Geneva, 13 September 2016
Colleagues and friends,
I would like to thank the Geneva Pledge for Human Rights in Climate Action for hosting this important event. I am pleased to welcome Patricia Espinoza, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to this meeting.
We are here to discuss our common future – one that is threatened on many fronts, with climate change among the potentially most devastating.
In February 2015, when OHCHR and The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice co-hosted a Climate Justice Dialogue, our aim was to bring together climate negotiators and Council delegates to establish better understanding of the important links between climate and human rights.
States which signed the Geneva Pledge committed to advocating for a climate agreement that would protect the rights of people most highly vulnerable to climate change. They agreed to strive for a continuing dialogue on climate justice, and they pledged to help ensure that climate change and human rights communities worked hand in hand.
In the lead-up to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris, my Office called for an ambitious and legally binding agreement that would ensure parties promote human rights in all climate action; keep temperatures within 1.5 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels; and protect those people who are most vulnerable to climate change. And we welcomed the consensus which took shape in the world’s first universal, legally binding agreement requiring all States to address the shared danger created by our warming planet.
Today, there is no longer any doubt that climate change is a human rights issue. And that is thanks to the efforts of many of you here in this room.
However, now is not the time for complacency. This year, like the year before it, was the hottest on historical record, an estimated 1.38 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. We are in the midst of a climate crisis, and it is one of our own making.
The Paris Agreement can help guard against the worst consequences, but it will not stop climate change or its negative impacts. In fact, as it stands, the commitments made by States in their intended nationally determined contributions fall far short of the level of ambition needed to keep warming below 1.5 or even 2 degrees over pre-industrial temperatures. We need strong action to fulfil the commitments made in Paris last year, and to extend beyond that agreement.
Climate change threatens the quality of life of every human being alive, as well as of our descendants. As the Human Rights Council has repeatedly pointed out, the damage will extend to a broad range of rights, including food, water, sanitation, adequate housing, and health. In some cases, rising sea-levels threaten the existence of entire countries, and their people’s right to self-determination. The communities most vulnerable to the devastating human rights impact of climate change include indigenous people, small farmers, fishing communities, people in small island states and least developed countries – surely among those least responsible for creating this terrible situation.
Many victims of climate change could be rendered reliant on international support. We will need a concerted international effort to ensure justice for all those who suffer such climate harm by integrating human rights considerations in climate policy. Climate justice requires that this support should come especially from those who have the most resources and contributed the most heavily to climate change.
Climate change is the result of public policies and private actions. We know how to avert this threat, and State obligations in this regard are long-standing and clear. Under international human rights law, States must prevent climate harms by regulating environmental practices, protecting vulnerable communities, holding violators accountable, and ensuring redress where harms are suffered. To meet these obligations will require stronger laws, more effective regulation of the private sector, incentives to act and measures to protect.
Climate solutions rooted in human rights will require goals and targets with high ambition; accountability; protection and empowerment of the vulnerable; meaningful participation of civil society and affected communities; and non-discrimination. They will need States to allocate the resources necessary to shift to a sustainable course, including climate aid for developing countries. At the global level, it will mean strong steps must be taken to ensure carbon neutrality, and to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius or less.
This effort to rescue our planet starts with each of you, and your work to implement the Paris Agreement and the Geneva Pledge. It will continue at the COP22 conference in Marrakesh and subsequent meetings. It is an effort that must be integrated into local and domestic policies, including nationally determined contributions and national adaptation plans of action. And I urge you to make it part of your advocacy internationally.
To support your efforts, OHCHR will continue to engage with the UNFCCC and other processes. We will advocate safeguards for the Sustainable Development Mechanism, and we will work to integrate human rights into all implementation of the Paris Agreement. Recently, we submitted inputs to the Nairobi Work Programme related to climate adaptation and the right to health, to the Lima Work Programme on gender equality, and to the Paris Committee for Capacity-building.
In October, the Geneva Pledge and my Office will co-host a meeting of human rights and climate experts to help chart a path forward for rights-based and inclusive climate action that benefits all people. I hope many of you will attend. We will take the meeting’s recommendations to Marrakesh, where we will continue to work with Geneva Pledge States and other key allies to advance human rights considerations throughout climate response, mitigation and adaptation. I encourage each of you to support these efforts.
Failure to take strong action today will take us further us down a path of climate devastation – fuelling the spread of conflict, poverty, famine, drought and other dangerous weather phenomena, as well as the spread of disease.
We must pull back from this imminent danger. The time for dialogue is over. The time for rights-based climate action is now.