Human Rights Matter for Climate Action

Human Rights Day celebrated at COP20/ CMP10

The theme of human rights day this year is “Human Rights Matter” and the conversation at the event, which included government ministers, grassroots activists, human rights experts, indigenous, business and youth representatives clarified that human rights matter in the negotiation of a new climate agreement.

COP President and co-host of the meeting, Minister Pulgar Vidal began the discussion saying, “it is time to make human rights a priority topic in the climate change debate”.   The conversation around the table brought to life the fact that climate change is undermining human rights around the world.

Human rights experts in attendance called on the UNFCCC to better reflect human rights in its work.  Professor John Knox, UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment highlighted a statement on human rights and climate change released this week by 76 UN Independent Human Rights Experts. In the statement the experts urge “all Governments around the world to integrate human rights standards and principles in the current negotiations”.

From the Marshall Islands and Peru, to Morocco and the Philippines, participants shared their national experience of how human rights are undermined by floods, food insecurity, rising sea levels and increasing health problems.  Minister of State for Environment, Morocco, Hakima El Haite, highlighted the impacts of a recent catastrophic flood in her country saying that adaptation and mitigation need to get equal attention in the new agreement and that “adaptation allows people to realise their human rights”.  Relaying her country’s experience of climate disruption Minister El Haite said that “150,000 people in Morocco are currently homeless as a result of the flooding last week.” Picking up the issue of climate displaced people, Joy Kennedy representing the World Council of Churches stressed the need for governments to formally recognise the plight affected people who currently have no legal status.

COP President, Minister Pulgar Vidal, Mary Robinson and Minister Laurent Fabius

COP President, Minister Pulgar Vidal, Mary Robinson and Minister Laurent Fabius

Countries participating in the meeting outlined how the integration of human rights and equity into climate action is maximising the benefits for people.  From participation and consultation to the design of energy policies to benefit the poorest, climate actions can better cater for people when they are informed by human rights commitments and standards.

The rights to participation and education were a particular focus of the meeting. Ruth Buendia, an indigenous leader from CARE Asháninka, Peru, and Vicki Taulpi- Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People, spoke about how access to information, education and land rights enable indigenous communities and particularly women to become effective drivers of climate adaptation and mitigations actions.

Speaking on behalf of the YOUNGO constituency at COP20/CMP10 Wilfred Musinguzi from Uganda stressed the need for access to information and education “if we have the knowledge we can create the solutions for ourselves.”

Claudia Salerno Caldera, Vice Minister of Economic Cooperation in Venezuela spoke about the need to bring more voices from women, youth, civil society and indigenous people into the climate negotiations. She urged the governments at the meeting to look at what they can do to integrate human rights into the work of the UNFCCC at Lima and again in Paris.

Nearly all the participants expressed the need to reflect a people-centred approach and human rights in the new climate agreement.

Ambassador Michele Rentenaar, Climate Change Ambassador to the Netherlands, stated that human rights are essential for action on climate change and that human rights are ‘not a divisive issue, they are a unifying issue – we all need to be able to live on this planet with dignity’.

Mary Robinson urged governments to use the remaining time in Lima to strengthen references to human rights in the draft text for a new agreement.  She echoed the call from the UN Independent Experts on Human Rights for language in the new agreement establishing human rights as a guiding principle for climate action building on the commitments made at COP16 in Cancun; “Parties shall, in all climate change related actions, respect, protect, promote, and fulfil human rights for all.

Minister for Foreign Affairs, and President of COP21/CMP11, Laurent Fabius committed to celebrating Human Rights Day at COP21 in Paris thus following the initiative started by the Government of Peru today.

Related Links:

Human Rights Day on COP20 website (Spanish only)

Outreach Magazine: Climate justice: Human rights informing climate action

Incorporating Human Rights Into Climate Action

Zero Carbon the Climate Justice Way

Human Rights and Climate Justice Position Paper

UN Independent Experts: Open Letter on Human Rights and Climate Change

Go to the COP20 hub