“You might be on one side of the world, but what you do is affecting somebody else in another continent very far away. But you would rather protect your profits than nature. There might be, there will be, millions of people who are affected, and may even die because of those actions. Is this not genocide?”
– Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s UN Ambassador, 2010
The snow capped mountains of the Andes are vital to the livelihoods of many communities. However, due to rising temperatures, the snow is retreating and locals are struggling to cope without the water supply. It is important to be aware of the situation in the Andes but it is even more important to recognise what actions can be taken.
Andres Schipani writing for the BBC noted the profound sense of anxiety amongst locals in the small village of Khapi, situated below Mount Illimani in Bolivia. In recent years, half of the community has left due to the severe lack of water which keeps their animals alive and crops flourishing (Schipani, 2010). Over the past 10 years, changing weather patterns have made the area three times hotter which rapidly melted the snow and the streams became torrents. Now, the streams are nothing more than a trickle, the crops are dry and the animals are dead.
The villagers argue that those who caused the snow to retreat should be brought before an international court (Schipani, 2010). An International Court for Environmental Justice would provide an authority that will have flexibility and impartiality, that rarely a state possesses, to oversee environmental activities (Raghavan, 1997).
In Bolivia, it would allow the Khapi community to seek compensation from the global community for environmental damage impacting their community thousands of kilometres away (Schipani, 2010).
Leading the campaign is Alvio Aruquipa, one of the community leaders who argued that any compensation received would be used to build dykes to store the water and improve their supply. Strongly supporting the campaign for an environmental judiciary system is the Bolivian Government who perceive the COP15 climate change talks in Copenhagen in 2009 to be a failure and called for an alternative civil-society conference (Schipani, 2010).
The Bolivian city of Cochabamba hosted this conference in April 2010 which brought together indigenous groups, NGOs, scientists, activists and government delegations to talk about how justice can be achieved through an international court (Schipani, 2010).
Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN, Pablo Solon, stated
“What we want is justice. We are speaking about how to sanction actions that seriously affect the environment and have consequences for populations and nations that may even disappear. The environmental situation we are facing deserves a new judicial system”
Creating a judicial body for the environment would likely be opposed by nations who resent parting with their sovereignty, but the need for such a judicial organ is ‘imperative, especially if any meaningful progress is to be made in the field of international environmental law’ and justice (Raghavan, 1997)
The people of Khapi would not be the only people to lodge a case if an international court was established, as there are hundreds of other communities across the globe suffering from the environmentally damaging actions of others. Most environmental disputes have consequences that will affect the planet for centuries to come, and therefore an international court would have the ability to rule that the interests of future generations are paramount.
As Raghavan (1997) states
“No single generation can guide the destiny of our universe, and the international environmental court will be the current generation’s contribution in making the lives of those yet to inhabit planet earth a little more secure”
Ultimately, as geographers, we need to continuously explore new ways in which we can deal with environmental injustice, whether this is through a legal route or not. Being aware of global injustice stories is crucial, but not enough, we always need to take it further and think of solutions if we are serious about justice.
Raghavan, V. (1997). Is it time for an International Court of Environmental Justice?. Available: http://www.nls.ac.in/students/SBR/issues/vol9/901.pdf.Last accessed 3rd March 2012.
Schipani, A. (2010). Bolivian villagers want compensation as glaciers melt. Available: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8629379.stm. Last accessed 3rd March 2012