As the disastrous consequences of climate change become increasingly apparent worldwide, it is important to address the way vulnerable groups are particularly impacted. During Geneva Peace Week, the Environmental Committee of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, with support from the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO), gave voice to experts on climate justice, vulnerable populations and decision makers working to include climate justice concerns in national and international policies through the event “Creating a Future for All: Climate Justice and Peacebuilding”. The event highlighted the importance of integrating gender in all aspects of climate change work and peacebuilding, the multiple ways climate change impacts peace internationally, and the necessity of public participation in all climate change and peace-building processes.
QUNO, under the Friends World Committee for Consultation, is the only faith-based organization accredited as an observer to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which collates the most recent climate science findings to advise all countries. While government representatives cannot change the underlying scientific text in the reports, they can negotiate language in the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM), so long as the integrity of the findings is not affected. From the 19th to the 24th of September states gathered in Monaco to discuss a special report which focused on the state of the ocean and the cryosphere, which refers to places on earth where water is in solid form such as glaciers, permafrost, and ice sheets. This report was particularly significant as it explicitly discussed some of the processes already occurring due to climate change, such as coral bleaching, ocean acidification, and glacial melting, alongside future projections of further change.
Lindsey Fielder Cook, QUNO’s representative for the Human Impacts of Climate Change programme, made a number of interventions concerning adaptation limits, human impacts and permafrost melting, and worked with negotiators to ensure the rights language of public participation in climate policy was included. This report contains significant urgency for it is speaking to what many are already experiencing, particularly those most vulnerable such as the inhabitants of Small Island Developing States and indigenous Arctic communities. The report highlighted the difference between urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – manageable change – and continuing with insufficient action – unimaginable and unmanageable change to glaciers, biodiversity and marine life, and the ability of access to drinking water for billions of people. the report urges international action.
QUNO, under the Friends World Committee for Consultation, is the only faith-based organization accredited as an observer to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which collates climate science findings to advise all countries. While government representatives cannot change text in the reports, they can negotiate language in the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM), so long as the integrity of the findings is not affected. Negotiation can result in weakening SPM language. At the recent IPCC meeting on Land, QUNO’s Representative for Climate Change, Lindsey Fielder Cook, sought to protect language on sustainable and restorative behavior (diet, farming, consumption, restoration/regeneration of eco-systems) and consequences to insufficient action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. She summarized the Report’s main messages as: 1) land is currently absorbing (sink) some 20% of GHG emissions, 2) land degradation must be reversed and overall GHG emissions reduced, and 3) without this, land will become a GHG emission ‘source’, leading to irreversible eco-system collapse and ‘substantial additional GHG emissions from ecosystems that would accelerate global warming’.
On July 15th, 2019, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, David R. Boyd (pictured) released a special report on the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. This report starts with a summary of up-to-date climate science and stresses the urgency the magnitude and imminence of the changing climate poses to humanity. He then charts how different human rights establish obligations from states and other capable actors to require action. For example he discusses the right to health, and that in a world with unmitigated climate change health hazards, ranging from more prevalent air- and water-borne diseases to significant mental impacts, will become more frequent and lethal.
Boyd explains that climate change has two distinct human rights dimensions; there are the particular impacts climate change will have on the enjoyment of human rights as illustrated above, and that any approach to successfully and sustainably deal with climate change must take in account human rights challenges. This is paired with a call for states to fulfill their obligations through transparent, accessible, and gender-responsive actions towards a low-carbon and climate-resilient future. Boyd also calls on businesses to implement policies that account for their impacts on both human rights and climate change. Lastly, Boyd includes recommendations that call for action, particularly in the fields of vulnerable communities, ramping up climate finance, and empowering international institutions such as United Nations bodies, to act to ensure cross-border action occurs.
In his report to the Fortieth Session of the Human Rights Council of march this year, the new Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, David Boyd, highlights global normative acceptance of states regarding their obligations to provide a healthy environment. In his report, Boyd states: “In total, at least 155 States are legally obligated, through treaties, constitutions, and legislation, to respect, protect and fulfil the right to a healthy environment.”
Boyd’s report argues for the fastest possible action to respond to the most pressing environmental issues. The proof that the majority of countries already have legally enshrined this obligation is compelling evidence of a growing consensus enough to encourage the multilateral fora to take swift and effective action to be proactive in providing a healthy and safe environment.
You can read the Special Rapporteur’s report here.
On March 21, the 40th session of the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution recognizing the importance of environmental human rights defenders and their protection.
The resolution was proposed by Norway and titled “Recognizing the contribution of environmental human rights defenders to the enjoyment of human rights, environmental protection, and sustainable development.”
Why was this resolution needed:
Environmental human rights defenders play a key role in protecting ecosystems and supporting a healthy and sustainable environment for all. Defending nature against greater destruction often comes with immense risks; in 2018, 321 human rights defenders were targeted and killed for their work — the highest number on record so far. More than three-quarters of those murdered were environmental human rights defenders.
Key aspects of the resolution include:
Countries are called to adopt laws and protection measures to guarantee protection for defenders
A requirement for accountability for attacks and threats against defenders
A call for businesses to carry out due diligence and meaningful inclusion and consultation for those who would be affected by their plans
In December QUNO attended the COP24 in Katowice, Poland. Lindsey Fielder Cook feeds back on the outcomes of the COP and the negotiations on the Paris rule-book in her article ‘The Bare Minimum‘.
At the COP, QUNO worked with others to create a side event that gathered a diversity of voices. With speakers from the interfaith community, a scientist from the IPCC, and leadership from the UNFCC the event’s focus was on working together across differences:Building a Spirit of Solidarity to overcome climate crisis Thursday, 06 Dec 2018 15:00-16:30.A recording of the event is still available to view via the UNFCCC webcast site.