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An ambitious climate change agreement must protect human rights of all
JOINT Statement of the Special Procedure Mandate Holders of the Human Rights Council on the UN Climate Change Conference
“It is a matter of human rights,” stated a group of United Nations human rights experts just before the opening of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. While there is a growing consensus on the adverse impact that global warming is likely to have on the environment and economic growth, the serious threats it poses to the full enjoyment of a broad range of human rights still need to be properly understood and addressed.
“A weak outcome of the forthcoming climate change negotiations threatens to infringe upon human rights,” the experts said. Rising sea levels, increasing ocean and surface temperature and extreme weather events like storms, droughts and cyclones have, and will continue to have, a range of direct and indirect implications for the enjoyment of human rights.
“Adaptation or mitigation measures, such as the promotion of alternative energy sources, forest conservation or tree-planting projects and resettlement schemes must be developed in accordance with human rights norms,” warned the experts. “Affected individuals and communities must participate, without discrimination, in the design and implementation of these projects.” Inadequate mitigation and adaptation strategies can lead to human rights violations when, for example, tree planting efforts fail to ensure adequate participation of local communities or if due process is not respected for any necessary displacement.
The adverse effects of climate change are felt most acutely in the poorest countries of the world. Poor or otherwise marginalised individuals and communities, who often live in areas prone to natural disasters and depend on natural resources for their subsistence, face the greatest risk. They are less able to prepare for, or adapt to, climate change and its effects on the accessibility and availability of food, drinking water, sanitation, adequate housing or health care. A growing number of people will face displacement and the loss of their homes and livelihoods, which may also result in increased social unrest.
“Focusing on the rights of those who are already vulnerable and marginalised due to poverty and discrimination, a human rights-based approach to climate change can be a useful tool to complement international efforts aimed at tackling the adverse effects of global warming,” affirmed the experts. In accordance with international human rights law, States have an obligation to take individual and collective measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and their adverse impact, as well as to assist those who are most vulnerable in preparing for, and adapting to, its inevitable impact.
“Because of the productive and reproductive roles they play in many societies, women are likely to be more severely affected than men by climate change. They are overrepresented in the agricultural and forestry sector, and often bear the responsibility of gathering food, water and fuel, which requires greater effort and time during floods, droughts and storms,” the UN human rights experts stated.
Indigenous peoples are another example of particular vulnerability to the adverse effects of climate change, since they often inhabit fragile ecosystems and have traditional ways of life closely associated with the land and natural resources. Climate change has already had especially direct and significant effects on indigenous peoples.
The experts urge participants at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference “to step up their efforts to achieve a new agreement that prevents further climate change, protects affected individuals from its adverse impact and leads to the formulation of global and national mitigation and adaptation responses based on internationally recognised human rights norms and standards.”
Source: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.