As the leaders of more than a hundred of the world’s governments addressed the U.N. Climate Summit last week, people’s organizations from around the world convened a Climate Justice Tribunal across from the United Nations to indict political leaders and corporate polluters for their failure to protect our health, communities and planet. Those testifying were those living with the real and immediate impacts of climate change and people living on the frontlines of extractive industries that are contributing to climate change. From the front window of the U.N. Church Center auditorium participants could see the U.N. building bathed in bright sunlight, its rooftop festooned with snipers.
Sponsored by the Climate Justice Alliance, which describes itself as a collaboration of 35 U.S. organizations rooted in indigenous, African American, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander, and working-class white frontline communities, the tribunal made no pretense to impartiality. It resembled less a conventional trial than a grand jury drawing up an indictment — not claiming to prove guilt but rather to show “probable cause” for charging the perpetrators with a crime. Movement activists Lisa Garcia of Earth Justice, Julia Olson of Our Children’s Trust, Rex Varona of the Global Coalition on Migration, and I served as a “People’s Judicial Panel,” listening to the testimony and providing commentary on its significance. As judges, we saw our principal role as hearing and amplifying the voices of the witnesses.