BONN, Germany – Concluding the first week of UNFCCC COP 23 climate conference in Bonn, it is clear that many civil society groups, scientists and economists believe the general climate framework will not resolve chaotic climate conditions. At the opening of the conference, COP 23 President and Prime Minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama remarked, “The need for urgency is obvious. Our world is in distress from the extreme weather events caused by climate change – destructive hurricanes, fires, floods, droughts, melting ice, and changes to agriculture that threaten our food security.” These civil society groups argue that while the rhetoric of the negotiators is good, the actions will not serve the needs of climate-impacted communities.
Top climate scientist James Hansen, who spoke in Bonn this week, agrees. “Governments that say climate change is a problem and then propose half-baked solutions that don’t solve anything are in some ways a bigger problem than the Trump-type governments. Hansen, a former NASA climate scientist has previously called the Paris Agreement “a fraud,” adding, “As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”
In a new report released in Bonn, Rights of Nature: Rights-Based Law for Systemic Change, the authors point to a fast-growing body of international law that seeks to change how decisions about the climate and ecosystem protection are made. “Climate disruption is the direct result of human activities pushing beyond the limits of Natural Law,” the editors note, “Recognizing the Earth as a living system of which humans are a part, rather than as human property to be owned and destroyed is a fundamental shift from the climate capitalism embedded in the DNA of trade deals, environmental policies and treaties around the world—including the Paris Agreement.”
Current country commitments of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of the UN Paris Agreement add up to a 3+ o C rise in global temperature, an outcome that will dwarf the ravages of recent global record-breaking hurricanes, fires and droughts. “Climate science tell us we need to keep global temperatures to a 1.5 oC rise, something that cannot be accomplished unless we leave 80% or more of fossil fuel reserves in the ground,” editors note. “The Paris Agreement lacks a plan to accomplish that and does not protect the communities most-impacted.”
The report makes it clear that our current systems of law and corporate power are exacerbating climate change and that carbon, biodiversity and conservation offset schemes further the dangerous financialization processes that enable Nature to be privatized, commodified and traded in financial market systems. The editors asks, does it make any sense to try to protect nature by further subjecting ecosystems to an economic and legal system that caused the damage in the first place?
The report, produced by the groups; Movement Rights, Indigenous Environmental Network, and the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, explores not just the idea of a shift toward recognizing rights of ecosystems but includes global examples from around the world where these new laws are taking root. In the last year alone, New Zealand and India have recognized rivers as rights-bearing entities that now “own” themselves. They join the fast-growing list of 7 countries and dozens of local U.S. communities including Indigenous Nations that are finding the only way forward to protect human communities is to shift our legal frameworks to align with natural law.