For the first time in history, governments around the world have agreed to legally binding limits on global temperature rises as the Paris Agreement (PDF) on climate change became effective on Nov. 4. All governments that have ratified the accord are now legally obligated to cap global warming levels at 2 C above pre-industrial levels—regarded as a limit of safety by scientists. But environmentalists and other groups have said the agreement may not be enough. According to Asad Rehman of Friends of the Earth: "The Paris agreement is a major step in the right direction, but it falls a long way short of the giant leap needed to tackle climate change. Far tougher action is needed to rapidly slash emissions." Greenpeace also agreed that while the agreement is a major step forward, it needs stronger force. Andrew Norton, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development, further pointed out that governments would need to take measures to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable countries get adequate financing to tackle climate change problems..
The UN on Oct. 27 adopted a resolution—hailed by disarmament campaigners as an important landmark—to launch negotiations in 2017 on a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons. The resolution was approved at a meeting of the First Committee of the General Assembly, which deals with disarmament and international security matters. A total of 123 nations voted in favor of the resolution, with 38 voting against and 16 abstaining. The resolution will set up a UN conference beginning in March next year, open to all member states, to negotiate a "legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination." Among the 57 co-sponsors of the resolution, Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa took the lead.
More than 140 were arrested Oct. 27 as over 300 police officers in riot gear—backed up with several armored vehicles and two helicopters—cleared the camp erected to block construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. North Dakota's Gov. Jack Dalrymple used emergency powers declared over the protests in August to bring in officers from neighboring states. The 1851 Treaty Camp was set up directly in the path of the pipeline, on private land recently purchased by Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline. But the land has been declared reclaimed as tribal territory by the Standing Rock Reservation under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. The Morton County sheriff’s department said protesters torched several police vehicles, and that two officers were lightly wounded. Those arrested were not allowed to post bail. The sweep brought the total number arrested in the protests since August to 411. State officials have stated that they will no longer communicate with the protesters. (Native News Online, Bold Nebraska, NYT, Forum News Service, ICTMN, Sacred Stone Camp, Oct. 28; EcoWatch, Oct. 25)
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Oct. 9 ruled (PDF) against Native American tribes, allowing construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline to move forward. The Standing Rock Sioux and the Cheyenne River Sioux tribes sought a permanent injunction to block construction of the 1,170-mile pipeline, which they say would be built on sacred burial grounds and would pose an environmental risk to the surrounding rivers. In its ruling, however, the court said the final decision will be up to the Army Corps of Engineers. The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said (PDF) the pipeline will endanger millions of lives, and that the tribe will continue to fight against it. The starement also noted that construction crews have already destroyed many historic burial sites and artifacts.
The Mohawk band council of Akwesasne in Canada has introduced its own legal system independent of the country's federal system. This marks the first instance of an indigenous people creating its own legal system in Canada. While First Nation band councils have passed and enforced legislation on reserves for years, the new court framework was drafted by the community and is not tied to the Indian Act or any agreement with the Canadian government. Under the proposed legal system, justices and prosecutors are asked to enforce a variety of civil laws, while criminal matters still remain within the purview of the federal or provincial courts. The civil matters range from sanitation to property and wildlife conservation. The new system is underpinned by concepts of restorative justice, as there are no jail terms and offending parties are to use their skills to benefit the community. Questions remain as to what extent Akwesasne law will be recognized by provincial and federal courts.
The International Criminal Court released a policy document Sept. 15 calling for prosecution of individuals for atrocities committed by destroying the environment. The document, prepared by chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, sets out the types of cases that the court will now prioritize, including willful environmental destruction, illegal exploitation of natural resources, and "land grabbing." The ICC has already shown a willingness to apply its authority to situations involving environmental destruction. Between 2009 and 2010, then-prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo successfully obtained arrest warrants from the court against the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, for acts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Among other acts, these alleged crimes involved the contamination of wells and destruction village pumps in Darfur to deprive targeted populations of water. Al-Bashir's trial has not yet commenced as he continues to evade arrest. (The Conversation, Sept. 23)
Native Americans, ranchers and farmers on Aug. 10 launched a blockade of a highway in North Dakota to bar crews of contractor Energy Transfer Partners from reaching the construction site of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Some 250 Lakota Indians and their allies are still maintaining the blockade, despite several arrests. The $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline, also known as the Bakken Pipeline, will extend from North Dakota to a market hub near Patoka, Ill., outside Chicago. The US Army Corps Engineers issued formal approval of the pipeline on July 26. Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have started a protest camp to block its construction, where the Cannonball and Missouri rivers meet. Standing Rock Sioux chairman Dave Archambault III is among those arrested by North Dakota state troopers and Morton County deputies. At 1,172 miles, the Dakota Access Pipeline is only seven miles shorter than the proposed length of the stalled Keystone Pipeline. (TruthOut, Censored News, Aug. 13; Native News Online, Mother Jones, Aug. 12)
Canada's Federal Court of Appeal overturned approval of Enbridge energy company's controversial Northern Gateway pipeline that would link Alberta's oil sands to British Columbia's north coast. In the 2-1 ruling June 30, the three-judge panel found that Ottawa failed to properly consult the First Nations affected by the project. That the federal government's consultation efforts "fell well short of the mark," the ruling stated. "We find that Canada offered only a brief, hurried and inadequate opportunity...to exchange and discuss information and to dialogue." President of British Columbia's Haida Nation, Peter Lantin, said: "It's a great day for Haida Gwaii and the coast of BC. We're all celebrating a victory for the oceans and our way of life."