Saturday, December 18, 2010

COP 16: Cancun - Corporate and Complicit.

Colonialism by the Sea

It was a surreal setting for the latest episode of the world’s climate negotiations: mega-all-inclusive exclusive hotels stretching the whole way along a 3 kilometre-long promontory, promoting themselves and their private stretches of pristine beach as ‘Colonialism by the Sea.’ UN negotiators and business lobbyists jostled inside alongside all-in-one fly’n’flop package deals for marrying couples (with 300+ friends booked in for a week of sun’n’surf). The jewel in the crown was the Moon Palace golf resort 22 kilometers south of Cancun, which was reserved for the exclusive use of the UN and where the negotiations were held. It housed the negotiators and a sprinkling of Heads of State who came to participate in the last few days. It is the most exclusive of the resorts, open only to those with a pass. The NGO’s (who have only ‘observer status’) were housed either 7 kilometres away at the pass-restricted Cancunmesse conference shed/human storage facility (nearby a token 50 metre high wind turbine had been erected 6 weeks before the event) or back up-town at the government sponsored business and NGO space Villa de Cambio Climatico which was finally opened to the public mid-way through the second week.

Private shuttle buses drove delegates in-between the pristine beachfront hotels and the artificially manicured, heavily fertilized and pesticide treated golfing lawns. This is the well-known and heavily contested local ecocide of the Mayan Riviera. The development of the beach resorts and golf courses have caused untold destruction and pollution of the unprotected Cenotes, the largest underwater cave system in the world, threatening the existence of the already endangered turtles. Just a few metres beneath the surface jungle stretching hundreds of kilometres south of Cancun lies another world, a labyrinthine network of tunnels. For the ancient Mayans, the Cenotes were portals to another realm, another life. Today they are still considered sacred by the local indigenous communities. I was honoured to be taken to explore one of the yet to be mapped caves now at risk of being lost forever by the proposed airport expansion. Temples to an underground world, the one we swam in was so undisturbed that the calcium had formed a layer like ice on the water. Their destruction by aggressive and unmonitored urban development is a hidden ecocide. Just as local planning officials and the Mexican government are complicit in the local eco-colonization of the Cenotes, in pursuit of profit through the levying of property laws over the land to big business, so too on a macro level the planning officials acting on behalf of our planet – the governments and their negotiators – are protecting the interests of big business by the creation of corporate ownership mechanisms and trade deals over the worlds forests.

Abdication of Responsibility

The only deal on the table this year was REDD+; the commercialization of forests into the hands of the corporate sector to make money out of supposedly saving forests. The definition of forests includes previously decimated land; it will be traded for carbon credits, allowing countries to continue with their destruction, pollution and emission creation. In other words, continued abuse comes at a (small) price. The custodians of the land being subjected to trade have been ignored – they are not the ones who benefit. The indigenous rights of the local communities have been refused and earth rights have been dismissed in favour of silent corporate rights to control and trade. Where colonization is defined as plundering of people and planet, REDD+ facilitates the flourishing of eco-colonization of the forests.

Three days before the conclusion of the negotiations I secured a media pass to hear Ban Ki-moon speak at a private audience in the luxurious confines of the beach hotel Marriott. Sharing the platform was the President of Walmart, the largest corporation in the world, who received rapturous applause when he declared himself an environmentalist. “Every second of every minute of every day a football pitch-size of forest is destroyed”, Ban Ki-moon informed us. Yet despite seeking reliance on this sobering fact, such destruction of the lungs of the earth was not acknowledged as a crime. Ban Ki-moon, the head of the UN and the man with ultimate superior responsibility to ensure that a solution is found by the conclusion of the two-week Conference of the Parties to stop the destruction of the planet, headed off to fly out of Cancun on the Wednesday afternoon safe in the knowledge that the negotiations were to prove futile in the face of such enormous mass ecocide. Without the leader of the UN in place to push for a viable solution, the negotiations were officially over. Ban Ki-moon had left the Moon Palace – the symbolism of the empty shell that remained was not lost on those few querying his early departure. The party was to continue without him for another 58 hours.

Spontaneous applause broke out between negotiators on Friday night at the Moon Palace when Patricia Espinosa, the foreign secretary of Mexico and the president of the UN climate conference, announced the deal was sealed. Governments were delighted to accept any compromise, such was the actual desire to be seen to have put something – anything – in place. REDD+ was signed off by all bar one lone but vocal dissenting voice. The President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, was the only leader to denounce the REDD+ deal: he condemned governments failure to act as ecocide. Without strong legally binding safeguards, a 4 – 7 degree increase in temperature is now certain. Grassroots organizations and citizens from all over the world had for two weeks mobilized in Cancun against the false solution. Their voice had not been heard.

We the Peoples

Citizen engagement was far smaller this year, but increasingly vociferous and informed. The world of have and have not’s was echoed within the context of the negotiations as well as outside; on the surface of the negotiations - just like the beach resorts it was housed in - all was gloss with a veneer of respectability. Lightly scratch the surface and you begin to see the truth: the people were carefully hidden from the well-heeled public. Just as Cancun locals are forbidden to use the beach-front and are forced to use separate modes of transport behind the hotels, so too was citizen engagement kept hidden, behind the scenes and isolated. Unlike in Copenhagen where the Danish government has a tradition of paying to support and enable citizen engagement on important public issues, this year the Mexican government gave less than 1/10th the finance towards housing and assisting the Peoples. The Peoples were divided up into different sites spanning a distance of 32 kilometers between them without transport being made available. Klimaforum 10, where I was speaking, and the global eco-village camp was an hour’s travel south and two buses away; La Via Campesina, the caravan of peasants who marched to Cancun in protest, were housed in the inner city stadium where people were given a diet of beans three times a day and sleeping was on the ground under the glare of stadium lights all night. High gates hid what lay behind them; 4,000+ people who came because they cared were held in a place that was more akin to a refugee camp, in stark contrast to the plush 5 star beach hotels. The people marched and protested but heavily armed militia ensured that they stayed at more than arm’s distance, some 7 kilometers away from the Moon Palace. The march happened out-with the sight of those they wanted to communicate with and as one negotiator admitted to me, their protests were unknown of or ignored. Only one leader went to speak with the Peoples – and that was Evo Morales.

The United Nations was set up in 1945 to represent “We the Peoples...”. The disconnect between those we have voted in and the Peoples they represent was blindingly apparent in Cancun. Our leaders, whose role is to be in service to the Peoples, have lost sight of the interests they are supposed to be protecting. Whose interests are truly being protected here? It is certainly not the Peoples nor the planet.

* photo credit: Antonio Rojas

Making Ecocide a Crime in the Mexican papers during the COP negotiations

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Eradicating Ecocide

"Eradicating Ecocide highlights the need for enforceable, legally binding mechanisms in national and international law to hold to account perpetrators of long term severe damage to the environment. At this critical juncture in history it is vital that we set global standards of accountability for corporations, in order to put an end to the culture of impunity and double standards that pervade the international legal system. Polly Higgins illustrates how this can be achieved in her invaluable new book.”
BIANCA JAGGER, Founder and Chair of Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, advocate for Crimes Against Present and Future Generations
Humanity is at a crossroads. One route is to carry on as before, treating our planet as something to be bought and sold as private property to the highest bidder; the other is to acknowledge that our lives depend on a delicate ecosystem and that we all have responsibilities to each other, our habitat and future generations.

Exposing the truth behind the compromise laws and inadequate voluntary codes favoured by companies to protect their silent right to extinguish life, Higgins advocates a new crime, Ecocide, to prevent the ‘damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems’, as a 5th Crime Against Peace.

The recent Mexican Gulf oil spill is a compelling reminder of why such a law is urgently needed. Governments, businesses and financial institutions have all bought into turning a blind eye to the destruction of the planet when economic interests are at stake. Peace, Higgins argues, is unachievable whilst the rules of the game continue to protect commercial expropriation of the planet for profit – at a price we cannot afford.

Providing a comprehensive legal overview of the past 200 years, Eradicating Ecocide explains the crime of Ecocide, how it will apply and who can stop the ecocide, for present and for future generations. This is essential reading for anyone who is engaged with current issues; it is also for leaders and policy-makers in all countries.

Laws from other countries – which have been successful in curtailing the power of governments, corporations and banks – are included with analysis of the duty of care required, a duty that is owed to the public and the global earth community. The book is a crash course on what laws work, what doesn’t and what is needed.

Eradicating Ecocide: Laws and Governance to Prevent the Destruction of our Planet
Shepheard-Walwyn, September 2010, £17.95

You can buy it here  and read more here


Monday, June 14, 2010

Climate 9 say real crime is Ecocide

 Climate 9 outside Aberdeen Crown Court June 14, 2010 on trial for vandalism, say the real crime is ecocide, not peaceful campaigning against airport expansion.

This is Scotland’s first ever major climate change trial, a group of climate change activists facing charges of Beach of the Peace and Vandalism after closing down Aberdeen Airport in March 2009. The two week trial starts in Aberdeen Crown Court today.

At 3am on the morning of March 3, 2009, 9 friends stood up for what they believed in and occupied a taxiway at Aberdeen Airport, building a wire enclosure containing a miniature golf course while two activists occupied the roof of the main terminal building. They wore clothes parodying Donald Trump and displayed a banner reading 'Plane Stupid Golf Open 2009'. Their action was designed to stop carbon emissions from aviation and to highlight the links between Donald Trump’s planned hotel and golf course complex and the expansion of Aberdeen airport.

The Climate 9 are arguing the defence of necessity. They argue that their actions were justified because people should be allowed to peacefully take action on the biggest threat facing humanity in the face of government failure and a huge democratic deficit in taking the action necessary to stop runaway climate change.

The aviation industry uses more fossil fuel than any other industry, which directly contributes to the damage, destruction to and loss of ecosystems. The knock on impact affects the whole global community; not just today’s but tomorrow. To stand up and ask for it to stop is a call for  intergenerational justice. It is a call for ecological justice.

What do the aviation industry want?

They want to expand their services and for people who object to be imprisoned.

What do Climate 9 want?

  • They want the courts to drop all charges against the climate 9 and instead pursue climate criminals such as BAA, who are getting away with ecocide, causing death and destruction in poor countries and misery for local people living near their Airports.
As they rightly point out, most flight destinations can easily be reached by bus, rail and ferry.
  • They want to stop unnecessary short haul flights and airport expansion, stop aviation advertising, and take steps that ensure a just transition to sustainable jobs and transport.
  • They want the police and the aviation industry to be as open, honest and accountable as they are, to stop scare tactics, lies and intimidation and start listening to people concerned about climate change.
  • They want they UK government to stop sponsoring the aviation industry, currently subsidised by the UK taxpayer for £9 Billion a year, subsidies that benefit the wealthiest and that could be used for sustainable transport projects.
Why this is important?

If Climate 9 are aquitted, it will be the first time that the defence of necessity will have been successful in Scotland in a case involving activism. This is a stand for eco-justice.  The Climate 9 who stand in the dock represent the millions of people throughout the world affected by climate change. They are Jimmy Kerr, Josie Hanson, Bill Boggia, Dan Glass, Mark Andrews, Tilly Gifford, Mila Karwowska, Kate Mackay and Johnny Agnew.

Climate 9

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Launch of

Mass destruction of ecosystems is a crime on a par with genocide, which is why I am calling on the UN with another proposal.  This time it is to put in place ecocide as a 5th Crime Against Peace. launched today with a poll to see which you say is the number 1 ecocide on the planet.
Which is the worst case of ecocide?
  • You can vote here 

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ecocide - help make this word a meme

Raphael Lemkin was the guy who came up with the word ‘genocide’ to describe the horrors of the haulocaust in World War 2.

2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity and we need a new word to describe the extensive destruction, damage and loss of ecosystems of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes.

That word is ecocide.

Ecocide is the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.

Help me get this word out into the public consciousness so that we can call for the restoration of ecocide territories and protection of those territories at risk of ecocide. Lets transmit this word as a meme and start using ecocide, posting it out there on your and others blogs, writing about it, calling on those who can help stop the ecocide of the planet...let us know where it is turning up around the world and we will post updates on its progress on the Trees website.

There are 2 types of ecocide; acertainable and non-ascertainable ecocide (read more here)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

THE CANADIAN TAR SANDS OIL-YMPICS - action against ecocide

The Race To The Tar Sands Has Begun!

Saturday February 13th, was the opening day of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. Meanwhile here in London, a different kind of sport was taking place.

In the spirit of mischief and fun, Canada House in Trafalgar Square was the centre of focus for the three oily teams: BP, Shell and Total, who took their places to ‘Race to the Tar Sands'.

Curling, one of the olympic sports, is being put to good use to help sweep out BP, Shell, and RBS as they all race headlong into the Tar Sands.

The Canadian Tar Sands in Alberta is one of the biggest examples of ecocide on planet earth. The extraction of unconventional oil from the Tar Sands (called the dirtiest oil on the planet) has caused, and will continue to cause, extensive destruction and loss of widespread ecosystems to an area the size of England. There is currently a global 'race to the tar sands' and the main competitors are Shell, Total and BP who are all in pursuit of the profits to be gained from the extraction of unconventional oil from the Canadian Tar Sands, regardless of the environmental and social costs and opposition from local communities directly affected by the extraction.

Although the oil is being extracted in Canada, there are direct links to the UK. Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC and Barclays have all invested in the tar sands. Britain’s very own BP are about to reverse their decision to stay away from the destructive project, making Beyond Petroleum nothing more than a Broken Promise.

This action is in solidarity with Canadian First Nations groups whose lands and communities are being devastated in the name of corporate profit, and who have called for a moratorium on the tar sands.

For more info about the Canadian Tar Sands, the Oil-ympics and the UK Tar Sands Network check out these links: