Human rights – getting to the heart of climate change

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Through a serendipitous piece of scheduling, a COP15 side event on human rights and climate change was held today, 10th December: International Human Rights Day. A panel of experts, including several from vulnerable indigenous communities in Africa, the Arctic and small islands, addressed the links between climate change and human rights. They made a compelling case for viewing climate change as a human rights issue.

Canadian Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier suggested that a human rights discourse enables us to put a face to the human impacts of climate change; that human rights is the ‘heart’ of the climate change challenge to the ‘head’ of science, economics and law.

The current draft text on shared vision underpinning the Copenhagen negotiations acknowledges a relevant UN human rights council resolution, which states that the adverse impacts of climate change have a range of direct and indirect implications on the full and effective enjoyment of human rights including the right to sustainable development, self-determination, statehood and life. The UN resolution recognises the right of people not to be deprived of their means of subsistence, the right to water and the right live well. It also asserts that climate change increasingly poses risks to security and the survival, sovereignty and territorial integrity of states.

Such acknowledgments are undoubtedly of value – but there is a strong case for greater safeguards. US public interest environmental lawyers EarthJustice, working with other experts addressing climate change and human rights, is advocating the inclusion of stronger protections throughout the Copenhagen negotiating text to protect the individuals, communities and peoples most vulnerable to climate change – from the right to be cold to the right to participate in decision-making.

Key elements of the negotiations from flexible mechanisms such as the clean development mechanism (CDM), REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) to the coming crises of persons and nations displaced by climate change will continue to raise human rights, equity and security issues. And climate justice is squarely on the agenda in Copenhagen as the developing story of the Tuvalu proposal demonstrates.

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