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“No time for complacency” – UN rights expert says as the Paris Agreement faces its first key test

GENEVA (13 May 2016) – “The first test of States’ commitment to the principles of the Paris Agreement will be next week,” said United Nations expert John H. Knox, when government representatives meet in Bonn to negotiate the terms of a new international climate mechanism to transfer funds from developed to developing countries for projects that contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and support sustainable development.

“This is no time for complacency,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and environment. “The fact that 177 States have signed the Paris Agreement in less than a month is very welcome news, but the hard work of safeguarding the environment and human rights is just now beginning.”

Mr. Knox recalled that the Paris Agreement is the first environmental treaty to include a strong commitment to protect human rights in addressing climate change. “The Paris Agreement recognizes that States do not check their human rights obligations at the door when they enter a climate negotiation,” he said. “In the agreement, States committed to safeguard human rights in taking actions to address climate change.” 

Ahead of the Bonn meeting from 16-26 May, the UN expert has made a number of recommendations on safeguards to protect human rights to the Paris Convention’s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).

In a letter* to the SBSTA, the Special Rapporteur called for the adoption of specific safeguards, such as prior assessments, provisions for public participation, and effective grievance procedures, that would help to ensure that proposed projects do not run rough-shod over the human rights of indigenous peoples and other communities that are most directly affected by them.

The new fund is expected to be the successor to the Clean Development Mechanism, which was highly criticized for contributing to some hydroelectric and other projects that were linked to human rights abuses, including displacement of indigenous and other communities without transparency or adequate consultation.
“The main problem with the Clean Development Mechanism has always been that it lacks effective safeguards to ensure that human rights are taken into account,” he said.  
“The urgency of addressing climate change does not justify violating the rights of those who live and work near the projects,” Mr. Knox emphasised. “On the contrary, safeguards are necessary not only to protect human rights, but also to avoid abuses that can derail projects and harm the very people that the projects are supposed to help.”

The expert noted that in developing the new mechanism, which has been informally dubbed the Sustainable Development Mechanism, States should look to more recent models, such as the Adaptation Fund, which do include strong social and environmental safeguards.

“If the Clean Development Mechanism was too often a human rights scofflaw, this is the moment for the new Sustainable Development Mechanism to become a human rights champion,” the Special Rapporteur concluded.   

NOTE TO EDITORS: The SBSTA is one of two permanent subsidiary bodies to the Convention established by the COP/CMP. It supports the work of the COP and the CMP through the provision of timely information and advice on scientific and technological matters as they relate to the Convention or its Kyoto Protocol.

(*) Check the full text Special Rapporteur’s letter to the SBSTA: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Environment/Letter_to_SBSTA_UNFCCC_May2016.pdf

The UN Human Rights Council appointed Mr. John H. Knox in 2012 to serve as Independent Expert, and reappointed him in 2015 as Special Rapporteur, on the issue of human rights obligations related to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The Council requested him, a professor of international law at Wake Forest University in the United States, to clarify the application of human rights norms to environmental protection, and to identify best practices in the use of human rights obligations in environmental policy-making. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Environment/SREnvironment/Pages/SRenvironmentIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Soo-Young Hwang (+41 22 917 9778 / shwang@ohchr.org) or write to srenvironment@ohchr.org 

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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