dozen international agreements, for example by breaching their duty not to cause harm or their obligations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The ruling against the G8 plaintiffs came after prosecution and defense had interviewed ten witnesses, among them two climate scientists and a number of affected citizens.
A Climate Treaty, Billions in Finance -- or an Environmental Tribunal?
The judges also instructed the plaintiffs -- the children of Asia and the Pacific -- to initiate a process that would establish an international tribunal on environmental crimes and appoint a special rapporteur on the human rights dimension of climate change. The court concluded, however, that "the duty to protect human rights is the obligation of every state".
The trial was intended to illustrate a kind of worst-case scenario approach to climate change mitigation. Far more appealing than a cycle of developed world emissions and developing world lawsuits through some sort of International Criminal Climate Court: a binding climate treaty at the Copenhagen summit that would cut emissions and provide assistance to developing countries. An Oxfam representative urged a global regime that delivers more than $150 billion per year in public finance to help developing countries cope with floods, droughts, storms and disasters, and cut their future emissions growth.
Recent reports by the UN and the World Bank put the number for adequate climate financing for developing nations much higher -- around $500 billion. Earlier this year, Gordon Brown endorsed a $100 billion fund.
"The Asian People's Climate Court is an experiment to show that there is a legal basis for developing countries to sue industrialized nations and demand reparation for damages resulting from climate change", said Chief-Prosecutor Antonio Oposa, a leading environmental lawyer from The Philippines.
"While our mock-trial has shown that the legal grounds exist, we would prefer to see rapid G8 action to reduce emissions and fund adaptation in vulnerable countries, rather than a string of future climate trials about compensation for damage that can still be avoided if we act today," he said.
U.S. Willing to Help on Climate -- But Don't Tell it What To Do
U.S. officials have indicated that the country intends to shoulder more responsibility during climate treaty negotiations. In his speech to the U.N. during last month's climate summit, President Obama said that after "complacency and broken promises" on climate change, the developed nations "still have a responsibility to lead, and that includes the United States."
"But," he added, "those rapidly-growing developing nations that will produce nearly all the growth in global carbon emissions in the decades ahead must do their part as well.
"They will need to commit to strong measures at home and agree to stand behind those commitments just as the developed nations must stand behind their own."
He was talking mainly to China. Even though it has per capita emissions at a fraction of those of the United States (but occasionally emissions that rival Europe), China is now the world's leading emitter of carbon dioxide. A set of responsibilities come with that distinction, and casting blame elsewhere, as China realizes, won't be enough.
For that reason, the U.S. will be looking for an attitude of cooperation, not finger-pointing, when Obama visits China in November. And as President Hu Jintao indicated in his own U.N. speech, which outlined a cut in carbon intensity, China is serious about working amicably on a climate agreement.
Notably, no Chinese testified at the trial on Tuesday.
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