Human Rights, Climate Change and Justice

We’re passionate about three subjects here at Dare to Know. They are cosmology, ecology and human rights. Certain readers find that an odd combination. It comes from a life stance called Scientific Pantheism.

In brief, it can be summarized this way: Revering the Universe, Caring for Nature, Celebrating Life. Our three categories come from these three principles. Coming from a background in political economy, rather than science or philosophy, we tend to deal with public policy aspects on these three topics and their impact in the business world.

This posting is going to be easier to justify, though. That’s because it overlaps two of our categories. It deals with both ecology and human rights. We are going to discuss the outcome of the UN’s COP24 Conference in Katowice, Poland. Readers may recognize that COP24 stands for “Conference of the Parties”, meaning the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

COP24 was the now-famous meeting where 15 year old Greta Thunberg made her famous speech on climate change and the future. The goal of the meeting was to agree on the rules to carry out the Paris Agreement. In other words, COP24 was an environmental conference. Even so, it included a human rights element that hasn’t had much coverag

Our story begins at the famous Paris Conference in 2015. The Paris Agreement was the first climate change treaty to mention human rights. There had been a lot of lobbying leading up to the Paris Conference on the link between climate change and Human Rights.

The preamble to the Paris Agreement says that “Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights”.

The preamble mentions indigenous rights, food security, transition and inter-generational equity. Beyond that, the Paris Agreement did not call for any concrete measures to deal with human rights issues. It wasn’t much more than a nod to human rights, but it seemed to open the door.

Then, in the lead up to COP24, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights wrote an open letter to the countries participating. In it, he said that it was”critical that the outcome of the COP24 in Katowice be grounded in concrete commitments to uphold human dignity and rights.”

He went on to say that “states have a human rights obligation to ensure that those affected by climate change, particularly those who live in vulnerable situations, have access to effective remedies and the necessary means of adaptation to enjoy lives of human dignity.”

That set the stage for Katowice. Sessions took place on the topic of Integrating Human Rights into Climate Action. The agenda also included sessions on gender equality, the right to health and the right to clean air.

Governments and human rights NGO’s attended and discussed the ways in which climate change is a human rights issue. Disappointment came when the COP24 Outcome was presented to human rights advocates.

The final decisions reached at COP24 did not deal with any of the human rights concerns in the Paris Agreement. Activists viewed the fact that these were still topics on which governments could not agree as a failure. The fact that more than a dozen environmentalists were denied their right to take part in the conference by the Polish government made matters worse.

The implementation guidelines, known as the Paris Rulebook, or now the Katowice Rulebook in some circles, contain no references to human rights. Human rights groups lost faith in the process after Katowice.

They now believe that action must come at the national level. They call for this action to include indigenous communities, women, local communities and vulnerable people.

A new movement is arising now called Climate Justice. This movement looks to the courts to deal with the human rights aspects of climate change. Katowice has shown us that governments and business leaders are unwilling to hold themselves to account voluntarily. Based on the Katowice experience, we can’t look to negotiations at conferences for results.

Climate Justice calls for the justice system to hold business and government to account through the rule of law instead. Climate Justice advocates call for communities, advocacy groups and public interest lawyers to work together .

They bring cases to court based on broader definitions of climate litigation. There have been more than 900 cases filed worldwide. More and more countries are adopting this approach, and grassroots coalitions are bringing new lawsuits in other jurisdictions all the time.

People who support Climate Justice have formed a network called Climate Justice Action. They go back to the year 2009, when there was an alternative mobilization during the Copenhagen conference. Greenpeace has also embraced the idea of Climate Justice and is working with advocacy groups to support litigation efforts.

As readers can now see, ecology and human rights are not such an odd combination after all.




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