Floriana Polito reports on the panel discussion on human rights and climate change at the Human Rights Council in Geneva
Goodbye Bonn! Governments have just concluded two weeks of negotiations in Bonn (1-12 June) with the goal of moving closer to a new set of agreements that should be finalized in Copenhagen at COP15 in December 2009. Despite efforts to reach a consensus, many issues remain unresolved, including emission reduction targets and mitigation both for developed and developing countries, financial assistance from industrialized countries for adaptation to climate change in poorer nations, technology transfer and capacity building, etc. Moreover, what still remains weak in the negotiation process is a clear and strong link to the human rights implications of human-induced climate changes and an indication on how the new agreement could incorporate the already existing UN Human Rights mechanisms to protect and realize the rights of the most poor and vulnerable people.
Back in Geneva! While unpacking my bag, I tried to re-organise the whole set of documents, papers and studies I had gathered in Bonn, during the Climate Change Talks. I was surprised to see how many documents could fit into my small hand luggage, besides my few clothes of course! So many documents, but only a few paragraphs on the linkages between climate change and human rights.
To address this gap, the Human Rights Council, which is currently taking place in Geneva, decided to hold on Monday 15 June, a panel discussion on the relationship between climate change and human rights. The purpose was to send a clear message to the UNFCCC negotiators and contribute to the negotiation process with a human rights perspective. The recently renovated the ‘Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations’ room at the Palais des Nations was crowded with governmental representatives, concerned UN agencies, institutions, and NGOs, all witnessing that climate change is an ethical issue with serious impacts on the full enjoyment of human rights that cannot be neglected. Human-induced climate changes needs to be addressed with appropriate mitigation and adaptation policies.
The panel discussion was organized as a follow up to an analytical study by the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) – presented in the March 2009 – and offered the opportunity to highlight some of the key findings of the study. In particular, the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Kyung-wha Kang, underlined in her opening remarks, that “the human rights framework complements the UN Climate Change Convention in one important aspect. It brings more clearly into focus the adverse effects of climate change that are felt not only by States and economies, but also and more fundamentally by individuals and communities […]A successful outcome of ongoing climate change negotiations matters for human rights.”
The panel was formed by Raquel Rolnik, UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing; Atiq Rahman, Executive Director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies; Dalindyebo Shabalala, Managing Attorney at the Geneva Office of the Centre for International Environmental Law; and John Knox, Professor of Law at Wake Forest University. The panelists raised a large number of issues, including the barrier that climate change poses to a development in some countries, how climate change impacts on the right to life, food, safe and drinking water, health, appropriate housing, land properties, livelihoods, employment and sustainable development.
In particular, they highlighted how the poor in developing countries were the most affected by the impacts of climate change, and the responsibility of developed countries which had caused the climate change to help them mitigate and adapt to the climate change effects. Finally, it was noted that already existing Human Rights mechanisms represent effective instruments to address negative climate change impact on a wide range human rights.
After the panel discussion I had the opportunity to exchange views on the progress of the negations in Bonn and the panel discussion with a few NGO colleagues. We agreed that the human rights wording started finally to be included in the draft negotiating text to be further discussed and hopefully adopted in Copenhagen.
However, a lot of work still has to be done. We cannot lose the few months left ahead of Copenhagen.
NGOs, in particular faith-based organizations can play a crucial role in putting pressure on their national governments in order to negotiate a new post-Kyoto agreement that responds adequately to the climate change threat to “God’s Creation” and the impacts that it will have on the most vulnerable people and communities.
So, I left in the room a good number of invitations to a side-event entitled “Climate change and Human Rights: Churches’ viewpoints” where I was one of the speaker. Also I distributed the last few invitations I had to friends and colleagues of other NGOs and State delegations to make sure they will come in large numbers to the side-event.