System Change with the Tribunal on the Rights of Nature and Oil Watch’s ‘Annex Zero’

Photo by Mark Dixon

While governments participating in COP21 are locked in the final hours of tortuous negotiations over wording of an agreement that will worsen the destruction of Mother Earth, civil society organizations and frontline communities internationally are taking important initiatives to actually to keep fossil fuels underground, to protect the forests and to defend ecologically sensible agriculture under the control of small farmers. And, in Paris at COP 21, while governments negotiated square bracketed language, communities and organizations from all over the world displayed global solidarity and collaboration by signing a People’s Convention that formally established the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature.

The Tribunal bases its judgments primarily on the Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth and international human rights law, but also recognized ecocide as a crime. Judgments provide clear direction in each case on who is accountable and on what must be done to repair the harm and restore Earth (and communities) to health and well-being.

This first Tribunal hearing at the Paris COP21 negotiations, heard from more than 65 people (from 31 nationalities speaking in seven languages) who participated as judges, Earth Defenders or witnesses during the two day session (December 4-5, 2015). Most dramatically, Oil Watch International, a sponsor of the Tribunal, launched its “Annex 0”. This Annex lists countries and territories that have succeeded in keeping fossil fuels underground. It is also a plan that is calling for measures to move from a centralized large-scale energy production model to models of democratic and decentralized energy production by countries, nations, as well as by peoples in sub-national spaces, localities and territories.

The creation of Annex 0 will also incentivize new commitments and specific efforts focused on confronting the decisive causes of climate change. The indicators for these initiatives will be:

  • Fossil hydrocarbons are maintained in the ground.
  • Forms of life are respected in the context of a dialogue with nature.
  • Struggles are expanded against carbon extraction and other mining due to their impacts on the climate and on promoting elevated consumption of fossil fuels.
  • A sustained debate is pursued on the types of energies required – for what, for whom, and how much – and on the exercise of sovereignty of the peoples and territories.
  • There is the repudiation of mechanisms such as the carbon market, REDD+ (the United Nations’ Reduction of Emissions from Forest Destruction and Degradation), and other false solutions to climate change.
  • There are clear commitments to non-extraction of and emancipation from fossil fuels by the peoples.

The 1997 UNFCCC Kyoto Protocol includes ‘Annex One’ that is a list of industrialized, developed countries, that have historically contributed most to climate change. It is these countries that are legally obliged under the Kyoto Protocol, to provide finances to the global south countries to assist them in making a transition to sustainable, renewable and emissions-free energies (available to populations on a much more equitable basis). However, corporate capture of the United Nations negotiations on climate change has rendered this Kyoto initiative virtually useless and instead, has distorted it into yet another opportunity for profit making that has worsened global warming.

The new ‘Annex 0’ is intended to demonstrate real commitment to stop global warming by providing a list of countries, territories and municipalities that have successfully kept fossil fuels, including petroleum, gas, coal and peat, in the ground. Alongside this listing, Oil Watch International offers estimates of the number of tons of carbon that have not been emitted into the atmosphere as a result of action by ‘Annex 0’ communities. For example, at the Tribunal on the Rights of Nature, an Oil Watch representative from Costa Rica reiterated his country’s commitment as of April 2002, to forbid any exploration or production of oil or gas in that extraordinarily bio-diverse country whether on shore or off shore in Costa Rica’s Pacific and Atlantic territorial waters. Another example is Nigeria’s Ogoni people who, since 1993 have successfully blocked all petroleum extraction on their territory.

Oil Watch has called for the creation of a fund to help peoples who keep fossil fuels in the ground to develop alternative, climate-friendly energies within their own ecosystems, and on a democratic, decentralized basis. Contributions to this fund could be made by any party including individuals, organizations, governments and international networks. The fund is different from carbon off-setting (‘I pollute and pay you to not pollute’). Oil Watch’s fund proposes to reward those peoples who keep fossil fuels in the ground instead of extracting and selling these pollutants. The fund would provide some compensation in the form of support for the development or expansion these communities’ resilient political economies, including energies within them. This kind of energy transition should be understood to be a part of a wider transition from undemocratic and Earth – destructive extractivism to a post fossil-capitalist epoch that has solar energies – and participatory democracy - at its centre. In sum, the Oil Watch ‘Annex Zero’ initiative centralizes epochal transition, as does the International Tribunal on the Rights of Nature. Both are premised on a level-headed recognition that 21 years of government negotiation at the annual United Nations COPs have produced absolutely no reductions in carbon emissions. On the contrary, these atmospheric pollutants have risen dramatically and have warmed the climate and multiplied extreme weather events. Ecocidal tipping points, accelerated by feedback loops, now threaten humanity and other species of life. That is why tangible action to implement the 2009 slogan, ‘System Change, Not Climate Change,’ is so very welcome.

Also welcome is the and allies May 2016 global action at multiple sites of fossil fuel business where simultaneous direct shut-down initiatives will test the coordinating capacities of popular networks. Extensions and expansions of all these creative expressions are sure to find higher visibility at Montreal’s World Social Forum this coming August.