colombia: trusting in societies’ strength: the climate justice tribunal
Despite their vulnerability to such two-pronged threats, it is these societies’ inherent strength, rather than technological change, that will play the greatest transformative role in solving these crises. While alternative technologies are useful tools, comprehensive solutions must embrace social, political, economic and cultural dimensions. These are the fundamental tools of those who struggle to survive, and defend and reaffirm peoples' sovereignty and rights.
Based on this analysis, Friends of the Earth Colombia / CENSAT Agua Viva aimed to create a space for victims of climate conflicts, to air their demands and proposals, and build up collective momentum towards key forums, such as the 2007 UN climate negotiations in Bali. FoE Columbia also wanted those responsible for the climate crisis to be judged, at the national and international level.
what happened: FoE Colombia coordinated dialogue with their allies, in a quest to incorporate climate-related conflicts into the wider social movement agenda, and strengthen the struggle for environmental justice, specifically climate justice. They analysed climate change causes, implications and solutions. They also identified necessary elements for a national agenda and action plan to fight for climate justice.
This process led the creation of a Climate Justice Tribunal. The Tribunal aims to ensure climate change is on the national political agenda. It also aims to coordinate victims and people affected by climate change nationwide. These two objectives reflect FoE Colombia’s national and international climate change strategy.
The Climate Justice Tribunal set to out to complete three specific tasks: to identify communities affected by climate change in Colombia and map out anticipated impacts; to raise public awareness and identify affected peoples’ actual experiences of climate change; and to draft an action plan to tackle climate change which reflects the social movements’ proposals.
Designed to have both an educational and political function, the Climate Justice Tribunal has three main actors: the plaintiffs, defence and juries. There were also witnesses – people from affected communities, or those whose testimony could reinforce the defence or plaintiffs’ arguments.
The Tribunal formally began with the chief justice reading a “Bill of Indictment.” The Bill listed the defendants and charges. It was written by the organizers, and the charges it contained were filed by the prosecutors against the perpetrators of climate change.
The tribunal ended with a “Ruling” issued by the judges, based on the debates. The Ruling clearly indicted those responsible for causing climate change, and gave reasons why the indictment was well grounded. The ruling was delivered by the juries to the chief justice, who read it and issued a sentence based on this final declaration.
what we learned: While incorporating climate change into the social movements' agenda is relatively easy, getting it onto the academic or political parties' agenda is very challenging and will require substantial further effort. This is especially true if FoE Colombia is to base its work on justice, rather than technological fixes.
To ensure the Tribunal has an educational function, work must be done to obtain a deep understanding of the causes, effects and impacts of climate change, in all their dimensions. Illustrating this need, in some instances it is currently difficult to explicitly link climate change to ecological and social impacts.
As for the actual cases presented in the Tribunal, in many instances affected communities are unable to relay their experience in a systematic way. Working together with these communities to assist them to analyse and present their cases would help overcome this barrier.
what next: FoE Colombia is dedicated to continue building a popular movement to struggle for climate justice and combat climate change. This includes gaining a comprehensive understanding of climate change, and working to put it high on the national political agenda. The lessons learned so far will help inform continuing efforts to ensure that this complex social-environmental conflict is addressed and dealt with.
with thanks to our funders: the isvara foundation