Photo (L-R): Benjamin Schachter, OHCHR; Jennifer Hanna, PCCB; Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, UN Secretary General Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Summit; Verona Collantes, UN Women; Michael Windfuhr, German Institute for Human Rights; Agnes Leina, Illaramatak Community Concerns; and Sébastien Duyck, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). Credit: IISD. - Photo: 2018

Experts Urge Respect for Human Rights in Climate Actions

By Aleksandra Gadzinski

KATOWICE (IDN) – Independent experts of the UN Human Rights Council, are calling on States to fully integrate human rights standards and principles in the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change (the Paris Rulebook) adopted by the international community.

In the run-up to the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, they recalled that “in a significant breakthrough” in 2015, Parties to the Paris Agreement recognized the need to integrate their human rights obligations and their efforts to address climate change, pledging to respect and protect human rights in all climate actions.

In a joint statement on December 6 at the COP24 – United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland, marking the 24th session of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – they emphasize that climate change is “one of today’s greatest threats to human rights”, as illustrated in the recently released Special Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report describes the ways in which climate change is transforming life on earth and adversely impacting the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.

The IPCC concluded that “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” are needed to prevent catastrophic climate impacts. “Unfortunately, the existing commitments of State Parties to the Paris Agreement – through their nationally determined contributions – put the world heading for 3°C of warming,” the joint statement criticizes.

It calls attention to the fact that the impacts of climate change are already interfering with a wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, housing, water, development and freedom of movement – as massive population displacement is increasingly triggered, often in the form of forced displacement, which may lead to increased vulnerabilities to trafficking in persons – as well as the right to a healthy and sustainable environment.

The responses taken to address climate change and its impacts – mitigation and adaptation measures – may also threaten the enjoyment of human rights, they warn. For example, when such measures are developed and implemented without the full and effective participation or consent of those concerned, they may result in human rights violations and/or unsustainable outcomes.

For these reasons, as human rights experts they urge States “to rapidly deploy effective actions capable of achieving the 1.5°C target in the Paris Agreement.”

‘Building capacity for integrating human rights into climate action’ was also the theme of a panel discussion on the margins of the COP24 on December 7, organized by the Paris Committee on Capacity Building (PCCB), the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice.

The panel discussed the importance of integrating human rights into the implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Moderators Jennifer Hanna, PCCB, and Benjamin Schachter, OHCHR, introduced the event by underlining the need to address capacity gaps in integrating gender, human rights and indigenous peoples’ knowledge into national plans and the international climate regime.

Via video link, Tara Shine, Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, emphasized that integrating human rights into climate action can inform mitigation and adaptation activities, while not integrating them will likely increase costs and undermine human rights. She highlighted a proposal to establish a human rights focal point in the climate regime to help mainstream these efforts.

Summing up the main points of the discussion, the IISD reported:

Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Summit, lamented climate conference delegates’ lack of knowledge concerning human rights. He called on participants to build a specific strategy to integrate human rights into the 2019 Climate Summit so that the quality of Parties’ commitments can increase, and to avoid a summit that would be “just an excuse for a speech and a photograph.”

Verona Collantes from UN Women, shared the lessons of her organization’s Gender Action Plan. She explained that the strategy for the Plan’s implementation was to be extremely specific regarding who was concerned, what should be created or changed, and when the deliverables were expected. She stressed that capacity building, especially for NDCs, is not a one-off activity but something that must be sustained.

Michael Windfuhr from the German Institute for Human Rights, argued that there is not enough systematic training in human rights spheres about climate change. He proposed that national climate policies must be based on human rights if states wish to successfully and justly implement the Paris Agreement.

Agnes Leina from the Illaramatak Community Concerns in Kenya decried the fact that human rights have largely been ignored within the UNFCCC. Describing examples of renewable energy developments, which have displaced indigenous communities, she framed the urgent need for capacity building within states by suggesting that National Adaptation Plans should contain gender and indigenous components.

Sébastien Duyck from the Center for International Environment Law (CIEL), welcomed the recent report from the IPCC, recognizing that it cements the importance of human rights in climate action. He argued that populations must feel ownership of NDCs at the local, regional and national levels, and recommended that countries be forthcoming with their needs and experiences to help replicate climate action victories.

Participants then discussed limits of the UNFCCC and UN Refugee Agency frameworks, and the possible need for a new institution to deal with climate-related internally displaced populations. Panelists emphasized the need to understand that national policies must build adaptation within a human rights framework, lest those adaptations be doomed to fail from the outset.

The joint statement of UN independent experts has accentuated most of the views expressed in the panel. It has urged States:

To commit to urgently increase their ambition, given the grave nature of the climate crisis and the pressing need for scaled-up mitigation efforts;

To adopt without delay a comprehensive set of guidelines and modalities that ensures the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement. These should reflect States’ obligations under international human rights law, as acknowledged in the Paris Agreement, in particular the need for rights-based, participatory and gender-responsive climate action that promotes a just transition and food security for all. Parties must ensure that these principles are fully integrated into the guidelines and modalities for: nationally determined contributions, adaptation communications, the Enhanced Transparency Framework, and Article 6 mechanisms, among others;

To operationalize the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform as a means to ensure that indigenous perspectives and knowledge are adequately considered in developing and implementing climate change policies and actions;

To support the COP24 Presidency’s proposal for a Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration, which reaffirms the commitment made in Paris to promote a just transition of the workforce and recognizes the importance of participatory and representative social dialogue;

To encourage businesses to integrate climate change considerations in their policies and practices, including their human rights due diligence processes and impact assessments; and

To ensure full and effective participation, access to information and transparency in the formal negotiations as well as in the public spaces where actors from civil society can gather and exercise their rights to freedom of expression and opinion, association and peaceful assembly. Meaningful and effective participation of a wide-range of actors in decision-making processes is critical to successful outcomes.

“The outcomes of COP 24 are fundamentally important to the future of humanity. Decisions made and actions taken by States must demonstrate unprecedented boldness in order to effectively address the monumental challenges of climate change while simultaneously respecting, protecting, and fulfilling human rights,” the UN independent experts’ joint statement concludes. [IDN-InDepthNews – 09 December 2018]

Photo (L-R): Benjamin Schachter, OHCHR; Jennifer Hanna, PCCB; Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, UN Secretary General Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Summit; Verona Collantes, UN Women; Michael Windfuhr, German Institute for Human Rights; Agnes Leina, Illaramatak Community Concerns; and Sébastien Duyck, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). Credit: IISD.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

Related Posts

Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top