By Fabíola Ortiz
MADRID (IDN) – The youth and human rights activists have been emphasizing since the start of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) on December 2 the pressing need of placing people in the centre of climate action. Spearheaded by the social movement ‘Fridays for Future’ initiated by the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, the youth been calling for social participation in the decision-making process and the re-shaping of national climate commitments to align with youth’s aspirations.
“We, young people, will inherit this planet. We have the right to say what kind of a planet we want to inherit. We are talking about including voices in an effective manner, by taking into account our perspectives, realities and challenges. We are calling for action, we are here to show how we can participate,” said Sara Cognuck, 24, who leads Costa Rica’s youth environmental movement.
Cognuck participated in several side events and panels at the COP25 venue in the Spanish capital, joined by high level authorities. On December 9, she spoke together with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on “Realizing the right to participate: empowering people as agents of more effective climate action”.
Bachelet said: “Human rights are not a luxury that only rich and peaceful societies can afford. They are the tools to construct greater peace, security, social resilience, public trust and a more sustainable development.”
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) accentuate that every state should ensure that every person has the opportunity to participate in development, argued the former Chilean president.
“This right to development is directly threatened by injustices and severe harms to human rights and has created growing climate emergency,” highlighted by young people taken to streets to insist on their right to participate in decisions that impact their lives.
“They are demanding that human rights are respected, and they are calling for urgent just and effective action to climate change. The principle of intergenerational equity is recognized in the Paris Agreement which obliges us to act as responsible stewards of environment,” added Bachelet.
She acknowledged the legitimacy of the youth protests worldwide and called for the international leaders to hear the “anger, the grief and the pain” voiced on the streets.
“When national climate commitments are shaped by the people most affected by climate change, there is no doubt that they will be more ambitious and more effective. Participation is a fundamental right,” she stressed.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has emphasized in their 5th Assessment Synthesis Report (2014) that indigenous, local and traditional knowledge systems and practices including indigenous peoples are major resource for adapting to climate change.
“By empowering indigenous people and guaranteeing them control of traditional knowledge land, states can simultaneously improve climate mitigation and adaptation efforts and the situation of indigenous peoples,” maintained Bachelet who urged that the rules of implementation of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement should include basic human rights protections.
The Article 6 has proven to be the hardest part of the Paris Agreement and the COP25 has focused negotiations on a new global carbon market that could unleash finance for projects worldwide.
Under the Paris Agreement, countries agreed to set up a new global carbon market system to help countries de-carbonize their economies. So far, countries have failed to agree the rules that should govern this mechanism. The rules proposed to protect communities from carbon-cutting projects have eroded throughout the week during the UN climate talks, raising fears that human rights abuses may increase.
Indigenous and local community groups say the rules that were being negotiated at the COP25 behind closed doors must include safeguards that ensure projects do not harm the local communities.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has echoed the youth voices by arguing that the Green Climate Fund and the Adaptation Fund and all Article 6 mechanisms should integrate human rights as a key criterion that all projects are social and environmentally sustainable.
On December 11, youth activists occupied the plenary hall in a symbolical act aimed to make clear that the climate negotiations are falling drastically behind what science demands be done to avoid the worst-case scenarios of the climate crisis.
“Unless there are strong commitments to start phasing out fossil fuels immediately, including finance flows that continue to expand fossil fuel production, politicians risk the backlash of an entire generation that is terrified for their future and outraged by the influence that the fossil fuel industry has on the political process,” stressed Hoda Baraka at 350.org, a global climate change campaign organizer working to build and support the climate movement.
“The climate crisis is affecting our lives, the problem is that we know this, and yet we keep ignoring it. We keep saying that children are dying, we keep saying that ecosystems are dying, we keep saying that but, do we even care?,” said the Kenyan young leader, Elizabeth Wanjiru Wathuti.
“Most people in Kenya are actually suffering from climate crisis right now, and adaptation is not even been discussed, we can’t fight the climate crisis without talking about the present,” she added.
The young activist Helena Gualinga from Ecuador has voiced for higher participation of indigenous peoples. “If we are going to fight climate change we need to make sure that indigenous rights are respected. Our leaders here give beautiful speeches while we are murdered back home.”
This story was produced as part of the COP25 Reporting Fellowship for Latin American Climate Journalists. [IDN-InDepthNews – 12 December 2019]
Photo: Youth activists occupied on December 11, the plenary hall in a symbolical act aimed to make clear that the climate negotiations are falling drastically behind what science demands be done to avoid the worst-case scenarios of the climate crisis. Credit: Nina Cordero / LatinClima.
Photo (in text): Greta Thunberg addressing the plenary. Credit: Nina Cordero / LatinClima.
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