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Human rights key to climate change negotiations

A Human Rights Council panel has emphasized that a successful outcome of climate change negotiations matters for human rights. The human rights perspective is indispensable to the ongoing negotiations leading to the year-end Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.

A Human Rights Council panel addresses the linkages between climate change and human rights- © OHCHR Photo“As you engage in those negotiations, you must bear in mind the grave human rights consequences of a failure to take decisive action now,” said Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang when she opened the panel on 15 June.

“A successful outcome of ongoing climate change negotiations matters for human rights. A new climate change agreement must be fair, balanced and sufficiently ambitious to be effective.

“Climate change is related not only to environmental factors but also to poverty, discrimination and inequalities – this is why climate change is a human rights issue,” said Kang, adding that the human rights perspective is particularly well suited to analyzing how climate change affects people differently.

The Human Rights Council has been playing a key role in drawing attention to the human rights implications of climate change. In March this year, it adopted a resolution highlighting that the adverse “effects of climate change will be felt most acutely by those segments of the population who are already in vulnerable situations owing to such factors as geography, poverty, gender, age, indigenous or minority status and disability.”

This wording is now included in the draft negotiating text for the outcome of the December Copenhagen Conference. This, for the first time, has introduced the human rights perspective into the climate change negotiations. It underlines that not only governments and economies but also – and more fundamentally indeed – individuals and communities are adversely affected by climate change.

“The UNFCCC negotiation process and the expected Copenhagen agreed outcome will undoubtedly have positive impacts on the full enjoyment of human rights,” said panelist Feng Gao, Director of Legal Affairs of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat.

“It is this recognition of the human suffering that climate change may cause that will ultimately mobilize us all to action,” he said, pointing out that the poorest and the most vulnerable are least prepared for the potential impact of climate change.

Also on the panel were 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.

In its March resolution, the Human Rights Council also underlined some of the key findings of an analytical study by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The study found that climate change-related impacts have a range of implications for the effective enjoyment of human rights, and human rights obligations and commitments can inform and strengthen policymaking in the area of climate change, promoting policy coherence, legitimacy and sustainable outcomes.

The OHCHR study, together with a report on the Human Rights Council panel discussion on climate change, will be made available to the UN Climate Change Conference, from 7 to 18 December, to be held in Copenhagen.

17 June 2009