How human rights can save the planet | Roger Cox | TEDxLeiden

Translator: Daniel Moore
Reviewer: Riaki Poništ Let me start this talk
with a lovely parable of the beginning of time
as the Inuit people see it. Inuit mythology tells of a time
when there was nothing in this world except for a man and a woman. One day, the woman
came across a hole in the ice. She put her arm in and felt something,
so she pulled it out. It was the tuktu, or what came to be known
to us as the caribou. The woman set the caribou free and ordered it to go out
over the land and multiply. In time, and as the Inuit nation grew,
the land was filled with caribou, and the Inuit hunted well. They only hunted the big,
fat, strong caribou, though, since these were the caribou
that provided them with the most food and gave them the best energy. But after sometime, the sick and skinny caribou
came to outnumber the fat and the strong, and the herd grew weak,
as did the Inuit themselves. The Inuit decided to go back
to the woman to ask her what to do. The woman returned to the hole in the ice,
hoping to discover the wisdom needed to dispel the sickness
and bring the herd back to good health. That’s when Amarok, the wolf, was born. Now, it didn’t take long before wolf pack started to hunt and prey
on the weak and diseased animals, and now, overtime, and through the intervention of the wolf, the Inuit, once again,
had the strong and healthy caribou that could provide them
with all the energy they needed to survive in the High Arctic. That’s how, according to Inuit mythology, the trinity of man, caribou,
and wolf was born, creating a natural and healthy balance that could sustain
all three species, for all time. Beautiful story, isn’t it? I like to share this story with you because of the many analogies
that can be made to Western society. Like the Inuits, we, too,
are still hunters and gatherers, that is, at least in one aspect, energy. We roam the Earth
in search for oil and gas, our hunting grounds are enormous really. It has provided us with great wealth, but all this hunting for fossil fuels
has caused many problems as well, because much like the fat
and energy-rich caribou, the fat and large
oil and gas fields of the world are rapidly depleting. And we are now left to scratch the earth and try to replace them
with skinny and meager new sources like shale oil or tar sands. The decline of conventional
oil production over the last years, has already, literally made us
crack our stones and cook our soil, so we can squeeze some drops
of unconventional oil from it. And because of it, the price of oil has already quadrupled
in the last eight to ten years, severely weakening
the global economy in many ways, and with no end in sight. But even worse is that all
this burning of fossil fuels – and you know this – causes the greenhouse gases that alter the chemical composition
of the atmosphere. It causes global warming
and climate change. It ruins our ecosystems. And the expected severe and extreme events such as droughts, floods, storms, epidemics, famine, and so on are a real threat
to all life on the planet. So it’s safe to say
that our current energy system is as unhealthy to us as the sick and weak
caribou herd is to the Inuit. So we desperately need better energy. That’s why science is telling us
to stop hunting for fossil fuels and start harvesting
the clean and abundant energy that the wind and the sun
have to offer to us. Now, of course, we know
all this and we know what to do. We even have all
technical innovation at hand, to make really large steps
towards a fully renewable energy system. And we know what’s profitable too. But somehow, it’s not happening. Somehow, we are not able
to make this transformation to a new energy system. Now, there are all sorts
of reasons for this: one of them being a very poweful lobby
of the fossil fuel industry, the biggest industry
that the world has ever seen, and also the short term interest
of politics and business in general, and so on. But the consequence of it all is that we entered into this
dangerous deadlock situation that now further threatens our planet and ourselves. For the Inuit, now would be the time
to turn to the wise woman and ask her for a cure
to the sickness in the system, and so should we. Luckily, we too have
a wise woman we can turn to. It’s Lady Justice. She embodies our collective
wisdom of many centuries. She has proven herself through time. And she can point us away out of this dangerous deadlock situation
that we are currently in by using the law. And the timing for this is perfect. Because it is now being recognized
in both the international political arena and in the legal realm that climate change has become
a worldwide threat to human rights. To give you a quote
of the United Nation’s Cancun Agreement on Climate Change of 2010, and I quote: Climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible
threat to human societies. And climate change related impacts
have a range of implications, both direct and indirect, for the effective enjoyment
of human rights, inter alia, the right to life. End of quote. Now, this connection between climate change
and the right to life, has also already being made
by the European Court of Justice. In one of its rulings,
the European Court stated, and I quote: Emissions of greenhouse gases are amongst the main causes
of climate change. It should be noted that climate policy is also designed to protect
the health and life of humans, end of quote. Our courts have already
accepted the climate science, and our courts have also already accepted that climate change is not just
about drowning polar bears in the Arctic, but that it will have severe
consequences for humanity. The Supreme Court of the US
has even added to this, that because of the severity
of the consequences, that states, our governments, cannot excuse themselves
from doing nothing, just by pointing to other states,
and the emissions of other states, because as the Supreme Court
has said it, I quote: A reduction in domestic emissions
would slow the pace of global emissions, no matter what happens elsewhere. So, no matter what happens in China
or India or any other country, there is an individual responsibility
for our states to bear in the fight against climate change. And then the court goes on to once more
reiterate the danger of climate change, by considering, and I quote again: The risk of catastrophic harm,
though remote, is nevertheless real, end of quote. So it may take some time, but in the end, there is real danger of catastrophic harm. Now you might ask
that if there is still time before catastrophic harm
materializes itself, then why should we act now? Why is there no time to lose? Why is this such an urgent problem? Well, the answer to that question is, because there is a certain inertia
in the climate system. It is important to understand
that the changes that we are witnessing today in the world, such as the melting
of the polar ice sheet, are not the results of today’s emissions. They are the result
of emissions of the past, of emissions of up to around 1980. What has been emitted
after 1980 until today still has to reach its full warming
potential which will many more decades. So we already know that there’s much
more warming coming, that there’s much more warming
in the pipeline already, that we can’t avoid anymore even if we were to stop using
all fossil fuels tomorrow. But on top of that, we also know that we will be emitting
a lot more CO2 in decades to come. Because we are nowhere near of becoming independent
from fossil fuels. Now that is why climate science but also respected institutions like the World Bank, the UN,
the International Monetary Fund, the International Energy Agency, and even globally operating
accountancy firms, are now all ringing the alarm bells, because they are pointing out to us that if we don’t start to face
our fossil fuels now, and do it drastically, that we will heading for a world
that will be four to six degrees warmer by the end of the century alone. Now that’s catastrophe. To give you one more quote,
if I may, it goes like this: Make no mistake:
without concerted action, the very future
of our planet is in peril. Unless we take action on climate change, future generations will be roasted,
toasted, fried, and grilled. So, the time to act it’s now,
but it isn’t happening. Due to the inaction of our governments
to adequately regulate greenhouse gases, to avoid the dangers of climate change, our governments themselves
have now became a danger to society. Now in such cases,
the law and our courts are the only remaining institutions left
in our democracy to free ourselves from the dangers
that our governments pose to us. So it’s seems to me, ladies and gentleman, that the time has come to hold
our governments accountable. Accountable for the totally
inadequate climate policies. Accountable for the lack of results in the fight against dangerous
climate change. And basically, I’m here to say that I think that judicial intervention is now our only hope of really
averting dangerous climate change. That judicial intervention
could be the lever that finally triggers the full scale transformation
to renewable energy and energy efficiency that we’ve been waiting for so long now. And that as such, judicial intervention
can be a very positive force for the protection
of people and the planet. Oh, let’s not forget that the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights was drafted in 1948. It was drafted after the very dark
years of the Second World War. Tens of millions of people
lost their lives during that war, fighting for freedom and dignity. And we came to understand that disregard of human rights
does indeed result in great tragedy, and that therefore human rights
should be protected by the rule of law, and hence Universal Declaration. But let’s also remember that in the 1950s, it were the courts of law that declared that the school segregation system
in USA was unconstitutional, and it was because of these rulings,
because of this court rulings, that politics and society
and people had to change. Because it was now no longer
allowed to make a distinction between black and white American citizens. And of course, this
was a change for the better. So, why then, in this hour of great need
that we’re currently in, shouldn’t we ask our courts to change
society for the better once again? Now, that’s why two years ago I had a dream of people taking
matters into their own hands and suing their governments
to bring about change. And I wrote a book about it, a step by step blueprint
of how it can be done and why is necessary that we do it. The book is titled “Revolution Justified.” And it’s subtitled with the words:
“why only the law can save us now.” And I hope these words
will be self-explanatory by now. Now the good news –
you always have to have good news. Now the good news is, that this week, the first part of the dream
has become a reality, because two days ago
over 800 Dutch citizens, together with the Dutch
Urgenda Foundation, followed the script of the book and started climate proceedings
against the Dutch government before the court in The Hague. Now, the second part of the dream is that we will start –
and we’re working hard on this – to start similar proceedings, with citizens and organizations
in other countries, against their governments. And the good news here
is that Belgium is already confirmed and will be the second country
that will have these climate proceedings, and that Spain and the UK
will possibly follow in the short term, and hopefully, many other
countries after that. Now, the third part
of the dream is, of course, that courts will indeed intervene, and that we will be successful in the protection
of people and the planet. To conclude, let me just say this. Where the Inuit needed wolf packs
to prey on the diseased caribou in order for the herds
to grow strong again, we need court cases against our governments around the globe, so we can start preying
on a diseased energy system, and start creating room for energy efficiency
and renewable energy to grow strong. Now, it will take a global pack of lawyers and a lot of support
for legal action from you guys and a lot of other people
to make it happen, but there is no doubt in my mind
that this can be done. So, if you want to get involved
in this revolution by law, or if you want to be more informed about the topics
that I just briefly discussed, then please let me refer you
to the website: One last word, because I have
a confession to make here. And that is that I happen to like wolves. So I won’t mind personally
to run with the pack, stirring things up,
breaking the status quo, and shifting balance in society. And I invite you become
and to join the pack as well and help us create
a just energy revolution through the use of the law. Thank you. (Applause)


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